Emergent Game playtest at BARG #3

This time last year we (myself, Ana and Stuart) pulled a few strings behind the curtain of the first Emergent Game.

Last September we experimented with simultaneous play in the UK and Japan, culminating in a weekend of missions to coincide with igfest in Bristol.

Both versions used Twitter as the primary means of communication between players. But whereas the first game unfolded over about 2 months, the second one ran over a much more compressed timescale (for players at the festival, only a few hours maximum). Here Twitter became more of a hindrance than a help. We were spending far too much time explaining how it worked and then it was too much work for our players to try and monitor new players and who it was they should follow in order to be a part of the overall conversation.

We did however see some amazingly creative stuff come out of the workshops we ran in Kyoto and Yokohama, so when we were approached to maybe do something at a certain London-based games event it was kind of obvious by that stage that the festival context requires a Twitterless version.

So, last night’s BARG was dedicated to trying a low-tech Emergent Game.

Naturally the soft toys and creative, open-ended missions were still there, but the online communication was replaced by a massive grid marked out on the floor of the Lamp Tavern pub in Digbeth.

The Grid

Each mission had its own row, and each player had their own column. Documentation for the successful completion of a mission goes in the relevant cell. Et voila: a hugemongous pseudo scoreboard that instantly shows you how active you are being compared to the other players! We loved how we were always in it.

This time-lapse video shows the construction of The Grid and then stuff getting added to it as the game progressed:


Emergent Game playtest at BARG 3 from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

I keep watching this video over and over again. Did you spot Ben having a tête-à-tête with George (quite possibly the world’s softest octopus)? Did you like the Grid Dancing? Did you notice when Bobbity took Milo and some of the others down the road to the abattoir?

Why would Bobbity be taking Milo and some of the others on a trip to the abattoir? This is why…

Milo’s profile:

Milo the butcher McCreedy

Milo’s postcard to another player:

Visit Sunny Wormwood Scrubs

Dear George...

Milo’s hat:

HATHATHAT!

Milo’s suggestion for an ingredient to add to stone soup to make it oh-so delicious:
[…well, you can probably guess!]

There were many other glorious moments too, but you’ll have to have a look at the Flickr group pool or track down some of the players to find out what they were. What it boils down to is that I was seriously impressed/delighted/entertained at the way characters for the toys were rapidly developed and maintained throughout the whole 2 hours we played for.

It was also nice to speak to Lorna and realise that the toys provide something of a magic vest: investing the players with special powers for approaching strangers and talking about random stuff.

Last night we played with about 10 people in the back room of a pub in a less than salubrious industrial area of Birmingham. I can’t wait for the opportunity where we play with lots of strangers in a location where there’s lots of scope for roaming around outside and interacting with strangers not in the game!

Many thanks to Ana, pindec and Antonio for helping to organise the event, and more thanks heaped upon all those who played and gave feedback afterwards.

Time now to start thinking about what to do at BARG #4. Any suggestions from some of the people who have approached me over the last few months with the line “Nikki, I’d like to talk to you about an idea for a game…”? You know who you are!

drift

I’ve been doing lots of GPS legwork in preparation for a piece of place-specific work I’m developing for a section of Digbeth.

Basically this means walking a fixed route many times whilst carrying a GPS device so I can then look back at the trace of where it thought I went and get a feel for how much the buildings deflect the GPS signal. The things I’m particularly interested in (sorry – can’t be too specific at this stage!) are extremely liable to do this, so let’s just say I’m spending a lot of time walking around Digbeth at the moment!

Each walk takes approximately an hour to complete: I walk up and down particular roads, always staying on the right hand side and walking in the middle of the pavement (or as close to it as I can get seeing as how the pavements are often substitute carparks in Digbeth).

A few days ago I did a nice walk in the sunshine, but it was sullied somewhat when I got home and processed the traces – only the first 400m or so of my walk had been recorded! After that I decided to take both of my devices out with me, so I had a safety net if one of them didn’t record properly.

Yesterday I walked with a device in each hand:

iPAQs and gum

Check out those gum constellations! nice.

As I walked, I noticed that the device in my right hand was consistently giving me more erratic readings for my position than the one in my left hand. At one point I left them both next to each other on a wall for a few minutes so that when I could tell if it was my body disrupting the signal, or if it was because the device in my right hand was closer to the buildings I was walking past.

side by side

jitter

As you can see in the above screen-grab, there’s still a lot of discrepancy.

This got me thinking: by taking two devices out with me, I now had two traces that could be synchronised because the data that’s logged also includes time.

With a bit of fiddling around in notepad and calc I was able to merge the two sets of data and combine it with some mark-up so that that rather than having a line per device that joined position at time1 with position at time2, I could generate a series of lines that joined position from device1 and time1 with position with device2 at time1. Approximately.

Here’s a screen grab:

pretty!

Most of the lines really aren’t that short though and Digbeth is criss-crossed with a mesh of yellow. The best attempt so far at describing it comes from Tom Maillioux:

Like you reprogrammed your GPS to make not just a point, but a line from everywhere you were, showing all the places where you COULD have been.

I love how this has turned the data-collection into a drawing project and how it’s resonating with aspects of psychogeography, belief in technology and the whole sort of indecisiveness of Digbeth.

Now all I need is a way of extracting those lines from the .kml file so I can print them out big.

BARGBARG.ning.com

Many thanks to everyone who came to the first BARG meeting last week.

As suggested, pindec has put together a ning site for us to use for discussion and planning between meetings: www.bargbarg.ning.com.

BARGBARGBARG

Anyone interested in games and play and social mechanisms etc is welcome to sign up and join in the conversation, although the events will (initially, at least) be directed towards people who can get to Birmingham.

We’re aiming to have a regular meeting once a month – probably in the Old Lamp Tavern as before – that has a few structured activities as well as space for banter and serendipity. These will be complemented by other events and shenanigans taking place elsewhere such as games held in the city centre or visits to completely different cities.

Last week several people were suggesting things they’d like to make happen at BARGs, ranging from organising marauding gangs of razor-bladed hoodlums chasing consenting adults across the forgotten corners of Birmingham, through to person-sized board games. There were also murmurings relating to things like getting 10 people simultaneously playing the same computer game and explaining a card game we discovered several different people played. Hopefully, given time and an ecosystem to support them, projects involving pervasive technology or massively multiplayer narratives will start to emerge too.

Let’s start with what we can get our hands on now and get the momentum going.

Anyone interested in BARG should sign up to BARGBARG.ning and those within striking distance of Brum please add your thoughts to this thread where we’re talking about when to have the regular meeting.

I’m also keen to get people down to Bristol for an iglab so you can experience some of the possibilities for general BARGiness. The date of their next meeting is unconfirmed, but drop me a line if you’d like come.

Here are a few things investigating swarming mechanics to have come from that direction:


Comfort in Union Square from Simon Evans on Vimeo.


holler lu lu from iglab on Vimeo.

Surpass the Parcel

Surpass the Parcel is a game designed by Kevan Davies and Holly Gramazio. It’s released under an Attribution-Noncommercial Creative Commons licence and you can read the basic rule set (and others) on the rather marvellous Ludocity website.

We ran a variant of Surpass the Parcel as part of the first BARG meet-up so this post is a summary of what we did in order that I can link back to it from the discussion section on the Ludocity wiki. If you’re not familiar with the game, you should probably read the Ludocity entry first or what follows won’t make much sense!

The aim of the first BARG gathering was to find out a bit about why people where there and what aspirations and interests they had game-wise. In order to enliven this data-gathering process and to get people mingling a bit we moved some of the questions we might have asked in a standing-up-and-talking-at-people bit into the game of Surpass the Parcel.

Here are the criteria we used for the different layers of the parcel:

  1. Find someone taller than you.
  2. Challenge someone to Rock, Paper, Scissors. If they win, they get the parcel. If you win, they get the parcel but you can write your name in the box first.
  3. Find someone who will recommend a good game to you.
  4. Find someone with longer hair than you.
  5. Find someone who will give you a definition of what an Alternate Reality Game is. [Tongue in cheek! I was hoping for some blatantly made-up nonsense definitions, but I don’t think that happened in the end.]
  6. Find someone who has an idea for a game they would like to make.
  7. Challenge someone to a staring contest. If they win, they get the parcel. If you win, they get the parcel but you can write your name in the box first.
  8. Find someone who’s up for playing a game in the city centre
  9. Find someone who’d be prepared to spend a few minutes talking about something at a later BARG meet
  10. Find somebody with more points than you. [This could probably do with expanding on so that the person left holding the parcel at the end realises it’s the last layer and they shouldn’t open it unless they’ve go the highest score of the evening.]

pass

The parcel itself was wrapped in (wallpaper) lining paper with the main prize being a stunningly pink set of fluffy dice and each layer having a small toy (dinosaur, marbles, little painting set, etc). Total cost: well under a fiver, with most of it going to local charity shops. Many of the gifts got incorporated into the play taking place throughout the evening. Which was nice.

T-shirt vs Dinosaur

The game calls for a Loud Noise to signal when each layer is to be unwrapped. There were only two of us hosting the evening and our main priority was to talk to as many people as possible, so we automated the Loud Noise Making.

Before the event I solicited requests for people to send me an mp3 file of themselves saying “BARG”. This resulted in a deliciously piratey “BAAAARRRG” from Laura E. Hall. I added some pot-clanging noises on the front end to make sure it stood out from pub chatting noises and then used Audacity to quickly make a series of tracks consisting of the Loud Noise followed by 10-15 minutes of silence.
We used a mp3 player hooked up to the venue’s rather large sound system. (Do a sound check first to make sure it all works!)

Here’s some video of the Loud Noise caught in action:


Surpass the parcel from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

And here’s the Loud Noise by itself:

[audio:http://npugh.co.uk/media/SurBARG_the_parcel_single.mp3]

Using a series of tracks instead of one continuous one meant that we could either let them run at the original pace, or easily fast-forward some of the silence to speed things along.

We were running short of time in the second half of the evening (having paused the game for a talky bit in the middle) so we made use of the fast-forwarding option bringing each round down to about 4-5 minutes. This had the side-effect of emphasising to people that there was a limited amount of time, changing the dynamics quite a lot! Up until then, the points list had lots of names with one or two points each, but now people started to realise that they could actively try and be passed-to.

points mean prizes

It’s useful to have a pen to pass around with the parcel and, if you’re using the layers to gather information as we did, it’s a good idea to have a system in place to make sure the used layers with everyone’s names on don’t get thrown away at the end of the event!

BARG: in tweets

From doing the links in the last post it became apparent that about 90% of the BARG attendees were using Twitter. Here is some of the Twitter trail as found in my search stream:

Everyone I know seems to be going to #BARG tonight. Wish I could be theregoodhen

Getting ready to make my way to #Barg @ Lamp Tavern. i shall see what i shall see.midge_uk

Going to head down to BARG later, so I’ll see (and meet for the first time) some of you there.duncautumnstore

@genzaichi There’s #BARG cake? Oh joy! I can have an adventure in cake! W00t.benjaminbrum

Seriously considering going to BARG tonight, if only to satisfy my curiousity.ArtyType

#barg 10minutes in and @peteashton has hacked connect 4 alreadynicklockey

A twitter based #barg game would be goodKatchooo

just won battleships against @hellocatfood- yay!nicklockey

Enjoyed #BARG, some interesting possibilities presented themselves. Mainly excessively silly ones in my own mind!
robotvsdinosaur

Quite excited about #BARG. Loads of like minded people and the potential to push things in weird and interesting directions.duncautumnstore

Or in GTA3:SA terms – #BARG is like coming across San Fierro for the first time. The mechanics are the same but there’s a new terrain.
duncautumnstore

#BARG excellent. Clearly I’d like to be kidnapped, travel places & am willing to do _anything_ for a good game.
benjaminbrum

ARG now not so confusing #BARGmidge_uk

#BARG was ace. Lots of fun.getgood

@getgood The slashy people didn’t get you on the way home then? #BARG was much fun. Lemonade and cake and Connect 4 and interesting ideassiwhitehouse

#BARG was great. Looks like start of a whole new network based around games. Woo! Will report more later.peteashton

Thanks to the #BARG people (salute). I reckon something pretty good could come out of this.dazwright

I now ‘know’ what ARGs basically are but now have to use the limitations of 26 letters to describe them in a blog post!?midge_uk

@genzaichi good to find out about #BARG tonight. Quite excited about where it’ll go next.duncautumnstore

Back home finally #BARG was great, and so was cake. Yummershellocatfood

mustnotkidnap@benjaminbrum mustnotkidnap@benjaminbrum mustnotkidnap@benjaminbrum mustnotkidnap@benjaminbrum #BARGanamilgram

BARG: in pictures of people

listening to introductions

These rather serious-looking people are listening to eachother introduce themselves and describing what their ideal BARG would be.

Introductions

The 20-or-so of us there were artists; social media people; people from music; people from web; people interested in communities; people interested in digital; people interested in history; people interested in telling stories; people interested in kittens. We were there because games and play relate to our thinking, our work and our leisure. We were interested in indoor games, outdoor games, board games, video games, card games, online games and offline games. We want to play games, we want to make games, we want to understand games. Some of us are just curious. (Much respect to the people who came just because they were curious.)

pete's fizzy brain

The first part of the evening saw the meeting of new people, the hacking of Connect 4 and, unbelievably, some people‘s first ever games of Ker-plunk! We provide an educational service.

battleships by torchlight

Other people improvised in the darker corners of the function room.

Cake Hunting

Some people hunted for cake.

Surpass the Parcel

Surpass the Parcel

plan, points and pint

Some people surpassed the parcel; in the process finding out about recommended games (I heard kiss-chase being mentioned!); games planned for the future; and people who were up for playing games in the city centre.

Ben gesticulates whilst entertaining the troops

mwah-ha-ha

Ben educated and entertained.

What do points mean?

Pete won some fluffy dice and then gave them to Duncan.

turtle tower

Duncan stacked the fluffy dice in, on and around Mr Turtle.

AdLib and Mr Turtle

Mr Turtle played surpass the parcel and also supervised a few rounds of Ad-Lib.

The Bloggers (and Ben)

The Bloggers demonstrated swarming mechanics.

T-shirt vs Dinosaur

Midge played with his dinosaurs.

Dinosaur, scratchings, kerplunk, and cake

We ate BARG cake and Lamp pork scratchings. It was all good. Mostly.


BARG Zero from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

signage

Waddington

I spent this afternoon accompanying Ben Waddington and Nicky Getgood on a tour of Digbeth, during which I spotted this selectively-faded sign:

chop

Ouch.

…which in turn has prompted me to post these photos of signs from in and around Banff. Suggestions for alternative meanings in the comments please!

boxes

truck

ski

cliff

slip

I’m also going to shoe-horn this list of bus rules into the post, just ‘cos I think it’s fab:

Bus Rules

Remember: good behaviour may be rewarded with an occasional treat; bad behaviour may result in a private chat.

Art and Regeneration; Koganecho Bazaar and Digbeth

So, you’ve clamped down on the prostitution, human trafficking and violent Yakuza gangs and now you’ve got 150 vacant shops and a vacuum in the community. What are you going to do about it?

Some people in and around Yokohama decided on building some new artist studios and holding an event lasting nearly 12 weeks – the Koganecho Bazaar – as a means towards reconstructing a sense of place in a small river-side area that had previously had a national reputation for being a hotbed of illegality.

…If our efforts can lead to the revitalisation of the area, we will have taken the first step in a longer process. We will have also provided an example of city revitalisation that is unprecedented in Japan. The Koganecho Bazaar will not be successful if only the event itself is successful. Rather, it has the greater goal of being the first step in recreating the area. As director Mr. Yamano has pointed out, a relationship between art and community is not quickly created in a short amount of time, but slowly over a long period of time. For the future of this town, I would like to make the Koganecho Bazaar the first step in that process.
Nobuharu Suzuki, Organising Committee Chairman

I find the openness of the Bazaar’s organisers towards the shortcomings and limitations of their actions very refreshing. In an essay that also describes the importance of having lived in Koganecho during the planning of the event (something the event’s director also chose to do), Kazuki Saito reiterates an ethos of changing the area from the inside out:

we don’t intend to reshape the town, we can only hope to gain the attention of the various people gathering here and to mold that attention into a certain form.
Kazuki Saito, staff

I spent a few hours with the curators of one of the venues involved in the event; an afternoon exploring the area; and have also been reading various articles relating to the project. My knowledge and perception of Koganecho is sparse and highly mediated (not least through translation across languages and cultures). That said, it instinctively feels that there is much here that is not only worthy of mention in itself, but that also resonates strongly with various conversations going on here regarding the regeneration of Digbeth (Birmingham, UK).

Geography

map

Koganecho area, Yokohama
[click on the image above for a link to Google maps and zoom in!]

I suppose the comparisons inevitably start with the two geographies: Koganecho and Digbeth are comparable in size and both located just outside of the main focus of the city centre (although I find this concept is less applicable to cities in Japan and I imagine Yokohama is on a much bigger scale). Is it worth also mentioning here that both Yokohama and Birmingham are/were/might be second cities? Not sure…

Where Koganecho has seen the decline of its, um, ‘entertainment’ industry (the area is cited as having hosted some 250 brothels in its heyday), Digbeth is home to many empty factory units caught between industrial decline and the promise of better property prices ahead in the wake of the area’s transformation into the Cultural Quarter.

back street

Both are, to their own extents, suffering from a decline in their economies and the loss of the communities that thrived off these. What generally remains are people without the links to, and vested interests in, the infrastructures and interactions going on within the area. Given the population density of urban Japan, that’s a lot of people that don’t really care that much. Imagine if you could mould just even a tiny fraction of that attention!

apartments

There are exceptions of course, and, not surprisingly, artists and entrepreneurs started to move in and take advantage of the available space. It’s my feeling that in Digbeth’s case, this has come down more on the side of the entrepreneurs and large institutions (the Custard Factory empire, colleges, universities and media companies) and artists have found either the rents or leasing terms to be difficult to work with. (Again, a mediated perception…)

My major concern about the regeneration of Digbeth/Eastside is that it always seems to be so incredibly top-down: funders specify what they want in return for their money and the appropriate components are parachuted into place. I’ve already highlighted that my perceptions of Koganecho Bazaar are highly mediated, but I came away from it with the overriding feeling that it was very much bottom-up in its approach. It felt like it was providing spaces for people to get on with their thing, rather than shaping and controlling what that thing might be.

Space to be

The flagship venues for the Bazaar are two brand new studio buildings built under the arches of the railway line that runs down the axis of the redevelopment area: Koganecho Studios and Hinode Studios.

Kogane studios

Kogane verandah

Kogane corridor

The photos above show the rather lovely Koganecho building (more about Hinode later). Here there are 5 small ‘studio’ spaces linked by a spacious corridor and verandah. There is also a central café area. The building can be accessed from a number of different doorways, from either the road or river sides.

I’m not sure how practical this would be as an actual working art production space, but this is a seriously nice piece of architecture and it seems to work well as a combination of both showcasing and social spaces. It even looked good in the edges of a typhoon when I first encountered it!

Kogane studios at night

Returning a few days later, in more agreeable weather conditions, I gently quizzed one of the resident artists (Ayumi Fukumoto) to try and find out more about the space and the way it had been set up.

Ayumi Fukumoto - nani mo nai mono

From Ayumi we learned that the artists, projects and designers in the spaces had been curated in some fashion (I don’t know if people had to submit a proposal or whether they were approached by the curators). She didn’t have to pay any rent on the space for the duration of the Bazaar, although she was presumably having to man it every day.

Ayumi’s work was predominantly ceramics-based (a museum/shop of plausible, yet completely useless, objects) so I asked her where her actual studio was. She told me it was in Yokohama and this led me to wonder what balance the curators had struck between locally-based artists and those from elsewhere. For reference, the others in the building were: THE GOLD Arts & Designing (design), Katsuko Ishigaki (artist), Tetsuro Kano (artist), Wit Pimkanchanapong (artist) and Shichoshitsu ver. 2 (food and drink).

One group involved in the Bazaar very obviously not originally from Yokohama is O.F.F. – the O-sotoria Freespace Foundation. O.F.F. is a multi-purpose space “based on the idea of art- and knowledge-transfer between Japan and Europe”.

Georg Russegger took part in Dislocate and a few of us from the symposium braved the weather to visit the O.F.F space one evening.

O.F.F. is one of the 4 venues in the 2-building Hatsune studio complex, each venue comprising of what used to be two properties combined into 1. Sounds grand, but as you can see from the photos below we’re still only talking about a couple of rooms about 2 metres wide. (…or, as one article puts it, just wide enough for a double bed!) O.F.F. is located in the front part of the front building, with an okonomiyaki restaurant in the rear part. Behind that is a second building housing a shops and what can perhaps be best described here as a site-specific installation with plug-holes and showers.

Hatsune

Hatsune

I think I’m correct in saying that these spaces are rent free for the duration of the bazaar and then the rent is incrementally increased over the remaining 3 years of the lease.

Whilst the size might be small by UK standards, they’re fairly typical for what I’ve come across in Japan and the lack of space certainly didn’t seem to be cramping anyone’s style or ambitions. Bringing the 4 venues together into one ‘studio’ group also helped to amplify what was going on. Again, here was the strong impression that people had been provided with space to conduct their projects as they see fit.

Commerce

Commerce forms a key part of Koganecho Bazaar, indeed part of the reason for naming it as a Bazaar was to seed the idea of lively trade.

There are two Bazaar shops selling artwork, art books, the Bazaar’s own brand and locally made goods. In addition to this, the second of the new studio buildings – Hinode studios – houses some more obviously commercially orientated tenants, including a collaboration with me ISSEY MIYAKE.

Just as a minor digression, the architecture of the Hinode building is similar in feel to that of the Koganecho building, although the design is quite different.

Hinode studios

Again housed under the railway arches, rather than the different spaces being linked internally via a corridor and verandah, here the public can go up one of several stairways to a promenade that winds around the different shops and cafés at just below ceiling level.

Hinode studios

Hinode studios - steps up to the promenade

View from the promenade into one of the shops

This forms an interesting inside/outside space where you are essentially still in the open air, but also in the enclosed space between the promenade walls (glass, so you can look down into the public and private areas of the shops below) and the railway arches just above.

As you can just see in the second of the photos above, this space is currently being used to show a video work on several large screens located across the rooftops. (Try that in Digbeth!)

The final thing I want to say about commerce here is to point out how the Bazaar has linked with other local businesses.

The Koganecho Bazaar is running a ‘coupon collaboration program’ with about 20 local businesses ranging from restaurants and cafés through to barbers, toy shops, book shops, paint shops and paint shops. The Bazaar’s map/leaflet acts as a giant coupon you can take to any of these places (all marked on the map alongside the art venues) in exchange for free side dishes or discounts etc. My favourite is a 50% discount on selected dog clothing!

I’m choosing to read this as a sign both of cooperation with the existing businesses located within the area (thought to self: I wonder if any new businesses have moved in to take advantage of the footfall from the Bazaar?) and of the huge amount of leg-work the organisers must have done to build relationships with them.

Maps are always very useful (read: necessary) for finding places in urban Japan’s maze of streets and the Bazaar’s map also shows a range of establishments not connected with the event. This could be interpreted as providing navigation marks for visitors, but if you look carefully at what has been chosen to go on the map you can see that they are all places with cultural connections (bookshops, shrines, designers), more cafés or practical things such as convenience stores and the post office.

This is a really nice, subtle way of underlining the cultural wealth of the area and presenting it as a vibrant place to be.

I’m aware that the issue of lack of mapping and signage around Digbeth has come up a few times recently and I’m curious to see what a cultural/art map of Digbeth would look like, not to mention these other ‘value-added’ shops and services. Do any exist and whose culture is it aimed at (art venues? music venues? design venues?)?

Kogane Cider

Oh, and at the café we stopped at, we both had a bottle of the locally-produced Kogane Cider! (Non-alcoholic, sorry but that’s just the way cider is in Japan!)

Publicity, Marketing and Tying it all Together

As I’ve just indicated, I thought the mapping of the Bazaar worked very effectively, but can I just point out here that it worked very effectively in two different languages at the same time. Although English was the secondary language used (and that’s how it should be) I did not feel that I was being starved of information and found it very easy to navigate the contents of the Bazaar, both in terms of the literature and interacting with the works and venues.

This has got me wondering if I’ve ever seen any bilingual publicity for art events in Birmingham, where I can imagine there’s also a strong argument for text both in English and Asian languages.

The Koganecho Bazaar website is the one place where for some reason I feel I might be being short-changed on information, although in reality there’s all the information required for visiting and quite a lot of background information too. I notice that there is also a blog run by the staff that looks very active (although it’s in Japanese so I can’t really comment on what the content is like).

Contact with the staff also comes from the centrally-located Bazaar office and an information centre located opposite one of the train stations (there’s a station at either end of the Bazaar area). Both of these also house artworks and, in the case of the office, this goes a long way towards helping to identify the nondescript building!

bazaar office

bazaar office

Another signifier for the venues were the many banners around the streets (you can see them in some of the photos above). I think these were mostly being used as general decoration in the area (and, I have to admit, they did kind of brighten the place up a bit!) but were useful to mark out the more remote venues. The use of banners and pennants like this reminds me of some open studio events I’ve been to (site in Stroud, Hampshire Artists) and it seems like a simple but effective way of declaring venues spread around a large area. In the case of Stroud’s Site event, it’s also worth looking at their use of different routes to link places together.

Is there anything Digbeth can learn from this to highlight venues down different alleys and hidden in different warehouses, or am I fooling myself about the number of small, independent spaces in the area?

More on mapping…

In addition to the area maps in the leaflet and on the website, the studios had their own maps too.

niceries - studio plan and stamp

There are various clusters of studios around Birmingham, but do they have maps or alternative signage that you can use to see at a glance who is there and what they are doing? Maybe this only applies to the sorts of studios with public access, and I’m not sure if we have that here?

The photo above shows a map of the Hinode building, but another thing worth mentioning is the chair in the background. On the chair is a friendly note and a rubber stamp. These stamps were available at several of the Bazaar venues and it’s something you see at practically all tourist spots (and sometimes even railway stations!) in Japan. I think the core idea is you go around and sort of collect the different stamps/places in a sort of (postage)stamp-collecting/trainspotting/I was ‘ere hybrid. Once you’ve got someone to one of your venues, how can you actively encourage them to stay on the trail and visit other venues?

At several of the places we went to – and I think we pretty much went to them all in the afternoon we were there – staff and artists apologetically explained to us that since it was a weekday not many people were about. I don’t know what sort of visitor numbers they have on a weekend, or whether they were concerned that the artists weren’t all there to talk about their work, but we still saw a pretty impressive number of people wandering around the Bazaar area with their leaflet guides.

Not bad for a former red-light district…

Practically all the publicity for the Bazaar starts off with a sentence that includes the phrase “former red-light district”. At first I thought this was too gimmicky and that the Bazaar should be selling itself on its artistic merits rather than on the seedy history of the area, but eventually it dawned on me that what they were really saying was “FORMER red-light district” and what they’re actually doing is planting the message in everyone’s head that it no longer is a red-light district! Regeneration by NLP?!

I don’t know what the area looked like when it was a fully operational red-light district, but the Koganecho of today is not an overwhelmingly pretty place. Neither is Digbeth.

back street at night

I have however seen a few pictures of Koganecho in the Springtime when the cherry trees along the river blossom. Very popular, apparently – there’s even a festival to celebrate. On the map, the river is also included within the Bazaar area. I’m trying to imagine a cultural map of Digbeth that includes the canal.

A bit of green in Digbeth would be nice.

poster in the window of a local convenience store

The photo above is the last photo I took in Koganecho before hopping on the train and heading back to the central area.

It’s just one of the festival posters in the window of a convenience store. As I rounded the corner and climbed the steps to the ticket gate I saw three more A1 posters on the hoardings in front of some construction work.

I don’t know if any local residents or businesses are going to see the art, but it’s clear that they are making a contribution that will help promote the event.

In addition to all of this, Koganecho Bazaar has produced a guidebook and textbook that contains several essays on the festival and the history of the area alongside pages outlining the different participants and the buildings involved. ¥1000 (roughly £5) and utterly priceless at the same time. I bought a copy as soon as I saw it.

Koganecho guidebook and textbook

A really nicely designed, informative book about 150 pages long. That’s how you ensure your project has a life once the banners have been taken down and packed away. I also like the way they have documented the history of the area before coming in and trying to regenerate it.

Money and/or Success

Here’s a list of the main organisations that have supported the event: (taken from the website)

Co-organized by : 150 Anniversary of the Port Opening and Creative City Headquarters, Yokohama Arts Foundation
Patronized by: Kanagawa Prefecture
Sponsored by: Keihin Electric Express Railway Co., Ltd. , Morimoto Co., Ltd.
In cooperation with: Kogane-X, BankART1929, Kyunasaka Studio, etc
Granted by: Asahi Beer Arts Foundation,
Program to support ‘Creative Towns through Culture and Arts’ (Agency for Cultural Affairs), Fukutake Foundation for the Promotion of Regional Culture

Note that there’s no equivalent to the Arts Council in Japan!

I don’t know how the organisers of the Bazaar will judge whether the event has been a success, or on what timescale they will measure its effects. Likewise for the driving forces behind the Eastside transformation, although it seems likely it’ll be related to property prices.

Next year sees the big celebrations marking 150 years of the opening of the port of Yokohama to trade, so maybe it does just boil down to a public relations exercise in trying to shift the red-light district label? Maybe it’s just a bunch of artists wanting to cash in on the current Triennale? Having read the texts in the guidebook I sincerely doubt either of these are motivations for the organisers of the Bazaar. For what it’s worth, and going by whatever arbitrary internal scales I’m using to measure it, I certainly rate the event as a big success.

The Digbeth Bazaar, anyone?

Anyone could write a text on “why is art necessary in this town-restoration?” and while I agree that a project like this would also be useful in other places, unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. If the venue of the art and town were different, everything that would be produced would turn out differently, and no individual place could maintain its own identity. But, while proceeding cautiously, we can see the momentum of the town’s change as well as the art’s change, and finally we can make the argument of art’s necessity and the usefulness of art.
Shingo Yamano, director

Come out and play

We’re holding the first of our public workshop sessions related to Emergent Game tonight at Rooty’s in the Custard Factory. [map]

Although it’ll be a good chance to find out more about The Game we’re intending that it should also stand alone and be of value to anyone who’s interested in the Big Game approach to collaborative creativity and exploring what’s around you.

digbeth

So, armed with a pocket-full of technology and a soft-toy avatar, we invite you to join us in seeking out some interesting parts of Digbeth. Tonight, drop in from 4.30pm until at least about 7pm. It’s free – just bring yourself, your mobile phone/digital camera and a sense of humour.

rooty's zone

Pub Cnversations: Melanie Carvalho and Ross Birrell

Please note that there has been a change in venue and this pub conversation will now be held at The Spotted Dog.

The Spotted Dog, 104 Warwick Street, Digbeth, Birmingham, B12 0NH.
Tel: 0121 772 3822
Tuesday 29th April
7.30pm

Places are limited, so please email selfservice@hotmail.co.uk to book.

Melanie Carvalho

Melanie Carvalho is an artist working and living in London. She has shown in solo exhibitions (Cubitt gallery, London, 2002; Hidde van Seggelen, London 2006) and group exhibitions (East International, Norwich School of Art and Gallery, 2007; Where the Wild Things Are, Dundee Contemporary Arts, 2006; The Impossible Landscape, UMass Fine Art Centre, Amherst, Massachussetts, USA, 2006; Collage, Bloomberg Space, London; Solar Lunar, doggerfisher, 2004; Plunder, DCA, 2003; Viewfinder, Arnolfini, Bristol, 2002). She also co-curated The Poster Show with John Maclean that was shown at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York, in 1999 and Cabinet, London, 2000. Carvalho studied at Central Saint Martins College of Art and the Royal College of Art and received a Rome scholarship in 1998 . She recently published a book entitled Expedition: A Journey in Search of Tropical Scotland, (which includes an essay by Ross Birrell) as part of a piece of work of the same name, whereby she travelled around the west coast of Scotland drawing, painting and filming the palms and sub-tropical flora that grown there. Her work is in private and public collections, including the New Art Gallery, Walsall.

Ross Birrell

Ross Birrell is an artist and writer. He has shown in group and solo exhibitions including the 4th Gwangju Bienalle (2002), Utopia Station (Sindelfingen, 2003), Envoy, Ellen de Bruijne Projects, Amsterdam and BüroFriedrich, Berlin (2003), Between the Lines Apex Art, New York (2003), Homo Ludens: Works from the Envoy series 1998-2005, Friesmuseum, Leeuwarden (2005) and most recently the survey show curated by Jörg Heiser, Romantic Conceptualism, Kunsthalle, Nürnberg/BAWAG Foundation Vienna 2007. Since 2005 Birrell has collaborated with David Harding on a series of films and installations, Port Bou: 18 Fragments for Walter Benjamin (2005) and Cuernavaca: A Journey in Search of Malcolm Lowry (2006) commissioned by Kunsthalle Basel. In December 2007 they were awarded an SAC Artist’s Film and Video Award for a new film to be shot in Havana and Miami in Spring 2008, to be premiered at CCA, Glasgow in January 2009 on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution.

Ross Birrell is a lecturer and researcher at Glasgow School of Art and editor of the online journal, Art & Research. He is represented by Ellen de Bruijne Projects, Amsterdam.

Pub Conversations

For more information regarding Pub Conversations, the Pub Conversations podcasts and Self Service, go to www.pubconversations.co.uk



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