Looking up Corporation Street past the law courts towards Lancaster Circus.

Corporation St

Standing near the Rotunda with the Bullring behind you, looking up High Street

High Street

Looking down Upper Dean Street towards The Fancy Silk Store and Moat Lane. Outdoor market on your left.

Upper Dean Street

Eastside Walk and Talk Event, Sunday 18th October

I’ve been walking many laps of the Eastside regeneration area over the last month or so, each time carrying a GPS unit in each hand, logging the positions they record and then converting the data into line drawings.

line drawing

The drawings are different each time. We knew that would happen.

What’s increasingly striking me though, is the amount of change I’m seeing in the landscape I walk through, even on the timescale of a couple of weeks: hoardings go up around construction sites; piles of rubble are shifted; graffiti is removed; and subways re-painted.

When I’m walking with my GPS units however, I cannot stop to investigate these things in more detail, or even to properly document them. I must keep walking past at a steady pace.

Curzon Street area nip and tuck

On Sunday the 18th of October I’m going to do a different type of walk, and I’d like you to join me.

Weather permitting, we will meet at the Old Crown pub (Corner of Heath Mill Lane and Deritend, Digbeth) from 2pm for a 2.30 start. We will then walk once around the perimeter of the regeneration area taking great care to stop, investigate, prod, document, tell stories about and explore things along the way. A no-frills walk takes about 90 minutes, so be prepared for this one to last 2 or more hours. No route march though – this will be very stop-start.

Bring comfortable walking shoes and clothing appropriate for the weather. Kendall mint cake optional. If the weather is too wet we’ll postpone things ’til another time. Announcements for rain-checks or otherwise will go out via my Twitter stream and via the Sunday Local show on Rhubarb Radio where I will, sometime between 12 and 2pm, be talking about the Eastside drawings I’m making. (‘cos that’ll work great on the radio!)

I have the beginnings of an idea that I might collate the photos, GPS drawings and other documentations into a printed magazine so that there is some sort of a record of what things are like now (and how we remember them being in the past) that we can look at a few years down the line when everything will have changed beyond recognition. When we do the walk again, maybe.

derelict factory

Uncertainty in Southampton

I was in Southampton the other weekend and, having battled the Boat Show traffic to get into the city centre, I was amused to suddenly find myself in the middle of a shopping mall, in the middle of a public consultation exercise regarding Southampton’s plans regarding the development of a cultural quarter. There’s a .pdf with an outline here.

Guildhall Square

Before going to Southampton I’d done a quick Google for “regeneration zone” and found a damning article about the city’s architecture. Read it; it probably applies to where you live too.

David Lloyd in The Buildings of England described the reconstruction as being akin to an “up-and-coming Middle-West town with planning controls and Portland stone”. While the gigantic ships, those ribbon-windowed beauties that inspired a thousand modernist buildings, sailed to New York from just a few yards away, Southampton channelled the spirit of Iowa.Owen Hatherley, Southampton: What’s next for this major port turned mega-retail park?

No offence to Iowa, I have never been there, but 3 shopping malls have been built off the high street in the last couple of decades, as well as huge retail parks spreading out towards the docks and it is all becoming rather soul-less.

Southampton from above

I grabbed a satellite image of the city centre and roughly marked out some different areas (click to embiggen). The yellow strip is what I basically think of as being the high street. It’s where all the shops are focused. Sort of. The ones that are in different buildings with bricks and stone and stuff. You know what I mean.

The brown area is a land of shopping centres and decorated sheds. I know a lot of that brown is car park, but that really is huge!

The area in white near the top of the image is the area ear-marked for developments. Actually, this is a bit misleading: there doesn’t seem to be a delineated area for redevelopment in the same way as for the Eastside regeneration area in Birmingham, but rather a cluster of projects in roughly the same area. Also in contrast to Eastside, stuff’s happening where stuff already is: already in the white area is The Mayflower theatre, the BBC’s Radio Solent offices, the library, the civic art gallery, the guildhall, university buildings

I did a few laps of the area with camera and GPS units. Here are a few of the resulting images:

Mayflower and scaffold

Southampton's creative quarter

Civic Centre and concrete

Southampton's creative quarter

the pits

Southampton's creative quarter

Cup of tea and a sit down

Southampton's creative quarter

The walk was an altogether different affair from what I’ve been experiencing in Birmingham recently. For a start it was a lot shorter (about 30 mins per lap, rather than about 90), but also because it already felt kind of vibrant. I’m sure the park helped with this, but also I think because of the presence of the students and, noticeably, the smaller, independent shops and restaurants that inhabit this area. I hope these stay.

The other thing that hit home as I walked around was that I really, really miss The Gantry theatre that used to nestle in the shadow of The Mayflower. I only saw a couple of productions there before I left for university and it closed in 2001. If I remember correctly it was the sort of space where, before you pushed your way through blackout curtains to go to into the main theatre area, you could buy a big plate of chilli and a beer. This really twists the knife.

Sigh.

Anyway, to lighten the mood a little, here is a .kml file of two laps of walking so you can have a zoom around and play with the GPS traces. (Right click and save as. If you haven’t done so already, you’ll need to download and install Google Earth in order to open this file.)

uncertainty around Eastside

Some details from the GPS-generated line drawings coming out of the work described in the previous post.

line drawing

line drawing

line drawing

line drawing

line drawing

line drawing

line drawing

line drawing

line drawing

Fuzzy Eastside

The length of the lines correspond to how much discrepancy there is in where the two GPS units I’m carrying think I am. The longer the line, the more they disagree.

In the above screenshot you can see how the big, crowded-together buildings of the Bull Ring (bottom left corner and running up the left-hand side) scatter the GPS signal around a lot, resulting in a completely different type of mark-making compared to the relatively open terrain of the ring road on the right hand side.

The dense cluster of lines about a third down from the top on the left-hand side is where my route takes me between the Fire Service Headquarters and the flyover of St Chad’s Queensway. Subways and railway lines cause interesting effects in other locations.

map

Why I’ve been talking about Eastside a lot recently

In September 2006 I made some work for an arty bit (the Anti-Talent Zone) in Channel 4’s TEN4 magazine (Issue 4: The Talent Issue). I’ll let curator Gavin Wade do the introductions:

In the Anti-Talent Zone anything goes, there are no laws, no morals, no identities, no property, no art, no profits only lots of pain[…] At the heart of the Anti-Talent Zone you will find an emptiness organised by Nikki Pugh[…] Pugh has wiped clean a section of our glorious city currently in the grips of a reality adjustment adding one new name to the mix. The site of Hewitt Street in Manchester, home to a successful contemporary art scene originated by local artists, is also the model of growth for Birmingham’s Eastside as overheard by Pugh in the halls of power.

welcome to the Anti-Talent Zone

The Arts Council and UCE’s (now BCU) plans to build a Castlefield-esque artist led space on Bartholomew Street fell through, however Eastside Projects (fronted by one Mr. Wade!) opened on Heath Mill Lane late last year. But what of the rest of the Cultural Quarter Digital District regeneration area? [Don’t worry: I’m not going to attempt to answer that!]

Meanwhile, back in February of this year I started doing a lot of GPS work in Digbeth. I noticed my equipment was giving me inconsistent results in a way that was quite interesting and planned to use this in its own right in a different piece of work.

For various reasons it seems fitting to go back and revisit the Eastside regeneration area with my slightly shonky GPS units. A few new shiny buildings have appeared in the 3 years since the Anti-Talent Zone, but reality has a habit of resisting adjustment and much of Eastside is still as I remember it. Though, perhaps the point is that I was mostly oblivious to all but a few corners of that part of the city…

I’m fairly familiar with the streets around the Custard Factory, and the Bull Ring/High Street just sneaks into the zone, but Eastside is a massive slab of what is, to me, generally uncharted territory.

Birmingham City Council's Eastside regeneration area

Spurred on by the glorious early Autumn weather we had last week, I finished tinkering with the code that logs the positions read by my GPS units and I started investigating the mysterious Eastside. At the moment I’m concentrating on the outer edge. I’m at once amused, baffled, frustrated, and in concordance with this demarcation: it makes perfect sense in terms of following the existing lines of major roads etc, but I’m galled by the idea that what was once intended to be the ‘Cultural Quarter’ (I don’t know if that’s still the case) can be defined by a staked out territory and then filled in. Of course departments and policies need to name and define, but I have trouble mapping that onto creativity and culture which I conceive of more as bubbling out from particular points where circumstances collude to allow things to transpire…

Anyhow, I’ve walked the boundary 3 times now and it’s fascinating to observe and ponder on the various fluxes taking place. In addition to the swathes of land being bulldozed and the flows of people either by car or on foot, I’ve also been thinking a lot about how this work relates to firstly my Anti-Talent Zone criticism of parachuting stuff into an area and, secondly, one of my Counsel for the Artist statements: make exchanges with spaces. That’s why I’m repeatedly walking the boundary, rather than just doing it the once. Since each orbit takes between 90 and 120 minutes to complete, that’s a lot of contact time – albeit of a transitory nature – and I can attest to the process starting to leave its mark on me.

As a by-product of compiling the GPS traces (I’ll post some images of those separately I’ve posted some images here) I also felt compelled to record something of what I’m seeing by way of documenting this moment in Eastside’s evolution. This feeling is particularly strong walking along the Dartmouth Circus and Lawley Middleway section of the boundary, where there is a lot of demolition taking place.

Here is a slideshow of some of my photos. What will I see when I walk this walk again in 3 years’ time?

London and Tokyo, via Bournville village green.

Since doing an exchange visit there in 2005, my contact with Joshibi University of Art and Design and its students has included: helping to host their exchange students coming to Birmingham; effectively working there as a technician for a month; countless days just sort of hanging out there; keeping in contact with several pupils and alumni, including visiting their homes and having them stay with me in the UK; and hearing from alumni friends their tales of working as artists post-graduation and their encounters with graduates from other universities. As a result, I have a pretty well-formed idea of some of the things I would like to do to shake things up a bit, beyond my low-level “So, have you ever considered showing your work, outside of a gallery context” vibrations.

In 2006, 2007 and 2008 I also coordinated and delivered the social programme as part of the annual Joshibi Summer School. This involved sorting out all the pastoral and evening/weekend social stuff for the 30-or-so students who would spend a month based at Bournville Centre for the Visual Arts (BCVA).

We’ve had many conversations about how the Summer School programme could be improved. The main problems from my point of view are that the students arrive as a group; take over a block in a halls of residence as a group; are the only group studying at Bournville over the summer; have an interpreter with them the whole time; and have negligible contact with anyone outside of the staff and the other Summer School students. They may get to experience something of a different way of approaching art education, but there’s a lot missing in terms of cultural exchange and development of language skills.

I decided I didn’t want to work on the social programme this year, but was later invited to provide a day’s teaching for the Summer School. Based on last year’s werewolf success, and my recent work with BARG, there was no doubt that a game would be involved.

dead pikachu

My contribution was to form a starting point for a larger project where the students would go on to develop work that contrasts London and Tokyo. I ran two workshops in the morning where we compared the places in Japan they recommended I visited to the places that actually had meaning to them in their day-to-day lives. This got us from guidebook staples such as the Emperor’s Palace and Kiyomizu-dera to stories of favourite ice-cream shops, overheard sounds of children playing in campsites and stars as seen above car parks.

We also looked at the landmarks that we give significance to in our journeys through landscapes that we are very familiar with. Taking our journeys to university as an example, we drew maps and uncovered more stories. I’m familiar enough with the bus ride to the Joshibi Sagamihara campus that I could recount my personal map of that journey and compare it to theirs. This experience lasting only a few seconds is so completely and vividly on my map that I’m genuinely shocked to realise now that it’s a memory from 4 years ago.

As expected, the smell of the chicken farms featured prominently in the cycled versions of the journey…

question card

For the afternoon, I’d prepared a scavenger hunt around Bournville Green and the surrounding area.

This was designed as a team game, but with significant components where each student would be very much working alone (…unless they plucked up the courage to ask passers by for assistance!). Use of the Japanese language was, of course, banned throughout.

consultation

The students randomly selected a question to tackle and then had some time to discuss it with their team mates. The questions were worded to avoid typical Japanese constructions of English. I also tried to avoid making them so simple that no discussion was needed to fully understand them.

Examples include.

  • There is a car park at the Western edge of the park. Around it, with one end in the ground, are wooden “dragon’s teeth”. How many dragon’s teeth are there?
  • Stand between the Porter’s Lodge and the church. Look at the church. Can you see the carved wooden panel? How many flowers does it have? What is the man holding in his left hand?
  • Go to the chemists and find a lilac-coloured dog hanging up by a door. What colour is his collar, and how many diamonds are on the front of it?
  • In the alleyway between the chemists and Louise’s, there are some old style posters. What is the name of a UK city written on one of them?
  • Go to the butchers shop. What is the name of the sheep on the counter near the window?
  • Go to the Wyevale garden centre. There is a scarecrow near one of the doors. How much did his hat cost?

There were a range of strategies employed in designing the questions. Some of them, such as the sheep’s name question above, could only be answered if the student asked the appropriate question of the relevant shop keeper. Others would be made infinitely easier if they asked a member of the public for help in explaining what a particular word refers to (e.g. dragon’s teeth).

The other major aim was to get the students out and into parts of Bournville that they would never normally go to. This had the intended bonus of meaning that I had to seek out these places first. I was a student at BCVA for 5 years, and yet there were so many places in that tiny area that I had never been to until the planning stages of this game. I had lots of adventures and conversations: so much of Bournville is hidden away in a secret second-layer-back, and there are some truly class acts working there.

I was also determined that I would work with what was already in situ, and not parachute in any foreign bodies to plant for the game. The sharks, Iggle Piggles and Bill Oddies were all there already, waiting to be discovered and played with.

Right, so we had the basic mechanism of having to go to places and find answers to questions. The other aspect of the game design was about how to make this an intense, sometimes visceral experience.

tech amnesty

Prior to explaining the game rules, we’d confiscated (in a nice way!) all their mobile phones, electronic dictionaries and phrasebooks. This was originally done to ensure that looking things up didn’t replace discussion, but I think it also had quite a wrenching effect, because this technology is usually very heavily relied upon.

maybe the man with the plant knows where the garden centre is

I deliberately made it so that, after the initial discussion phase, each player then had to go off independently to find the answer. This took away another safety net of group decision making.

The other thing to do was to add a magic vest in the form of some hats for the players to wear whist they were out and about.

consulting the map

This covered my usual criterion for having an element of silliness involved in order to break down a few barriers, but as Holly Gramazio pointed out at Hide and Speak, your players look like criminals and, if the students were going to be in the bank counting CCTV cameras, I wanted it to be clear that they probably weren’t dangerous! The “help me find stuff” labels on the hats were intended as an invitation for people not involved in the game to approach the students and initiate conversations.

The weather was drizzly, the students were extremely tired after spending a long weekend in London (not to mention the jet lag!), energy levels were low, and I had to tweak some stuff on the fly to increase the pacing, but it all worked! It worked a treat!

magic hat and green

run

It was great to see the balloons bobbing around on the green and in front of the parade of shops. It was fun to see the teams playing jan-ken-pon to decide the next runner, but substituting diddle-diddle-dum lyrics so as to avoid the 50 point fine for speaking Japanese. It was satisfying to hear small groups of students with nothing to do standing around and chatting in English. It was worrying to hear that one girl hadn’t been seen for 25 minutes, but heart-warming to hear from the search party that she’d been found in the park with a gang of kids around her trying to help her solve her clue. We giggled to hear the story of people offering to help count dragon’s teeth. It did nothing less than warm my cockles to hear someone describe the hats as being magic, a comfort, and to thank me for making them wear them.

relocation of the Bournville factory, as explained through the medium of leaves

thinking hat

changeover

All three teams did really well and the rain mostly stayed away until we had finished playing. The final scores were in the region of 120 points (average 10 points per question) with only maybe 4 failed questions per team.

I finished off the day with a more formal presentation about the use of mechanisms and rule sets to instigate interactions with spaces; how presenting something as a game contrasts with presenting it as a piece of performance artwork; the importance of stories; the importance of magic vests/hats; the importance of silliness (and how it’s easier to be part of a large group doing silly things rather than being by yourself doing silly things) and how doing projects in public spaces confers ownership of that space to you (in the sense of responsibility and empathy, rather than of power).

Anyway, it looks like I may yet end up doing some social stuff with the group on Saturday: I may take the opportunity to quiz them on how the game has affected their perception of Bournville…

w i d e o p e n s p a c e

Edit 10th May: Scroll down to the comments to see links to documentation of the event.

w i d e o p e n s p a c e brought to you by BARG Saturday May 9th, 2pm – 7ish suggested donation: £3 per player

w i d e o p e n s p a c e is an afternoon of fun, games and picnics around the Curzon Street area of Birmingham. Come and explore the terrain and its possibilities with us. All are welcome although we ask that parents bringing children keep an especially close watch on them. We’re asking people to make a donation of at least £3 each to help fund future BARG events.

Sign up at http://is.gd/vqYz to let us know if you’re planning to join us.
A .pdf of this information is available for download here.

Programme:

Here are the games we’re planning to run. (But there will also be plenty of opportunities for you to invent your own!)

Hat Snap

(variant of a game designed by Krzysiek “Semp” Bielecki)
The first game runs between 2pm and 3pm, with sign-up in the Bullring shopping centre at the cube seats near Baguette du Monde and Café Rouge (the open-air bit between New Street and Saint Martin’s Square, [1] on the map, see below) between 2 and 2:20.

You will need to bring a digital camera or a camera phone and it will be to your advantage to not be carrying too much other stuff. If you’ve brought a big delicious picnic with you, you might want to sign up at the front of Curzon Street Station ([2] on the map) and leave your baggages with our stewards.

Players will rendezvous at the Curzon Street Station building at 2:40 to tally up the points and determine the winner ([2] on the map). Full instructions will be given to you when you sign up; it’s up to you to decide on your strategy…

The Lost Sport

(rediscovered by Jane McGonigal and Kiyash Monsef)
The Lost Sport of Olympia is believed to be a 2500-year-old game invented, and ultimately banned, by the Ancient Greeks.

At 3pm we will move to the Curzon Street car park (probably the bit at the back, between the skaters and the railway lines, [3] on the map) for a team game with no opposing team: listen carefully as your team-mates guide you around a labyrinth. Make sure you’re wearing shoes you can run in.

Picnic

(designed by you!)
Not a game, but still very enjoyable!

Bring some food and join us on the grass area in front of the station building between about 5 and 6 for a leisurely picnic ([4] on the map). Sharing of food and ideas encouraged!

Bocce Drift, Croquet and GPS Sketches

Grab a few friends and have play with these things that will be available after the carpark bit. The rules for Bocce Drift (designed by David Jimison and Jeff Crouse) are here: http://ludocity.org/wiki/Bocce_Drift and we encourage you to invent your own rules for croquet (bear in mind it’s a borrowed set though – please don’t damage it). As an additional challenge, we’re asking for people to bring along random (non-valuable/non-dangerous) spherical objects for some further games improvisation.

2 iPAQs will be available for you to use to record your movements around the area: what pictures can you make? After the event we’ll convert everyone’s tracks to a Google Earth file so we can see what people drew. (You’ll need to leave your credit card or driving licence as a deposit for the iPAQ.)

Human Snake

(designed by Minkette)
You’ve seen the game played on mobile phones, now it’s time to play it in real life. Conga around between 6:30 and 7 to collect the fruit before the other team gets it first.

The Weather

A game of chance.

In the event of bad weather, w i d e o p e n s p a c e will be cancelled. We will announce the final decision on whether it will go ahead or not by 11am on Saturday the 9th of May. The announcement will be made via http://twitter.com/pindec, http://twitter.com/genzaichi, here and http://bargbarg.ning.com/events/w-i-d-e-o-p-e-n-s-p-a-c-e so please be sure to check if the weather looks a bit dodgy.

In the event of good weather, please make sure you bring the appropriate hat/cream/parasol to stop yourself getting sunburnt – there’s not a lot of shade available around Curzon Street.

The Map

(Click to embiggen.)
wide open spaces

The Small Print

w i d e o p e n s p a c e is an exercise in exploring a part of the city that is currently something of a wasteground. We’ll be playing in unloved areas that may be littered with things like rubble and broken glass, so if you’re joining us we ask that you dress appropriately and be especially careful of your safety at all times. Play at your own risk, etc etc, but have fun and spare some time to look at the cityscape in a new way.

BARG is a Birmingham-based network for playful people who like to make and/or play interesting games.

A game for Curzon Street would…

the Curzon Street area

  • A game for Curzon Street would be designed for the Curzon Street area, and for the Curzon Street area only.
  • A game for Curzon Street would make reference to Curzon Street’s past. [wikipedia entry] [rail around Birmingham entry]
  • A game for Curzon Street would make full use of how Curzon Street is now.
  • A game for Curzon Street would make people explore.
  • A game for Curzon Street would make people interact.

The London & Birmingham Railway, Curzon Street Station, 1838

Curzon Street car park

I’d like there to be a game designed specifically for this part of Birmingham.

BARG will be hosting an afternoon of play and picnics in the Curzon Street area (image of the full area) on the afternoon of Saturday the 9th of May. We can playtest either complete games or partial mechanics …or make something up when we’re there.

Consider that a challenge.



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