Tag Archives: Arts

Open up the gates

Manchester’s creative economy – where to next?

Based on his contribution at last week’s “Manchester’ creative economy – where to next?” urban forum at Twenty Twenty Two, David Gledhill, professional artist and co-administrator of Rogue Artists Studios, the largest studios in the North of England, writes …

Manchester has a particularly vibrant, resourceful and innovative visual arts community. We have great art schools, affordable group studios and plenty of artist-led initiatives and alternative spaces to exhibit in. Artists may be self-employed, working in the service sector or teaching to supplement their activities. Many of them may be exhibiting at a national or even international level and yet Manchester audiences rarely get the chance to enjoy their work and to benefit from the artistic status enjoyed by cities such as Liverpool, Glasgow or Leeds. Manchester isn’t mentioned in the Arts Council plan for 2011-15 which cites the BALTIC in Gateshead, MIMA in Middlesborough, the Hepworth Wakefield, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Liverpool Biennial as evidence of the strength of the visual arts in the North. (http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/publication_archive/arts-council-plan-2011-15)

If this doesn’t ring any alarm bells, the almost complete absence of any initiatives that may benefit, promote or support artists in the region may do. Manchester has no visual arts biennial, no art prize (like Liverpool), no annual open submission competition (like the London Open at the Whitechapel) no purchase schemes, and no artist residency programmes at its biggest institutions. We’ve never been in the running for European Capital of Culture. In fact you’re more likely to see a Manchester artist working as a gallery attendant than exhibiting in the city. If we want artists to live and work in the region, rather than moving south in search of opportunity, our major galleries must join hands with the artist-led sector to nurture a fully integrated visual arts ecology.

Artists contribute far more to a region’s tourism, academic, service and construction sectors than they ever absorb through direct public subsidy. They revitalize neglected zones of the urban environment and lend cultural prestige to a city’s portfolio of attractions. The Arts Council’s attempts to support excellence and diversity, including aesthetic diversity, are foundering on their agenda of driving public-funded institutions towards the open arms of the private sector in the attempt to broaden income steams. The commercial art world in particular, is founded on exclusivity, with self-appointed ‘gatekeepers’ promoting their own vested interests and excluding the vast majority of practitioners. Imagine turning up at hospital to be told that you’re not welcome because you haven’t been to dinner with the administrator.

An independent report (http://www.theroccreport.co.uk) concluded that there’s an urgent need for investment in arts production outside London. Nevertheless it failed to critique the rampant croneyism that is infesting the museum sector and leading to homogenization and stagnation in the visual arts. In his book ‘Dark Matter’ (2011) Gregory Sholette talks about the ‘structural invisibility’ of most artists. The passion and dedication of Manchester’s artists and the legendary DIY spirit of our great city can only carry us so far. Artists deserve the widest possible audiences and a platform alongside the international talent that visits the city. Manchester deserves to experience the greatest art in the world together with the greatest art from right here. The arts community must come together and make it happen!

Advertisements

Grid, Health and Advertising: A Story of New York City 1811-2011

by Andrew Irving, Social Anthropology, University of Manchester

Weber and Heilborner - Photograph © Frank Jump

Weber and Heilborner – Photograph © Frank Jump

This piece tells two stories, that of New York City and its obsession with money, advertising and rebuilding over the last 200 years; and the story of Frank Jump, a teacher and photographer who has dedicated much of his life to documenting the gigantic, hand-painted, advertisements that line the city’s long straight avenues.

New York City was in large parts founded upon immigration, trade and the distribution of goods and its infrastructure and buildings are the outcome of a complex relationship between the vulnerability of the human body to infection and disease and the forces of money and merchandise. Throughout the 1790s and early 1800s disease was rife throughout the city, including regular outbreaks of yellow-fever caused by mosquitoes thriving in the island’s stagnant swamps and pools, and whose symptoms included skin eruptions, black vomit, incontinence, jaundice, and eventually death. After the terrible epidemics of 1794, 1795, 1798 and 1805, it became apparent that action needed to be taken. Would it be possible—the city’s commissioners thought—to combat disease and facilitate the body’s well-being by building health into the city itself through the physical alteration of its layout?

It was not known to medical science at the time that yellow-fever was caused by mosquito bites and the disease was instead attributed to the foul smelling air and odours of a population living cheek-by-jowl in dirty streets. What if a more orderly city, purposefully designed to encourage the “free and abundant circulation of air” and the regulation of physical space, could prevent disease, contagion and “promote the health of the city,” (Morris, De Witt, Rutherford 1811). Action was imperative because New York’s population was increasing at an incredible rate, having tripled in just twenty years, from the 33,111, sometimes feverish, souls registered in the first census of 1790, to 96,373 in 1810.

The commissioners engaged twenty-two year old surveyor, John Randel to survey the entire island, with the purpose of transforming its woods, swamps and grasslands into a place “composed principally of the habitations of men, and that straight-sided and right-angled houses” (Morris et al. 1811). Randel spent three years painstakingly measuring and mapping Manhattan’s entire topography, with a resulting 7 feet 8 inch-by-2 feet 1 inch map, which offered unprecedented levels of detail about the island. However, Randel’s does not simply map Manhattan’s topography, streets, and buildings of the time, but also imposes a design for the island’s future, in that a grid-system is laid over the land, determining where future streets would be built. The grid proposes that all roads should be straight and sequentially numbered rather than named. Streets ran horizontally across the island and were numbered 1 to 155, while avenues ran vertically and were numbered 1 to 12, with an additional A, B, C, and D covering the swell of land on the Lower East Side. It was decided that no consideration was to be given to natural variations in the land, existing roads or property divisions.

The map’s official ratification in 1811 marks the point at which the city council confirmed that they would try to build reason, rationality and bodily health into New York by transforming its topography and in doing so they created the city that is known today. The grid is New York’s nervous system upon which the city’s essential operations and street-life are built, and like the human nervous system is never in the exact same state twice but is in a continuous process of renewal and regeneration over time.

Manhattan’s population expanded beyond all expectations of Randel or the city commissioners from a mere 33,111 in 1790 to 2,284,103 in the 1920 census. As such a new sense of industrial scale and materiality emerged, against which individuals, born when farmland still covered the island, could compare their muddy agricultural practices and desires. Construction expanded rapidly northwards and the thousands of buildings constructed along the grid’s long straight lines began to form a set of highly visible canvasses for businesses and advertisers to sell their goods, services and dreams. A new industry emerged that used size, scale, and colour to convey its message to the people below. Huge, hand-painted, advertisements were painted in bold attention-seeking colours on the sides of many buildings, up to fifty feet tall and twenty feet wide, and designed to stir New York’s citizens from their reverie and make them lift their eyes from the grid. The majority of advertisements have now disappeared: they either perished when the building they were painted upon was knocked down or were covered over by the endless procession of bigger, newer buildings being built as part of New York’s restless desire to reinvent and remake itself.  However, the destiny of some advertisements was more gradual and much less dramatic. For regardless of the thickness of their original paint or intensity of their colours, their fate has been to slowly fade out of existence while exposed to the city’s scorching summers and freezing winters: remaining open to the relentless cycles of sun, rain, snow and ice in a dense urban climate of pollution and humidity. What remains are the faded remnants of the these gigantic advertisements.

For the last twenty years, New York teacher and photographer Frank Jump has spent his evenings and weekends roaming the city’s streets capturing and archiving these disappearing giants before they completely fade into oblivion. Jump has photographed and archived, somewhere in the region of 5000 signs across New York’s five boroughs, of which perhaps only 1000 can still be seen today. Mostly they advertise products that can no longer be bought, made by companies that no longer exist, painted on buildings whose original occupants are forgotten, by men long since departed and were often considered eyesores in their day.

Zaccaro Real Estate, Bendix Home Laundry Kenmare & Elizabeth Streets.Photograph © Frank Jump

Zaccaro Real Estate / Bendix Home Laundry, Kenmare & Elizabeth Streets. Photograph © Frank Jump

Radway’s Ready Relief-Delancey St (painted circa 1890) Photograph © Frank Jump

Radway’s Ready Relief-Delancey St (painted circa 1890) Photograph © Frank Jump

Omega Oil: West 147st (painted circa 1910) Photograph © Frank Jump

Omega Oil: West 147st (painted circa 1910) Photograph © Frank Jump

When Radway’s Ready Relief (1890) and Omega Oil (1910) were first painted, tens of feet high in bright marine blues, they suggested to the aching bones of the commuters walking below, that the solution to their discomfort could be found in the simple purchase of their magic elixir. At the time, the world was a very different kind of place: many people did not travel at more than the speed of horse drawn cart and the average life expectancy at birth was around 43. Medicine, as we know it, had not been developed, women were unable to vote and colonialism was still in the process of subjugating vast swathes of the world’s population. It is no exaggeration, therefore, to claim that the course of a single advertisement’s lifespan, was not just an extraordinary period in New York’s history but also the world’s.  Some of the advertisements Jump has documented were painted in the 1860s and in the time they have stood there proudly advertising their goods and services to successive generations of New Yorkers, the world has undergone unprecedented social, cultural and technological changes. Indeed a single advert may have witnessed the invention of the film camera, the automobile, the first airplanes, two world wars and the great depression, television, the jazz age, the jet engine, the rise and fall of Nazism and the Soviet Union, McCarthyism, JFK, the discovery of DNA, The Beatles, nuclear fusion, the civil rights movement, space travel, Picasso, the first men on the moon, punk and hip-hop, post-modern architecture, portable computers, the Internet, 9/11, the gentrification of Times Square, Obama and much else besides. Who would have thought a simple advertisement would endure the rise and fall of empires and nations as the world changed beyond recognition. Certainly not the men who painted it, whose livelihoods depended upon their ability to make citizens look up and desire the goods and services on show to the extent that they became convinced that their lives would be a better place with that particular soap powder, those particular shoes, these particular garden shears.

In the mid-1980s, some two centuries after the city’s yellow fever outbreaks, New York once more found itself throes of a citywide epidemic. This time it was called, in a terrible and macabre coincidence, GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) later to be renamed HIV/AIDS. By the 1990 census, exactly two hundred years after the city’s first census, people with HIV/AIDS filled 8.5% of all New York hospital beds and there had been 72,207 known deaths from AIDS in the city (including almost 10,000 infants) out of 116,316 people diagnosed: a figure nearly four times the entire population in the city’s first census.

In the summer of 1986, when Frank jump was twenty-six years old, he too found out he was one of the many New Yorkers diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and was told he had “a couple of good years left.” Consequently, the long commerce-lined streets built on the grid, shouting out their assorted messages of pensions, retirement homes, medicines and other aspects of a long healthy life, ceased to have any meaning for Frank and many others.  Ordinarily, the grid enables New Yorkers to look far into the distance and guides the eye toward a vanishing point on the horizon: a destiny distant in time and space that seemingly provides an effective metaphor for the promises of capitalism: look to the future, work hard and save for your pension your retirement awaits.

In New York alone, many thousands of men and women were thrown out of the straight lines of capitalism by HIV/AIDS and instead confronted a destiny of impending death. Frank took himself out of the workforce and filled in all the offers for new credit cards and bank accounts that came through his door, thinking “I’ve never got to pay any of this back.”  But Frank was lucky and did not die and instead lived to see the advent of anti-retroviral medications in the late 1990s that re-opened time and space for thousands and thousands of New York men and women living with HIV/AIDS: triggering a massive shift of mind, body and emotion away from death and back toward life.

Bankrupt Frank re-enrolled in college, became a school-teacher and got back on the straight lines of capitalism. He remained acutely aware of the fragility of the human body in an urban landscape. A body which, like the painted advertisements that surround was fading and not supposed to last long but somehow remained part of the city. Accordingly, Frank sees his reflection not in the mirror but in the fading advertisements that line the vast surfaces produced by New York’s grid. They continually provide him with evidence of his existence and provide us with a visual record of the ongoing effects of time on the city and the body. To date, Frank has been living with the disease for half of his life and still hasn’t documented every fading advertisement in New York.

To see more of Frank Jump’s work and archives see his book

Jump, F 2011. The Fading Ads of New York City. History Press.

While his Fading Ad Campaign can be found here:

http://www.frankjump.com/

Pre-Worn: Art, Artists and the Post-Industrial Community

Homebaked Anfield

Homebaked Anfield

Guest blog by Kenn Taylor.

In 2012 the Liverpool Biennial continued its tradition of using empty buildings to exhibit art. This time around, spaces it occupied for the period of the festival included the huge abandoned Royal Mail sorting office at Copperas Hill and the former waiting rooms of the Cunard shipping company on the city’s waterfront. With many visitors commenting that these unused spaces were just as, if not more, fascinating than some of the art on display in them.

In the past, the Liverpool Biennial has occupied everything from a disused Art Deco cinema in the city centre to a former glass warehouse near the docks. The de-industrialisation and de-population experienced by Liverpool over the last few decades meaning there is no shortage of empty buildings to use. The re-animation of such abandoned spaces is a key part of the Biennial’s strategy, with urban regeneration a fundamental reason for the festival’s founding and existence.

Copperas Hill Sorting Office during Biennial

Copperas Hill Sorting Office during Biennial

Of course, the reutilisation of former commercial space for the creation and display of art is itself an older phenomenon. Dating back to at least 1960s New York and since seen around the world from London to Berlin to Sao Paulo.

As well as being a particular trend within artistic production, the use of post-industrial areas for creative purposes also reflects wider shifts within economics and society in the latter part of the 20th century. Traditional urban hubs began to lose the industrial bases that had helped make them rich and many cities, if they could, moved towards more service-orientated economies based on things like finance, the media, tourism and leisure. The effects that this had on the communities that had relied on such industry for sustenance were usually deeply negative; economic decline, social decay and de-population.

However, this also led to the freeing up of a large amount of previously occupied space which, with demand having collapsed, was available at very low rates. This attracted the some of the expanding pool of artists in the post-war era. Once hubs of this new ‘industry’ began to emerge, more and more of the ‘creative class’, to use Richard Florida’s term, started to move in and slowly change the nature of these areas. With the subsequent upswing in activism and entrepreneurship that saw abandoned spaces becoming art galleries, coffee shops and the like, these areas became increasingly fashionable. To the point were those wishing to live in a trendy locale or buy into a particular lifestyle, even if they themselves were not ‘creative’, began to move there. Then, as wealthy professionals came to dominate these areas, the ‘poor young artists’ were forced out. Despite artists in many cases using their creative strengths to rail against the effect, the process has usually been inevitable and irreversible. Such ‘gentrification’ of post-industrial areas has been well documented, for example in Sharon Zurkin’s classic study of its effects in New York: Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change.[i]

Hackney, London

Hackney, London

What is it though, that attracts art and artists to such post-industrial areas in the first place? That is, aside from the low costs?

The flexibility of industrial space is another key factor. Given the myriad forms of contemporary art that began to emerge in the latter half of the 20th century and the often large spaces it needs to be created and displayed in, huge open-plan buildings formerly filled with goods, machinery and people became ideal art spaces. It was initially artists’ studios, followed by grassroots galleries and then commercial galleries which began using abandoned industrial buildings, but this phenomenon perhaps came of age when public galleries also began to occupy former industrial spaces.

The use of abandoned commercial buildings allowed new museums and galleries to have the same monumental scale of older purpose-built museums and in some cases, such as Gateshead’s Baltic and London’s Tate Modern, even larger. Yet as ‘recycled’ buildings, they didn’t have the same naked self-confidence as a structure created for ‘art’s sake’ as say, Tate Britain or even the Brutalist Hayward Gallery in London.

Turning these buildings into museums was seen, less an act of reverence and ego, as were the museum constructions of the past, with their links to elitism and the idea of a strictly defined high culture, more the humble recycling of unused space. Financially it also made sense. As it became ever harder to justify the spending of public money on ‘fine art’ in a world which had begun to acknowledge all forms of cultural production had validity, re-using abandoned industrial space and bringing a ‘buzz’ to a declined area became another good reason to justify public spending on culture.

However, the notion of tapping into a pre-existing ‘authenticity’ that former industrial areas are perceived as having is also vital to this phenomenon. Like someone buying a pair of pre-worn jeans, the abandoned cranes and switchgear, decay and graffiti in post-industrial spaces lends an immediate character and ‘legitimacy’. A tinge of authenticity that can be taken up by those who are seeking it, I.E. those of middle and upper class backgrounds who inevitably dominate the creative class of any given city.

This seems to be something that is at the core of what attracts creatives, and the cultural institutions that ultimately follow them, to post-industrial buildings and communities. It is inevitably the ‘character’ and the relative ‘wildness’ of such areas which is the biggest draw after low costs and large spaces. The frequent desire for many in the creative community to live as they wish without attracting too much grief from the authorities, leads to the search for ‘transgressive’ spaces. Whilst mingling with poorer populations who behave in a less ‘conventional’ way (I.E. middle/upper class and suburban) also seems to provide in the minds of some an authenticity they crave. And therein lays the rub. The conditions which many artists seem to thrive on are those that are usually negative for the pre-existing communities that they take residence in. Abandoned space, very low rents, cheap intoxicants, an ‘edgy’ atmosphere, a lack of employment and a sense of lawlessness are generally signs of a community struggling.

Creative communities formed in this way also tend to be short lived, relying on a rapid turnover of young people moving in. Within a few years most leave these ‘authentic’ localities, as they begin to settle down into family units. That is of course, if such areas don’t reach a tipping point and those moving in change the nature of the neighbourhoods they inhabit into more ‘family friendly’, I.E. quasi-suburban, conditions as seen in parts of London, New York and Berlin. A phenomenon which usually sees rents rise and often drives out more deprived and diverse pre-existing communities. When such gentrification does begin, creatives are usually the first to complain about the influx of the wealthier middle-classes and about how artists are being pushed out. Inevitably identifying themselves as ‘fellow outsiders’ with the ‘edgy’ local community they move into rather than the ‘Yuppies’.

Creative inhabitants of such communities are usually much less willing to admit that it is precisely them who begin the process in the first place. Without their studios and venues beginning to occupy such spaces and them being the “shock troops of gentrification” as memorably described by Rosalyn Deutsche[ii], who help make an area fashionable, the richer urban professionals would be much less likely to follow them, softly softly.

Once the notion of creative gentrification was hit upon, it quickly became a tool of local authorities world wide to ‘improve’ areas on a brutally pragmatic level. Used as a process to quietly drive out often poor and deprived populations and replace them with the well-educated and wealthy, thus seeing an upswing in tax receipts and a decrease in expenditure. Cultural regeneration in that mode serves the interests of creatives who want ‘free’ space and those who seek areas to become ‘profitable’, but in the process inevitably, ultimately pushes out pre-existing communities.

What though of these ‘alternative quarters’ in the period between their industrial decline and their inevitable gentrification? Are they the hubs of originality and authenticity that so many seek? Well they certainly seem to be places where new ideas and artists frequently tend to emerge from, but for all the claims of uniqueness and individuality, the alternative areas of most cities worldwide, if looked at closely, seem remarkably similar. With any difference usually down to factors which predate their emergence as a creative quarter. Common denominators include the aforementioned former industrial space re-utilised for culture, an international and largely young population, more often than not from comfortable and well-educated backgrounds, ‘alternative’ cafes, graffiti, electronic music and independent clothing stores which sell similar, if ever-changing, fashion styles.

Such creative quarters may emphasise their distance from the financial quarters of cities, with their generic glass office blocks and branches of chain coffee stores, but in their own way they are just as generic; international spaces often better connected to each other than they are to the communities around them.

The respective communities that inhabit contemporary financial and creative quarters have more in common than either would probably like to think. Both are often fond of intoxicants and parties and are cosmopolitan, if largely still of the middle-upper section of global society, a section which is highly mobile and international in outlook. Like the CEO looking for the country with the lowest cost of production and tax breaks to set up a business, many artists move around the world looking for the cheapest digs and availability of funding by local authorities keen for their own slice of gentrification.

One set may wear suits, the other retro t shirts, to display their respective capital in each zone they occupy, but both are, in there own way, living off the wider community, creating ‘products’ which, though important, are not the vitals of life made in the far off agricultural and, still producing, industrial zones of the world. While ultimately both branches of this globalised class have, in their own way, occupied former industrial working class spaces of inhabitation and influence, as seen in the case of the takeover of the East End of London by a mixture of the finance class around the former docklands and the creative class in areas such as Shoreditch.

As previously discussed, most creative quarters very quickly become a parody of themselves as, after the shock troops of artists move in, the second wave of urban professionals and cultural tourists follow, occupying an area then, having usually changed it fundamentally into another generic ‘alternative’ hub, seek the cultural capital of being the first into the next ‘hot’ area.

This obsession with the inhabiting the margins seems to stem in part from a desire to exist in an alternative space to the prevailing capitalist system and a rejection of the bourgeois nature of suburban life. Finding, studying, living in and making reference to the margins in the minds of many takes them outside of a system they dislike. Yet the margins are a product of and part of the system. Their gentrification by the artistic and educated classes results in their removal as bases for those who are forced to exist on the edge of society by capitalism and turns them into areas that feed more successfully into the system. In moving into these areas to live in an alternative way, in many cases, such people ultimately help to destroy whatever was alternative about it.

As Rosalyn Deutsche and Cara Gendel Ryan put it in their essay about New York, ‘The Fine Art of Gentrification’: “For despite their bohemian posturing, the artists and dealers who created the EastVillage art scene, and the critics and museum curators who legitimize its existence, are complicit with gentrification on the Lower East Side. To deny this complicity is to perpetuate one of the most enduring, self-serving myths in a bourgeois thought, the myth that, as Antonio Gramsci wrote, intellectuals form a category that is ‘autonomous and independent from the dominant social group. This self-assessment is not without consequences in the ideological and political field, consequences of wide-ranging import.’ ”[iii]

So, are there alternatives for the creative class who wish to live in such areas aside from colonising and destroying the communities they profess to love? Well if there is, it’s about integration rather than replacement and, if art and regeneration is to benefit such urban communities themselves, it can only do so by embedding the needs and desires of existing residents into practice.

One possible example is the recent Homebaked/2up2down initiative in Anfield, Liverpool, arranged by the Liverpool Biennial. Over a period of two years the project, led by artist Jeanne van Heeswijk, worked to embed itself in the local community and through collaboration developed the ultimate aim of re-opening a closed-down bakery in the neighbourhood. For the period of the Biennial itself, the group that had been formed around the project also created a tour for visitors based around meeting local people. Homebaked/2up2down thus provided services for the existing community, helped to tell the story of the area to visitors and promote local expression. Those involved are now working towards making the bakery a sustainable community business and refurbishing adjacent housing under co-operative ownership. This stands in contrast to the aforementioned former Royal Mail sorting office and Cunard waiting rooms which, now the Biennial have left, are destined for a new commercial future.

Yet one of the reasons this Biennial project in Anfield is unlikely to begin the process of pushing out the existing community is because of the small number of professional artists that can live in Liverpool due to the relatively small arts market and the relatively weak economy. This means the process of gentrification will always be limited. Conducting a similar initiative in an area with more opportunities for creatives to make a living and move in, such as London or New York, would perhaps still ultimately be just be another step in making the community into the next ‘hotspot’.

Mark Binelli in his book The Last Days of Detroit examines the ultimate post-industrial city and the various aspects of cultural regeneration that have gone on there, including the Detroit’s emergence as a new, low-cost, wild, authentic space for artists from elsewhere. He’s sees the potential in this to help regenerate the abandoned areas of the city now Motown has far less of a motor industry and Manhattan has almost entirely pushed its edgy aspects away. However, he is also wary of the new playgrounds of the creative class treading on the ruins of communities that in many cases had their existence swept away by factors outside their control. He quotes a local resident, Marsha Cusic: “Some of the people coming here bring a sort of bacchanal spirit, like they’re out on the frontier and they can do anything…Detroit isn’t some kind of abstract art project. It’s real for people. These are real memories. Every one of these houses has a story.”[iv]

Similarly, many of the former industrial areas of Liverpool may have no hope of a future industrial use and their re-appropriation as spaces for art, etc, can give great abandoned buildings, even abandoned areas, a new use and prevent decay into dust. Yet it should not be forgotten that, as much as it may be a futile wish, many of people who previously occupied such spaces, from Liverpool to Berlin to Detroit, would have preferred an alternative world. One of secure, healthy, happy communities with busy industries, not edgy, troubled and ‘authentic’ areas suffering at the raw end of globalised capitalism, with plenty of room for art galleries and parties.


[i] Sharon Zurkin, Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press,1982, rev. ed. New Brunswick, RutgersUniversity Press, 1989)

[ii] Rosalyn Deutsche, Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics (Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 1998), p. 151.

[iii] Rosalyn Deutsche and Cara Gendel Ryan, ‘The Fine Art of Gentrification’,  The Portable Lower East Side, Volume 4, Number 1, (1987) <http://www.abcnorio.org/about/history/fine_art.html&gt; [accessed 2nd March 2013]

[iv] Mark Binelli, The Last Days of Detroit (London, Bodley Head, 2013), p.285.

Kenn Taylor is a writer and project manager with a particular interest in community, culture and the urban environment. You can view his websites here: http://kenntaylor.wordpress.com/ and here: http://urbantransitionuk.wordpress.com/

City as Museum / City as Instrument: new possibilities for sound and the city

Image from Manchester's Sonic Meta-Ontology Project

Image from ‘Manchester’s Sonic Meta-Ontology’ Project

 

See end of article for details of Locative Audio event on 29th June.

It’s an exciting time to be a composer or sound artist. Innovations in and new connections between methodology, technology and creative practice are creating a host of new possibilities for the sonic exploration of experience. NOVARS, the Research Centre for Electro Acoustic Composition and Sound Art at the University of Manchester work at the cutting edge of this new territory. So what are these developments? To keep it simple here we will talk about two, both of which relate to space.

The first concerns the composition and performance of sound in relation to space. Composition tools and performance environments are becoming increasingly sophisticated through collaboration and feedback between composers, musicians, researchers and engineers. For example, virtual 3-dimensional environments and multi-speaker matrix diffusion sound systems mean that composers and sound artists are increasingly able to realise complex and immersive sound environments in concert halls, performance spaces and headphones.

A second key development, also space-related, arises from mobile phone technology and virtual geotagging.  Groups like Escoitar, who work at the fluid edge between art and technology – are developing mobile applications which can add a virtual and interactive layer of sound – a sonic annotation – to places and spaces. Escoitar’s NoTours application detects location (via GPS), which triggers the playing of audio files as the individual listener moves through space and enters specific location points.

Augmented Aurality Tour Map

Augmented Aurality Tour Map

cities@manchester have supported NOVARS’ work in the urban environment, which is brought together under the banner Locative Audio.  Last year NOVARS worked with Escoitar/NoTours on the experimental Manchester’s Sonic Meta-Ontology project. This research and composition project culminated in an augmented aurality tour of the city, open to the public. The project had a number of stages. The initial part was the composition of five sonic pieces in response to specific sites in the city, for example around China Town and a bus journey. These were then ‘tagged’ on to specific geo-locations in the city using the software. The outcome was a tour of Manchester along specific routes; participants were given a prepared smartphone and headphones and taken along these predefined routes.  As they moved through the city with the device in their pockets their GPS-tracked location automatically triggered the playing of sonic pieces in specific sites. It can be highly interactive as the audio files play in particular formulations depending on how the listener moves through space.

This mapping of sonic materials on to spatial environments has huge practical and creative potential. Ricardo Climent, project director and NOVARS co-director, explains:

“by ‘Augmenting the Aurality’ of a specific every-day location, composers can recover memories of a particular place, can produce sonic alternatives to repositories of visual information; and even attempt to forecast desired futures through sound”.

This short video featuring Ricardo and others involved in the project explains more.

This year Locative Audio focuses on the concept of ‘City as Museum/City as Instrument’. Culminating in an interactive audiogame showcase event on 29th June, researchers, composers, artists and practitioners have been invited to respond to:

  •  “The study of Cities from a sonic perspective” (e.g. using mobile technology and physical tours around the city), with
  • “The concert hall’, as an immersive interactive environment (often using physics-graphics-audio-game engines and virtual worlds) which can potentially connect with the former.

So if last year’s project brought composers and audiences out into the city, this year sees an attempt to link the city back to the concert hall.

Ricardo explains:

“with renewed support from cities@manchester the 2012 Locative Audio Project takes our exploration a step further by connecting the ‘Augmented Aurality City Tours’ with ‘The Concert Hall’. We are inviting a number of participants from the UK and abroad to share their creative thinking with us, combining Location-based Audio and Media with game-physics-audio engine technologies often found in the production of virtual environments and games”.

The profusion and diversity of these interactions between sound and technology can obscure a quite simple understanding, shared by many of the practitioners involved, of the value and potential of sound and sonic experience. One of the speakers at the upcoming Locative Audio event on 29th June, Roddy Hawkins, tells us why he thinks it is so important for understanding and experiencing cities:

“One way or another sound affects us all in the city. And yet we know remarkably little about how people engage with the sensory overload that is presented by the urban landscape. When you consider that over 50% of the world’s population now live in urban areas you very quickly begin to appreciate the enormity of the topic and the relevance of a critical and creative approach to the study of sound in that context. From product design to acoustic cocooning, sonic branding to noise pollution, the city is a complex space that both constructs and reflects the fragmented experience of the modern day city-dweller.

“What is particularly exciting about the topic is its relevance and impact beyond academia: in my experience, given the opportunity, most people have something to say on the way they experience sound in the city — as pleasure, escape, noise, information, warning. Understanding this experience is fundamental to the way we engage with the city as an idea. But there is something about the experience of the city which isn’t captured by academic discourse. It’s crucial, therefore, that its complexity is captured in as many ways as possible.

“‘City as Museum/City as Instrument’ is especially important because it reaches out through the medium we are exploring: sound. It brings together academics, sound artists, new technologies and listeners in a model of exchange that we need to build and sustain in the future. I’m really looking forward to the sonic journey promised by the forthcoming Locative Audio event; with GPS and game audio technologies, we’re going to explore the city and its complex sound in an interactive, engaging way. We need to open our ears to open our eyes.”

This ambition for the possibilities of sound both as a medium and as a creative tool is echoed by Ricardo:

“As composers, we want to take a step forward in the way we interact with cities and people and learn from other agents who do so; e.g.  historians, social enterprise leaders, developers, policy makers, archaeologists, urban planners, heritage officials, to mention a few. By combining creative forces to collage narratives and sound via soundwalks, composers and sound aggregators can also interact with other disciplines to project a new understanding of a specific place and time. Such audio-guided geo-walks may convert the city into a new ‘open hall’ to experience sound.”

Locative Audio are holding a big open event on Friday 29th June from 12:00 to 17:00 at the John Thaw Studio Theatre, Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama, University of Manchester. The event aims to brings together the range of potential applications and possibilities opened up by digital technologies and methodologies. It will include talk, media and virtual installations, live music events and audio guide tours of areas in the city. Full details including the programme can be found on the website: http://locativeaudio.org/.

Text by Caitriona Devery.

Challenging Homophobia in Manchester: Theatre and Education

Royal Exchange Theatre - image from purplemattfish via flickr

Many of you will know the stunning Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester City Centre. A grade II listed building it was originally used as a cotton and textile exchange and like much of Manchester’s industrial heritage has been reappropriated for cultural purposes. The main theatre has a unique architectural design; a seven-sided construction free-standing in the centre of the Great Hall. Designed by Richard Negri it is the largest in-the-round theatre in the UK. The theatre hosts a full schedule of high profile touring performances (drama, music and dance) as well as working with local and emerging writers and directors. However the Royal Exchange’s role in the city is not limited to staging productions.

While in some ways it is less visible, the work of their Education team is central to what the theatre does. Through this they engage with adults, children, schools, colleges and community groups from all kinds of backgrounds. Part of this work is simply making it easier and cheaper for people to attend performances who might not otherwise do so.  They also run a host of events and activities aimed at opening the Exchange to a wider range of people and enhance their theatre experience. Amanda Dalton and her Education team collaborate with all kinds of individuals and organisations to deliver workshops and classes as well as projects attached to specific plays.

One recent example of a play-attached project is ‘I Can Dream, Can’t I?’ which ran alongside a staging of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing in November 2011. The play deals with the emerging sexuality of two teenage boys who develop a relationship in a working class area of London in the 1980’s. Supported by Manchester Pride, other partners on the project were the Albert Kennedy Trust (who help vulnerable LGBT young people find supportive places to live) and the Lesbian and Gay Foundation.

For this project workshop facilitator Mandy Precious (currently Director of Burnley Youth Theatre) devised and led a series of workshops at LGF and in communities around Greater Manchester, in response to a brief from the Exchange. The workshops were attended by LGBT teenagers who were interested in trying their hand at playwriting. Mandy has lots of experience co-ordinating workshops and as a director and writer and has worked with the Royal Exchange Education team on numerous projects over the years.

Working with Mandy the young people responded to extracts from the play Beautiful Thing and explored their perceptions and experiences of being LGBT teenagers today. Professional actors were engaged by the theatre and directed by director Sam Pritchard to create a presentation of the work of the young people alongside commissioned pieces from prominent lesbian and gay professional writers including Jackie Kay, Antony Cotton, Tom Wells and Stella Duffy.

It was this project which inspired Jackie Stacey, organiser of the Sexuality Summer School at the University of Manchester, to get in touch with the Royal Exchange about working together.  Now in its 5th year, the Summer School brings together postgraduates and researchers working in the broadly defined area of sexuality studies. The Summer School is comprised of an intensive programme of masterclasses and discussions, lectures, film screenings and performances and always has some public elements (details below). Over the years the Summer School has worked with Cornerhouse, the Library Theatre and (the now sadly defunct) Queer Up North festival.

Sexuality School Poster

The theme for this year’s Summer School is ‘Homophobia and Other Aversions’ and Jackie was keen to find creative ways for the students to think this through.  Working with the Royal Exchange and Mandy Precious, and funded by cities@manchester, the Summer School will run a writing workshop for students called ‘Challenging Homophobia in Manchester: Empowering LGBT young people through creative writing and theatre’.

Participatory work like this and the ‘I Can Dream, Can’t I?’ project are a central and vital part of the life of the Royal Exchange.  Amanda Dalton explains, “we genuinely believe that taking part in theatre, as audience, writers, makers or performers, can transform people’s lives. We hope that projects such as these really do empower participants and enhance their confidence and self esteem, as well as celebrating their creativity, voice and the power of the written word – especially powerful when it is shared in a live space.”

The collaboration is also a great example of how the University can work together with cultural organisations in the city around common interests.  The Summer School students will get a chance to think about homophobia from a new perspective and with a different set of critical and creative tools.  These partnerships are very important to the Summer School.  Jackie Stacey explains, “since the demise (due to Arts Council funding cuts) of the international Arts Festival, Queer Up North, with whom the Sexuality Summer School used to collaborate, it has become crucial for us to find new partners in Manchester with whom we can work to sustain the more creative aspects of this postgraduate event. This year’s collaboration with the Royal Exchange Theatre (via the Albert Kennedy Trust) is very exciting and promises to be a highlight of the summer school.”

About the Sexuality Summer School:

The Sexuality Summer School has been held annually by the CSSC since 2008. The Sexuality Summer School is coordinated by the Centre for the Study of Sexuality and Culture (CSSC) and the Research Institute for Cosmopolitan Cultures (RICC). This year’s collaboration with the Royal Exchange is sponsored by cities@manchester.

Events Details:

The Sexuality Summer School: Homophobia and Other Aversions is fully booked for this year.  However there are three free public lectures this year which are open to all:

Tuesday 22nd May: 5pm, John Casken LT, Martin Harris Centre, University of Manchester, Oxford Road

Ann Cvetkovich (Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Texas): “To Be Able to Stand Not Knowing”: Depression, Creativity and Self-Aversion

Drawing from her forthcoming book, Depression: A Public Feeling, Cvetkovich will address the summer school theme by considering the prevalence of self-hatred within everyday life and creative practices that address it, as well as ongoing debates within queer theory about the politics of positive and negative affects.

Wednesday 23rd May: 5.15pm Kanaris Room, 2nd Floor Manchester Museum, Oxford Rd.

Lois Weaver (Professor of Contemporary Performance Practice, Queen Mary, University of London): A Long Table on Senses of Aversion

A Long Table is a performance installation that uses the form of a dinner party as a structure for public debate to encourage informal conversation on serious subjects and to experiment with formats that inspire public engagement.

Thursday 24th May: 5pm, John Casken LT, Martin Harris Centre, University of Manchester, Oxford Road

Mary Cappello (Professor of English, University of Rhode Island): Vice Viscera: The (Dis)gustatory Implications of Aversion

Mary Cappello recently won a Guggenheim Fellowship for her literary non-fiction, which explores forms of disruptive beauty, figuring memory in a postmodern age, bringing incompatible knowledges into the same space, and working at the borders of literary genres.

For more information go to the Sexuality Summer School webpage.

Caitriona Devery.

Drawing a square upon the ground: the complexity of memory in a changing environment

Guest blog by Annie Harrison.

This article draws on the work Annie is doing for her MA by Research in Art Practice at MIRIAD, Manchester Metropolitan University and an associated artists’ residency at Lime, an arts and health organization. Annie also works as a Project Assistant in the School of Medicine at the University of Manchester.

My art practice is concerned with place and memory.  Both contribute to our sense of belonging, which in its turn plays a part in social cohesion.  I am particularly interested in how memory is affected by the loss of place, and how the visual arts can aid memory in a rapidly changing urban environment.  In my MA, I am researching the site of the recently redeveloped Central Manchester Hospitals and working with hospital staff to recover what the Swiss artist Christian Boltanski calls ‘small memories’, the memories of ordinary people.

Dickens knew all about small memories. I recently came across this quote from the final chapter of The Old Curiosity Shop. Kit takes his children to the site of Little Nell’s house, demolished in the slum clearances of the mid 19th century.

The house is gone, but he has the need to locate, not just remember it.  Placing the memory gives it substance, and he wants to pass on the whole memory, not just the story.  I recognize this from my own history.  Whenever our family travelled along the M6 to Birmingham, my mum would point out Frankley Service Station and tell us about her grandfather who worked for the water company and lived in a tied cottage at Frankley Beeches.  The memory was only ever recalled and retold in its proper place.

The locating of visual images in particular places has long been used as a memory aid. In traditional memory techniques, a familiar environment is recreated in ones mind, and inhabited with visual triggers. For this method to work, a pre-existing relationship between place and memory is not important, because the connection is established by the method of remembering. However in his book, ‘How Modernity Forgets’, Paul Connerton writes that the pace of modern life and the rate of change of our surroundings is causing a crisis of memory because our lack of deep familiarity with place makes this technique more and more difficult.  (Connerton, 2009)

It is not only in such specialist techniques that place is an important trigger to memory.  In the documentary, ‘The London Perambulator’ Russell Brand describes returning to the place he grew up and seeing a wall next to an ambulance station.  He suddenly remembers walking along the wall as a child, holding his mother’s hand and says ‘it was as if the memory had been left there … as if it was an object rather than something that had been carried in my mind.’ (Rogers, 2009)

Last remaining hospital corridor from the 1908 building

In my research I take people to the remaining parts of the original 1908 hospital site, and show them photographs of places which have now been demolished.  These actual places and photographic representations of place elicit not only rehearsed memories about the site like my mother’s story about Frankley Beeches, but other memories, forgotten in the interim, which are discovered as if they had been left in the place, rather than carried in the mind of the interviewee.

I interviewed a retired nurse who trained at the hospital and went on to have an extraordinary career, nursing in ward zones across the world.  Nevertheless, visiting the site triggered a small memory, more than 50 years old, of looking through the hospital railings and seeing policemen arresting prostitutes working on the other side of the road.

Sketchbook drawing of the hospital railings

The ‘new’ memories that my interviewees discover are triggered by particular places but when the places are gone, and there are only photographs to rely on, the possibility of unrehearsed memory is limited, whereas every stone, every view, smell, light condition, sound of the original building, could have been the trigger for some new memory. The loss of place leads to the loss of memories and weakens the sense of belonging, of being connected to a wider community.

Dickens suggests that when place changes, it leads to confusion. Certainly, people who suffer from memory impairment are often confused and distressed by being moved away from their familiar environment. Even a new kitchen or redecorated room can dislocate them from the past memory that they use to guide them in the present.

When I interviewed a psychiatric nurse whose association with the hospital stretched back almost 30 years he confidently showed me the place where the old unit used to be, where they used to play football with patients, where the patients used to run a car-wash as part of their therapy. But later we met his colleague who identified completely different locations for the same sites.

Manchester Royal Infirmary Outpatients Department (1948)

Visiting the post graduate training centre, the receptionist knew that round the corner, you could see the façade of the old Outpatients Department, but had no idea that the new entrance where she was sitting was built on the side of that very same building and that the lecture rooms she directed students to, were where people queued for treatment.

Returning to Dickens’ novel, Kit not only needs to find the exact place where the house stood, but he attempts to memorialize it by marking out its shape. The urge to describe memory by some physical manifestation in place is also a common experience. For example, people are drawn to leave flowers at an accident site – sometimes with a photograph or a poem. This same impulse inspires me to create work that memorializes lost sites. In my artwork, I, like Kit, am attempting to draw ‘a square upon the ground’, and in the process, I am insisting on the value of small memories, and their importance to people and to society.

For more examples of Annie Harrison’s art work, see her website: www.annieharrison.co.uk.

References

Connerton, P. (2009) How modernity forgets. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rogers, J. (Writer) (2009). The London Perambulator. London.

Mapping Manchester

by Chris Perkins (Geography, School of Environment and Development)

Maps tell many different stories and their social significance and reach waxes and wanes. In 2011 mapping has gained a striking cultural popularity, with the form more frequently deployed than at any time in human history. A huge profusion of maps are called into being on desktops, mobile devices and as hard paper copies. Across society there is a fascination with mapping – planners map out possible developments; scientists communicate results in mapping; politicians use maps to persuade; the media use mapping to attract attention to stories and evidence; and in everyday life prosaic uses of mapping develop apace, from practical devices to help us navigate the city, to strikingly different views into a past long gone. More people are making maps now than at any time – DIY cartographers collaborate to map the city in new ways and artists use mapping to question taken-for granted certainties about urban life. So maps are very much on the agenda.

This blog posting is an intervention in the process of researching the roles that mapping plays in urban life. It relates to a search for Mancunian cartographic narratives – a progress report, highlighting some of the stories that will feature in a monograph to be published by Manchester University Press in 2013, but also revealing the often ambiguous and contested roles that mapping has played and continues to play in urban life, and the challenges maps present for researchers.

At the beginning of 2009 Martin Dodge and I designed a new public exhibition – Mapping Manchester: Cartographic Stories of the City – that sought to reveal some of the significant ways in which mapping is ingrained into urban life. It demonstrated how maps work and change over time in response to technology, society and economic imperatives, highlighting visually striking maps of the city.The Mapping Manchester exhibition was on display in the Historic Reading Room of the John Rylands Library on Deansgate, Manchester from June 2009 until end of March 2010. It showcased the wealth of cartographic material held by the University of Manchester and other institutions in the city – with generous loans of material from the Manchester City Library and Archives, Chetham’s Library, and number of individuals, including little seen maps and obscure plans.

The exhibition proved the most popular to be mounted in Rylands, generating considerable media coverage and public interest. It kick-started an ongoing research interest in the mapping of the city, paralleling the burgeoning social interest in mapping. The exhibition revealed a series of snapshots into different mapping worlds. Our book allows us to broaden and deepen the scope of these views. We are organising material into 15 different narratives, adding to the ten themes highlighted in the original exhibition. Published mapping of Manchester has predominantly reflected elite discourses, and its development and diffusion parallels the growth of the Victorian city. Mapping charts urban growth, but also allows authorities to control space and govern sometimes unruly subjects and bodies. Housing and health continue to preoccupy mapmakers. Mapping also facilitates moving through the city, in the form of plans of newly emerging infrastructures from canals, railways, and roads to contemporary investment in cellphone coverage or fibreoptic provision. Maps of the city do not only depict what is there – they allow us to call new possibilities into being by offering views into possible futures. There is money to be made through mapping, but also in using the practical appeal of the medium to oil the wheels of capitalism and facilitate accumulation. But mapping also offers a space where alternative and more subversive voices can be heard. An environmental chapter allows us to explore the role of mapping in the greening of the city. The polemical role of maps as a persuasive form is also highlighted and a chapter highlights the often subtle interactions between maps and their makers and users. We are currently writing a chapter focusing on the current profusion of map art, from many different traditions, such as the striking displays on the Piccadilly Station Metrolink platforms from artist Daksha Patel, mapping lung tissue on to the city to question the relations of our embodied experience to the built urban form.

The book has space for many more illustrations than were possible in the original exhibition. A much more sustained analysis of mapping becomes possible when there is space for 120 000 words, and the book design features full colour display throughout. Researching however is often a frustrating process. The timescale for research coincides with the temporary closure of Manchester City Library, and in the short-term some material has been inaccessible. Only a tiny percentage of published mapping can be included in the finished volume. We have spent many hours trawling through archives searching for the hidden gem, lurking undocumented and unseen. Our carefully developed inclusion criteria may well privilege the visually striking over the more prosaic. We are limited by the page format. Our focus on particular stories means others are left untold.

Who knows – we may find the elusive hidden gem of the map documenting emerging global links of cottonopolis! There is still six months to go before our files close. So if you are a map addict or know of a fascinating map story please email us.

Chris.Perkins@manchester.ac.uk