Orrery for Landscape, Sinew and Serendipity: Wolverhampton exhibition

Orrery for Landscape, Sinew and Serendipity will be exhibited alongside the Wolverhampton School of Art MA show taking place at Wolverhampton Art Gallery between the 1st and 9th of October. Full details here: http://www.wlv.ac.uk/mashow/

Below is the text I wrote to accompany the moving Orrery (playing back sections of four different rides) and the audio of conversations between myself of Hannah Nicklin, Emily Chappell and Tina Tylen.

Orrery detail

Orrery for Landscape, Sinew and Serendipity is an ongoing project that asks questions about the physical and emotional experiences of cycling, the physical and emotional experiences of being the person left at home, and the frictions of data visualisation.

Various live tracking services exist that enable you to ‘watch’ cyclists as they make their journeys. Usually this involves a web page showing a map, a marker icon representing the person pedalling and maybe a line showing the route they have taken so far. Known as ‘dot-watching’, following the progress of riders in this way is highly addictive and—along with social media—is a big part of the audience’s experience of events such as the Transcontinental Race (Belgium to Turkey via various mountainous checkpoints) or the Tour Divide (Canada to Mexico along the Rocky Mountains) as well as individuals making record attempts.

Working from the starting point that the tools we use tend to influence the way we think and talk about things, Nikki has made the Orrery as an alternative to dot-watching in order to use it as a prop for conversations about the tools we use already and how different tools might open up different avenues of thought.

A physical object with elements that are raised, rotated, rattled and illuminated, the Orrery is driven by the same GPS data as the map-based tracking websites, but rather than showing us where the rider is, how far they have gone and how fast they are moving, it instead conveys something of the moment-to-moment experience of being on the bike. Is the rider struggling up a hill, experiencing an exhilarating descent, battling a headwind or immersed in the arriving dawn?

Here the Orrery is accompanied by audio from conversations between Nikki and Hannah Nicklin, Emily Chappell and Tina Tylen.

Last year Hannah competed in an Ironman distance triathlon (a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile cycle and a 26.2 mile run). Nikki and others gathered online with bated breath, hitting refresh on the results page and waiting for news that she’d made it around the course after some 14 hours.

Emily is known for doing big adventurous bike rides and for writing about them. After an aborted attempt in 2015, this year she completed the Transcontinental Race in 13 days, 10 hours and 28 minutes. Her father’s spreadsheets of her rides form a counterpoint to Emily’s experiences of dot-watching and of being the dot that is watched.

Tina is the mother—and the support crew—for her daughter Kajsa as she attempts to break the women’s year record by cycling more than 29,603 miles before the end of 2016. Tina watches Kajsa’s dot to gauge if all is well …and to check if there’s enough time to nip out to the supermarket before she gets back.

Inevitably this is not a project about data or electronics or even bikes, but about connections between people.

The Orrery is replaying sections from the following rides:
Mark Chappell // Wind Farm and Wild Dogs. (1 hour 25 minutes)
Kajsa Tylen // Starting Out. (1 hour)
Emily Chappell // The Gradient and the Effort and Everything That’s Gone Before. (1 hour)
Hannah Nicklin // Horrible Horrible Rain and Wind. Freezing. (1 hour)

Orrery detail

Orrery detail

Orrery detail

Orrery detail

Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Also with thanks to:

  • Mike Cummins, Jez Higgins and Kim Wall for programming skills.
  • Phil Smith (Enginuity) and uMake for fabrication facilities.
  • Emily Chappell, Mark Chappell, Hannah Nicklin, Tina Tylen, Kajsa Tylen and everyone else who has contributed brains and/or brawn to the project.

Tell Me About a Time…

I’ve just installed a little corner in Birmingham Open Media as part of their Live R&D exhibition which opens tomorrow and runs through until March the 19th.

It’s intended as something of a story-gatherer and conversation-starter, so please do add to the little yellow notebooks with any tales you have to tell. Big or small.


tell me

tell me about

Tell Me About a Time…

Before the research, before the development, comes the blank canvas and the nebulous first whispers of an idea. Swirling around in Nikki’s head at the moment are themes of connectedness, journeying and adventure, all seeking places to settle and take form.

In Tell Me About a Time… Nikki invites you to share your stories that relate to some of these themes; because this is the time where talking to other people often provides the speck of a thing around which thinking and making nucleate. This is the time where you get a sense of the lie of the land before then deciding what sort of a path you might choose to navigate through it.

So please share your stories by writing them in the notebooks below, helping to gather together and celebrate poetic details of the everyday, moments of modest heroism and those tales that remind us who we are or can be.



Travelled Just Over 1,000 Miles

When Gran died I inherited her postcard collection. Looking through the wooden boxes my Mum and I found a slightly incongruous handwritten list of place names…

The list outlines a coach trip taken by my great grandmother Ida and two of her sisters: seven days travelling from Northenden (Manchester), down between Birmingham and the Welsh border before touring around Devon and Cornwall. There are accompanying postcards, but it’s the photo of the three sisters and their travelling companions that tell us most about how the journey might have been.

How do you tell travels to those who were not there?

Prototype Creatures from the Colony Project – commission for The Lowry

Two prototype creatures from the Colony project have been commissioned by The Lowry for exhibition in Right Here, Right Now; their current showcase of contemporary art relating to digital systems and cultures. It runs through until the end of February 2016, and opened to the public yesterday.

I was up there last Wednesday for the preview and launch event. It started well with a visitor in the cafe doing a double-take-including-putting-glasses-on as I passed by with one of the creatures we’d walked with to gather data a few weeks ago. This acted as my magic vest and we chatted for a bit before I continued up to the galleries.

I like that the creatures act as permission objects in this way, and we experienced the effect several times whilst we were out with them on the data walks. Since I’m designing for a certain amount of spectacle and stranger:stranger interaction as I continue developing the Colony project, it seemed only fitting to bring along a creature for people to interact with at the launch (in addition to the two that were attached to the plinths!).

Here are a selection of the reactions they generated:

critter reaction

critter reaction

critter reaction

I also really like the two modes of engagement captured in this image posted @chrisinculture by on Twitter

Lowry Two Modes

The rest of my images from the launch are in this Flickr album, and the official selection from The Lowry is here, too.

Below are a few installation views of the gallery the morning after the night before – the rest of that album can be seen here.

critter installation

critter installation

critter installation

There’s an exhibition catalogue, including an essay by Beryl Graham that you can download and read. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this, which is what the Colony creatures will be doing for the next three months (with a few variations!)

Critter wriggle

Colony installation at The Lowry

Without giving away too many secrets, here are a few behind-the-scenes glimpses of the two days I spent installing the Colony prototypes at The Lowry earlier this week for Right Here Right Now.

Many thanks to Dave, Emily and the rest of the team who helped. (Especially Dave, who transformed my cardboard maquette and rough sketches into a rather lovely plinth.)

The finished plinth and the cardboard maquette I'd originally made to show what I wanted

The finished plinth and the cardboard maquette I’d originally made to show what I wanted



A plinth in two parts...

A plinth in two parts…

Cable nemesis

Cable nemesis

Committing to a fixed position of the first critter

Committing to a fixed position of the first critter

Final fixing of panels in position

Final fixing of panels in position

The critters settled into their accommodation for the next three months.

The critters settled into their accommodation for the next three months.

Then there was a lot of watching and tweaking of angles. Also a lot of ladders, but I think they’ll be gone by the launch next week!
Colony installation at The Lowry

Salford metropolis in the fog

Salford metropolis in the fog

Photos and video from Where the Sky Widens degree show

Where the Sky Widens: degree show

Where the Sky Widens: degree show

Where the Sky Widens: degree show

Where the Sky Widens: degree show

Where the Sky Widens: degree show

Where the Sky Widens: degree show

Where the Sky Widens: degree show

Where the Sky Widens - degree show

Where the Sky Widens - degree show

Where the Sky Widens - degree show

Launch event ride to Longbridge

As part of the launch event for Ride (Birmingham – York) on Saturday the 14th of September, I will be cycling between Cannon Hill Park and the Bournville College campus at Longbridge.

As I cycle I will be collecting data and sending it to a sculpture in Bournville College. This data will then be ‘played back’ by the sculpture during the main launch event.

If you would like to join me on this leisurely 7 mile ride, read on…

The Logistics

The ride will be led by BikeRight! West Midlands who are very kindly supporting the event as part of the Smart Network, Smarter Choices project

All are welcome – we’ll go at the pace of the slowest rider and there will be people making sure no-one gets left behind.

Meet near the bandstand in Cannon Hill Park for 9:30am. Click on the image above to view on Open Street Map. There will be Park Run happening at the same time, so please ensure you give yourself plenty of time and please be mindful of the other people using the park.

You must be riding a road-worthy cycle in order to join the ride, as well as taking responsibility for the safety of yourself and others around you (through considerate behaviour and following the rules of the road).

BikeRight! staff will be near the bandstand from 9am in order to give your bike a quick safety check in case there is anything you are unsure about. If you do not have access to a roadworthy machine, BikeRight! have a limited number of bikes they can lend people for the ride. If you would like to borrow one of these, it must be agreed in advance – send an email to info2@bikeright.co.uk with ‘Nikki Pugh Led Ride’ in the subject.

Please make sure you have a lock to secure your cycle whilst you are inside the college.

There will not be an organised ride back from the event at Longbridge, so please make your own plans for returning home (especially important if you have borrowed a bike to get there!). There is a train station very close to the college or you can re-trace the route back to Cannon Hill Park.

There is free car-parking at Cannon Hill Park, or it is on National Cycle Route number 5 if you are cycling over from the city centre.

The Route

We will follow National Cycle Route 5 along the River Rea to Stirchley and then through Kings Norton and Northfield.

The route is about 7 miles long and mostly off-road on shared paths.
There is also a short section along a canal towpath.

The surface is not always great, and may not be suitable for road bikes with skinny tyres.

A gpx file of the route is available for download here, or you can view it on BikeHike here.

That’s it!

Let me know if you have any queries and I’ll do my best to answer them.

In short though, it’ll be a relaxed ride along a quiet route that all are welcome to take part in. If you’d rather not take part in the ride that’s fine – we’ll see you at Bournville College and you’ll still be allowed some cake!

Ride (Birmingham – York)

During the week beginning the 16th of September I will be cycling over 200 miles to York as part of my new project Ride (Birmingham – York), a commission by VINYL. (Related blog posts.)

As I cycle, I will transmit data back to a sculpture being exhibited in the foyer of Bournville College. In turn, this sculpture will change shape, colour and movement in response to the data in order to convey something of the effort being exerted on the other end.

The sculpture will be on show at the Bournville College campus in Longbridge [B31 2AJ] between the 16th and 21st of September.
Entrance is free, just introduce yourself at the front desk for a visitor’s pass.

Monday – Thursday 10:30am – 9:30pm
Friday 10:30am – 4:30pm
Saturday 10:30am – 12:30pm

Launch event:

To mark the beginning of the exhibition, there will be a launch event 10:30am-12:30pm at Bournville College on Saturday the 14th of September. Do join us for cake and a special preview of the the automaton that will be echoing Nikki’s journey to York.

On the morning of the launch event, Nikki will be cycling from Cannon Hill Park to the college campus at Longbridge. Data from this ride will be ‘played back’ via the sculpture during the launch event.

If you would like to accompany me for the leisurely 7 mile bike ride between Cannon Hill Park and the College’s campus in Longbridge, please see this page for more details.


Ride (Birmingham – York) has been commissioned by VINYL and supported using public funding by Arts Council England.

In addition to this, the project would not have been possible without the generosity and support of many different people. In particular, I would like to thank:

  • Jez Higgins and Mike Cummins for building the mobile app and database system that power the sculpture.
  • Garmin Europe Ltd for the donation of a GPS device and mapping to use for navigation whilst on the ride.
  • BikeRight! West Midlands for supporting the ride for the launch event.
  • Bournville College for hosting the sculpture.
  • Kim Wall for accompanying me on the ride to York, and all the many people in various cycling groups and fora who have one way or another helped me to do this.

Curzon Street GPS traces at Re:Call

The 3 composite GPS ‘fingerprints’ I have so far made from repeatedly walking around one of Birmingham’s ‘Eastside’ regeneration areas (the smaller, AWM one) have recently been exhibited as part of Re:Call at Bournville School for the Visual Arts.

Qualitative and Quantitative Data, 2011a (After the multistorey car park had been built, but before the roads had been closed.)

Re:Call is a rolling exhibition of work by graduates from the BA and Foundation courses that have been based at the site.

Re:Call in turn is part of ‘Art has left the building‘, a multi-strand project curated by Amanda Grist to commemorate and celebrate Bournville School of Art in the lead-up to its closure in July 2013.

Whilst the Re:Call exhibitions have mostly been aimed towards the Bournville community, on Wednesday March 20th there will be a public closing party at Ruskin Hall – all are welcome to attend.

3 – 6:20pm, Ruskin Hall, Bournville Centre for the Visual Arts [map]

The event also doubles as part of the fundraising activities for this year’s graduating students – this means there will be drinks and cake available to buy!

Looking for meaning

I spotted this whilst out and about in Coventry last week: a shop window with no fewer than 6 trapezing monkeys!

I’m desperately hoping that this is because this building is where a large group of people come to practise circus skills…


Recording of the ARC A&Q discussion

Last Wednesday night we held the A&Q discussion session to round off my Artspace Research Commission. Present were representatives of the Coventry Artspace community including artists, studio holders, directors and board members.

Jon Randle bought along recording equipment, so we are able to share this documentation of the 90 minute free-form conversation:

Topics covered include:
multiple histories,
interacting with spaces,
unsuspecting audiences,
looking up,
the (non)exchange of stories,
non art audiences,
online experiences,
audience feedback,
to tweet or not to tweet,
the things you get used to,
secret messages and secret lives and giving the secret things voices,
invisible people,
existing as different things at different times,
connecting with the monkey,
unexplored spaces,
almost hearing the sermons,
doing it again,
engendering happiness,
steel-capped boots and caring for the building,
eradicating smells,
glitter balls,
non visuals,
void spaces,
not realising the basement is derelict,
Specials cotton wool and not being beholden to it,
what could be done with the xxxxx space?,
allowing cultural squatters,
ownership and territories,
heritage graffiti,
slightly blinkered views
and whitewashing.

Thanks to everyone who took part for an interesting conversation and a chance to look at the building, the residency and its various outcomes from various different perspectives.

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