Uncertain Eastside prints selected for the West Midlands Open

I got the news through a while ago, but had to double-check that they were ok with my instructions for display…

My Uncertain Eastside drawing generated from 6 circuits of the Eastside Regeneration Zone in Birmingham has been selected for exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery‘s Gas Hall as part of their biennial collaboration between with Wolverhampton Art Gallery to celebrate the work of artists in the region.

My letter tells me there were over 1200 entries to the Open, from which 146 were selected for the exhibition …so that’s something nice I can tell my Mum!

West Midlands Open, 2010

West Midlands Open, 2010

Expect more details closer to the exhibition’s opening in March…

Christmas posting

For those of you wanting to make sure you get your Uncertain Eastside limited edition prints in time for Christmas, please be aware that the Royal Mail’s advertised last posting day for 1st Class is the 21st December.

Uncertain Eastside prints tubed up and ready to go

Uncertain Eastside prints tubed up and ready to go

Detail from Uncertain Eastside print (B series: 6 overlaid circuits)

Detail from Uncertain Eastside print (B series: 6 overlaid circuits)

Uncertain Eastside prints

The Uncertain Eastside limited editions prints are now officially available to purchase!

All the prints are A0 (841mm × 1189mm), signed, unframed and come in protective cardboard tubes – you will look after them now, won’t you?

The first batch of prints, rolled up, labelled and ready to go.

The first batch of prints, rolled up, labelled and ready to go.

There are 2 different series available: A and B.

Series A:

Detail from a Series A print: Digbeth Deritend and Coventry Road.

Detail from a Series A print: Digbeth Deritend and Coventry Road.

A set of 3 individual prints, each of one of the double-circuits of the Eastside regeneration area. Limited edition of 10, £50 per set.

I walked around Birmingham’s Eastside regeneration area in pairs of 90 minute circuits – the two walks in each pair happening one straight after the other. These prints make the traces of each walk visible.

Series B:

Detail from a Series B print: Moat Lane and the Bullring markets area.

Detail from a Series B print: Moat Lane and the Bullring markets area.

The traces of all 6 circuits overlaid. Limited edition of 100, £15 each.

These prints show the cumulative traces of all 6 circuits overlaid on top of each other. It becomes a lot harder to pick out the individual circuits, but instead it makes the patterns of glitches visible and you can see how the physical landscape of the city affects the different parts of the drawings.

How to order

These prints are available through my online shop The Invisible Hand. Simply send me a message via the order form telling me which items you would like to purchase and I will then contact you back with confirmation and postage/delivery information etc.

Uncertain Eastside presentation for Performance Fictions symposium

Sadie Plant invited me to contribute to her presentation on ‘psychogeography and the city’ as part of the Performance Fictions symposium held at the Electric Cinema yesterday.

‘Performance Fictions’ is the fourth event in art-writing-research network created by researchers from BCU, Goldsmiths, Reading University and University of the Arts London. Article Press, BCU, will publish the papers and contributions from the various events in Spring 2010, to be distributed by Central Books. The volumes will constitute series one of Article Press’s art-writing-research publications.

After Sadie explored Birmingham’s historical rootlessness and uncertainty of place – its location at and function as, a junction – I gave a 10-minute presentation about the Uncertain Eastside work in progress. Below is a transcript with images.

___

When I graduated from BIAD about 3 years ago, it was to emerge into a lot of talk about plans for a brand new cultural quarter covering a chunk of one side of the city. I was concerned and confused by the apparent desire to suddenly plonk a fully-formed artist-led space into position amongst the warehouses.

Detail from THE ANTI-TALENT ZONE

Detail from THE ANTI-TALENT ZONE

My response was to wipe the streets of the designated area free of their existing names. And to add one.

The politics of regeneration is beyond the scope of today’s presentation, and I have little patience for it anyway, but I want to take the opportunity to use this image to show you how closely the borders of the City Council’s Eastside regeneration area are linked to the major traffic routes in and around the city.

In green, as we go up the left hand side is the ring road, going up, just out of shot to the roundabout where it meets the A38 on its way to spaghetti junction. Coming down via Corporation Street, the pedestrian routes of Hight Street and the Bullring area, and the across Digbeth Deritend back to the ring road. The criss-cross of roads and pathways are again being used to define parts of Birmingham.

In 2006 this was mostly all unknown territory to me. By 2009 it was still mostly unknown territory, but now with small incursions around Digbeth and Curzon Street. When I decided I wanted to return to some of the questions raised by the area’s regeneration, it was apparent that my first step should not to be to research it in an academic manner, and subject myself to all the spin, but to get out there and experience it directly.

Bench on roundabout on Coventry Road

Bench on roundabout on Coventry Road

Construction site with sort-of graffiti

Construction site with sort-of graffiti

Greasy spoon internet café

Greasy spoon internet café

Shops and bus stops under the railway lines

Shops and bus stops under the railway lines

Socks

Socks

Subway rambler

Subway rambler

I’ve spent the last month and a half repeatedly walking around the perimeter that defines Eastside, paying attention to how these spaces are being used at different times and by different groups of people. I’ve also been wrestling with how I might fit into the picture.

I wanted to document the process of walking this line, so on each 90-minute circuit I took with me 2 satnav GPS devices that I have programmed to log my position once every second. Rather than doing a straight-forward trace of my journey though, I was interested to see how the cityscape affected my position as seen by the machines.

GPS drawing from two laps around Eastside

GPS drawing from two laps around Eastside

Detail from previous slide

Detail from previous slide

Each of these lines joins my position as determined by the machine in my left hand to my position as determined by the machine in my right hand. The longer the line, the more they disagree.

Despite what we are led to believe, GPS is actually pretty flaky. All sorts of things can affect its accuracy. There may be 3 rather than 8 satellites overhead at that particular time; my body may be blocking the satellite signal; and large buildings and areas of concrete can bounce the signals around. All these affect the perceived position.

Errors and glitches

Errors and glitches

Errors and glitches

Errors and glitches

Looking at the results from any one walk I can see a whole host of different glitches and errors. To be honest, they’re what make GPS an interesting thing for me to work with.

Composite drawing from 6 laps around Eastside

Composite drawing from 6 laps around Eastside

Through overlaying the traces of several laps, however, you can start to filter out the anomalies … or at least start to read which of them are caused by the fabric of the city-scape.

Here’s the cumulative result after 6 laps…

Stood near the base of the Rotunda

Stood near the base of the Rotunda

This detail is from the area at the base of the rotunda, at the edge of the Bullring shopping centre. The long, haphazard lines caused by the tall, closely-packed buildings.

Ring road

Ring road

By contrast, the comparatively open space of the ring road gives shorter, much more uniform lines, occasionally buffeted around by a large warehouse building.

Ashted Circus

Ashted Circus

Here is Ashted Circus, where I momentarily loose contact with the satellite signals as I go through some underpasses.

The Other Side

The Other Side

Whilst walking with the satnavs I was given glimpses of other sorts of errors – biases towards the car, roads I couldn’t cross, residential areas the other side of seemingly impassable road boundaries.

Beautiful scary

Beautiful scary

Sunken oases inside the rings of roundabouts – beautiful but also possibly harbouring great danger.

However, due to restraints in using the GPS logging, I could only observe these in passing. I had to keep moving at a steady pace. I could speculate, but never investigate.

Participants document a building in Digbeth

Participants document a building in Digbeth

So, last Sunday I invited others to join me for an investigative walk. Nominally following the route around the edge of Eastside, but allowed the freedom to drift from it to explore things that caught our eye.

Walk

Walk

Look

Look

Touch

Touch

Climb

Climb

Dare

Dare

We walked, we explored, we looked at stuff, we touched stuff, we climbed on stuff and we dared to cross to the in-between places.

Blog post on Digbeth is Good, http://digbeth.org/2009/10/a-walk-around-uncertain-eastside/

Blog post on Digbeth is Good, http://digbeth.org/2009/10/a-walk-around-uncertain-eastside/

Pete Ashtons blog post, http://peteashton.com/2009/10/eastside_is_uncertain/

Pete Ashton's blog post, http://peteashton.com/2009/10/eastside_is_uncertain/

People are now starting to post their photos from the day online, and their accounts of what happened are starting to appear on blogs where the stories and viewpoints overlap. We also exchanged stories between us whilst we were walking along the route. In situ. It’s my feeling that we needed the 3.5 hours of walking to get to the point where we could gather around the ‘map’ at the pub and have an in-depth conversation about what it signifies. I find this happens a lot – that you need the group performance before you can get to the meaty discussion.

I guess that in terms of this symposium, we’re talking more about performed narratives, rather than performed fictions per se, but I’m expecting the edges to blur somewhat, especially as we move into the phase where we compile the accompanying publication of thus chapter of the project.

After unfurling some of the stories, we will gather some of the images taken by the participants into a publication with the aim of making a document to record this face of Birmingham before it reinvents itself again.

___

From here, Sadie speculated that this sort of drift along a route defined by roadways, exploring the details, progress logged by satnav devices, might be psychogeography 21st Century style.

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?



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