Pie charts from Case Study 1

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

I have, as discussed in my methodology, categorised as much data as possible from the nine surveys and four blog entries that asked questions about the experiences had on Hamish Fulton’s Group Walk. This is some of my initial data presentation.

Figure 1 shows the key themes that emerged from responses about how participants paced themselves throughout the two hour walk, and is calculated from the number of responses that fell into each theme as a percentage of the total number of comments from the nine survey responses. The ‘practical and walking’ category relates responses about physical reactions to the walking task (shifting of feet, the size of the steps taken, crossing of arms and crouching down to retain warmth). Thought-based responses included comments about thinking about family, about other people they knew who were participating and wondering whether they were ok, or thinking about time. ‘Observations about the environment’ is relatively self explanatory, and included quotes such as “I was looking closely at plant life growing in the cracks, rusty bits of metal, graffiti, oil spills,” and  “I considered the graffiti directly opposite me. I mentally retraced the artists’ hand holding the can.” There were various comments, good and bad, about the landscape, the buildings, and a few mentions of the future High Speed 2 development planned for the site, and how it might affect the area and redefine the city. The ‘actions’ category included comments about texting and Tweeting others, looking at mobiles, reading, writing and playing with pebbles.

Figure 1: Responses to the question: “How did you pace yourself to ensure it took two hours to walk your line?”

Figure 2 shows the key themes that emerged from responses about the connections participants felt with the landscape and their immediate surroundings, calculated using the same method as in Figure 1. It was evident from the response data that other participants in the walk were as much a part of the landscape and surroundings as the built environment. This is why Figure 2 shows information from four questions grouped together, as answers to questions 16 and 17 had started to answer those in 21 and 22.

Responses to questions 16, 17, 21 and 22: “What (if any) connection did you feel with your immediate surroundings, the landscape, other participants, and spectators?

Many of the categories in Figure 2 are similar to in Figure 1. ‘Connection with a Micro-environment’ refers to comments about participants’ affiliation with their line. ‘Emotional or intellectual connection’ relates to comments made about whether the space was of visual interest, or feelings about Birmingham’s skyline. ‘Connection to the sonic environment’ referes to the noises of seagulls, trains, cars and other people. ‘Connection to other participants’ included Tweeting, smiling at each other, and other interactions. Some participants stated they did not feel any connection with the landscape or their surroundings, most stating the weather and the duration of the walk being the reason: “I was quite interested in obtaining a new perspective on the city centre, as I hadn’t been in this car park before, but I spent most of my time looking at the floor or other people,” and another stating “If the purpose of the walk was to engender a greater connection with the landscape then the rule should have been less restrictive.” The largest number of comments (26.5%) related to the connection participants had with each other. Some referred to it as group solidarity – that they were all in this unique experience together, and as a resulted, had ‘bonded’ and become ‘stronger’. Fulton states, in relation to another of his slow walks, Slowalk in Spain 2008: “The (walk) participants are also the (art) observers. The walk is a fact for the walkers, and fiction for everyone else” (Fulton, 2012: 36).

The second largest number of comments (16.3%) were about the connection between the participant and the spectator, and with the visual environment. In many instances, the former referred to the thought of passengers on trains wondering what was happening. Also mentioned was a group of skaters, and the official photographers, who some felt were imposing on their experience. Comments about the visual environment included observations about graffiti, tin cans, concrete, buildings, clouds, roads and the passing trains.

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Case study 1: Hamish Fulton Group Walk

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Hamish Fulton Group Walk (2012)

Group Walk took place in Birmingham on Sunday 8th April 2012 (Easter Day). It was supported by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation as part of a programme of walking-based public artwork within Fierce Festival 2012 (Birmingham’s annual live/performance art festival) in association with Ikon (Birmingham’s contemporary art gallery) to compliment Fulton’s concurrent solo exhibition. It also coincided with the first Still Walking festival, Birmingham’s celebration of alternative walking experiences (Still Walking, 2012).

The event was publically advertised as a free (but booking essential) two-hour city-centre based walk (Ikon, 2012: 4; Fierce, 2012: 47) lead by Fulton (Ikon, 2012). Fierce’s programme also included a paragraph giving some context to Fulton’s work (Fierce, 2012: 47) and a photograph of Fulton’s Slowalk (2011), where 100 people slowly walked around Margate’s tidal boating lake seven times (Turner Contemporary, 2011) (plate 1).

Plate 1: Slowalk, Fulton 2011 (Source: Turner Contemporary, 2012)

Purpose

Between 60 and 70 volunteer participants (Fierce, 2012; Waddington, 2012) were asked to walk along pre-existing lines within the car park, varying from five metres to one hundred metres in length over a two-hour period (Fulton in , 2012), (plate 2).

Plate 2: A line (Source: Jessop, 2012)

While Fierce understand the purpose of Group Walk to be “a collective exploration of time and physical movement in space”, Fulton does not give the walk a clear purpose. He explains: “It is using what is existing; the venue that previously exists; and then I as an artist, had this idea where people will walk and people were crossing and passing” (Fulton, 2012b). He goes on to explain how each walker chooses a line of varying lengths, between 200 meters and 5 meters, to walk over a two-hour duration. “And so it is a kind of an experience. You can say quite confidently that no one will have done this walk ever before” (Fulton, 2012b). As co-commissioners of the event, the aims of Group Walk are shared by Fierce: “Fierce is seeking to constantly encourage its audience (those from Birmingham and beyond) to re-imagine the city” (Fierce, 2012b).

Participants were asked for their understanding Group Walk’s purpose. Responses varied, from those who were unsure whether there was a purpose or message, to those who found their own purpose within the set of rules. Some were interested in the concept of reclaiming a space; some knew Futlon’s work and one person paraphrased him (“it is not a traditional walk or a traditional art-work; it is a group experience, transient and leaving no trace”); some considered the purpose to be about short-term endurance and meditation; and others felt the emphasis to be about observation, not action, from a different viewpoint than those experienced in our everyday lives. One response specified the importance of the walk to be “the deliberate exaggeration of rules and tasks and the authority of artists, about the framing of actions, which gives it a performative value” (respondent 5).

Location

The red mark on Figure 1 shows the site of Group Walk, in the Eastside quarter of Birmingham city centre. This map indicates where the central business area is within the Queensway ring road (marked in red). Inside Queensway are the national-line train stations and shopping precincts. The city centre sprawls from within the Queensway to the inner-circle road (marked in blue). The land between these two roads mainly consists of commercial usage (particularly creative and cultural industries in Eastside), with some city-living complexes, inter-war and post-war housing. Many plots still await redevelopment.

Figuew 1: Group Walk site in relation to Birmingham’s centre (Source: Google Maps, 2012)

 Figure 2 shows the more detailed context of the site. The railway tracks are to the south; Thinktank science museum to the north, and a construction site to the north-west, part of Birmingham City University’s campus. Group Walk was confined to a raised concrete plateau (outlined in red) previously occupied by a parcel depot (Waddington, 2012b).

Figure 2: Map of the site of Group Walk (Source: Google Maps, 2012)

The site was chosen by Fulton, informed by research and discussions with Fierce (Fierce 2012b). Futon states in the on-site interview: “This is Curzon Street car park in Birmingham. This is the train track going along here, and this is the site in the future of the high-speed train coming up from London. And this building at the end here will be the new photography museum eventually. This elevated space is the venue that I chose for a group walk” (Fulton, 2012b).

Plate 3: Participants walk on pre-existing lines (Source: Ikon, 2012)

Fierce describe the site as “an open, undecided space, both physically and metaphorically, used by skateboarders, BMXers and for people to park their cars,” explaining: “It’s role has been very undefined, but it remains in the centre of the city, and easily seen when you leave or enter by train (Fierce, 2012b). Waddington describes it as “an expansive but empty post-industrial vista, best known for being the proposed site of HS2” (Waddington, 2012b).

For Fulton, the Group Walk site and surrounding landscape is integral to the art experience. He explains how the rule of silence creates a blank soundscape upon which various urban sounds are added: a tin can rolling along in the wind, trains crossing, seagulls, and sounds from the city such as church bells, “so that the occasion of the walk pulls in these other existing aspects of Birmingham city, so the skyline is part of it, the buses, trains, other people who are walking, sounds, it is brought into this two-hour period of this particular walk” (Fulton, 2012b). “The location and duration of the walk are integral to its nature, they can’t be separated. Each walk is designed as a site-and-time-specific system” (Fierce, 2012b). The lines themselves also are visual reminders of the former use of the land (Waddington, 2012b).

N.B. References not shown here.

Dissertation – analysing data

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Hello. Again, it has been a while since I was last on here. But since then, I have received really helpful survey, email and interview responses from about 30 people – without these people I would not have been able to complete this study. So thank you very much to them.

Not that the study is anywhere near completed yet… I have just under two weeks to go before the dissertation deadline. I am still analysing survey and interview responses (see a nice picture of my post-it note action below… The first picture is Walk the B30 response data, the second is Hamish Fulton Group Walk responses). Once I have presented my findings I need to write up my analysis, write my conclusions, and then go over all the other sections with a fine tooth comb, adding in references in places, swapping paragraphs here and there, checking the bibliography, and then printing and binding it, all before Monday 17th September. Eek!

The final dissertation title is: Walking as Art and our Right to the City – What role can the participatory arts practice of urban group walking play in enabling people to consider their right to the city?

I hope to be uploading more sections of my study on here soon, and the final PDF in October.

 

Did you take part in Hamish Fulton’s Group Walk, Birmingham in April?

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Hello! If you took part in the Hamish Fulton Group Walk in Birmingham as part of the Fierce Festival programme on the 8th April 2012, I would really appreciate hearing from you – there is a survey to gather your thoughts, if you are able to complete it, should take 30mins max…. thank you! Deadline for submissions is the end of Monday 13th August 2012.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/hamishfultongroupwalkbirmingham

For more information on the Group Walk, see:

http://www.wearefierce.org/fierce-festival/whats-on/group-walk-with-hamish-fulton

Did you take part in Stirchley’s Walk the B30 event???

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Research is underway!

I am looking for people who participated in ‘Walk the B30’ to complete a survey on their thoughts about the event. It was organised by the voluntary arts collective Stirchley Happenings, and took place in Stirchley, Birmingham on the 26th February and then repeated on the 30th March 2012.

The questions in the survey will ask about your thoughts and experiences prior to, during and after the walk. Responses to the survey will be used in a MA Community and Participatory Arts dissertation study about the links between walking, art, communities and our right to the city. It should only take about 30minutes to complete. Deadline for submissions is by the end of Monday 13th August 2012. Thanks!

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WalktheB30Stirchley

For more information on the walk, see: http://stirchleyhappenings.wordpress.com/2012/02/14/walk-the-b30-1100am-sunday-26-february/

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Felicity Scott has a fantastic brain. I have just ordered this book. I wish she lectured in England!

The Funambulist

Architecture or Techno-Utopia: Politics after Modernism is a book written by Felicity Scott and published in 2007 by the MIT Press. She is director of the new program at Columbia University in Critical, Curatorial and Conceptual Practices in Architecture. This book is a historical exploration and analysis of the evolution of the political ideology that functioned as a motor for architecture since the 1930’s. The first chapter is entitled A Vital Bearing on Socialism and recounts the struggle against capitalism orchestrated by art historian Meyer Shapiro.  It is interesting to observe how architecture, just like any discipline in between the two world wars, was able to carry a pretty straight forward and strong Marxist reading of society registered in the idea of class struggle. Following its course, the book ends-up with the Koolhaasian paradigm and his voluntary prisoners of architecture (see here for the text and here for…

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Long time no updates

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Hello.

Sometimes the process of MA study can feel liberating and the mind can effervesce with exuberance. Similarly, the process sometimes can veer into the opposite direction; a guilty portcullis of procrastination crashing down through the vortex of your imagination.

The latter appears to have engulfed my inspiration of late. I have re-written my dissertation title over and over again (currently it reads: To what extent are psychogeographic practices successful as a means of empowering people within contemporary urban community and participatory arts practice?), always focusing on the theories of psychogeographic practice and empowerment. And now it seems I have been ramming a square peg into a round hole. Or a triangular peg into a square hole – it fits but there are massive unconnectable gaps.

Following from a pretty shambolic presentation at university, and long conversation with my work colleague, standing outside the Post Office in Victoria Square, it transpired that perhaps psychogeography is not the emphasis of my long-overdue literature review; that instead it should perhaps be walking. Walking as art, walking as politics, walking as social action. And that although these three things can all be part of a psychogeographic practice, the same cannot be said the other way around. My tutor asked whether, by Guy Debord’s 1955 definition of PG (the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals), it was possible to have a psychogeographic practice that was also considered a community arts practice. Also, although Debord produced interesting map visuals, the Jury was still out for him as far as artists were concerned. Art was a commodity. Even the Dadaist’s anti-art was a commodity. Debord did not like commodity.

So following from this late-but-better-late-than-never revelation, I have been working on a new structure to tackle and interlink the topics I am interested in – the reclaiming or use of (mostly public – what do we mean by public?) space for creative (and arguably subtly socio-political) purposes (and why is this important?), through the medium of art (walking…if this indeed can be argued to be an artform as an end in itself, or just a means to an end), and as a collective process, a community activity… thus embedding it within the themes of my MA course title of Community and Participatory Arts – with the lose description of community/ participatory arts being a creative, art-driven process working with/as a community, to achieve a social aim or as Belfast Community Arts Forum state: “The core of community arts is the ethos of inclusion and shared experience, with key elements being access, participation, authorship and ownership”. 

Anyway. I’ll leave it there for now. I have ditched continuing on with the literature review for now while I concentrate on locating participants of Hamish Fulton’s walks – which will be used as case studies to explore the above. Thus a facebook page has been born called

Hamish Fulton Group Walk 08.04.12.

So please check that out on facebook. Thank you.

 

Post-structuralist geography and relational space

Monday, January 30th, 2012

I have just been reading the first chapter of J. Murdoch’s Post-structuralist Geography. I must admit anytime the conversation goes near Marxism I get thrown off topic. And Marxism just pops up everywhere.

So, from the introductory chapter, I have tried to understand the difference between Structuralist and Post-Structuralist approaches to geography and space. Some differences might include: the open and closed approach to understanding space; that space is not a ‘container’ for  processes and entities, but is the processes and entities; space as a concept in flux, dependent on who is reading the space, and how subjects interact with objects within that space; social actors are crucial to understanding space vs the idea of generative mechanisms, not humanism, defining space, and the concept of spatial-science. Post-structuralists understand SPACE IS RELATIONAL. I like post-structuralism (some of the Structuralist definition has been taken from Philip Smith (2001: 97-8). The rest is my interpretation of Murdoch pgs. 16, 21 – 22)

I like the mentioning of ‘autocratic mapping of space’, and Ed Soja (1996) terms ‘marginal’ spaces as ‘thirdspace’; following from Soja’s interpretation of the heavily referenced Lefebre’s (1991) work, where ‘firstspace’ is the formal arrangement of things, and ‘secondspace’ is representations and concepts of space. Soja’s definition of ‘thirdspace’ concludes: “It can be mapped but never captured in conventional cartographies; it can be creatively imagined but obtains meaning only when practiced and fully lived (1999: 276) from Murdoch p. 14.

Is this ‘thirdspace’ the same space sought by psycho-geographers and ‘socio-space’ community artists alike? This inbetween space, that is the ‘knowable and unknowable, the oppressive and liberating, the passionate and the routine’ (Soja, 1999: 276)? I like to think so.

I am pleased to find the cross-over between geographical theories and art theories around relational concepts: relational space being one that is in flux depending on new social actors acting within it, new identities, new relationships between the subjects and the objects, the entities that are the space… while relational aesthetics being those where, again, the emphasis is on the relationship and process of engagement between the subject (audience) and the object (the art).

 

Forgotten Spaces

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Short and sharp entry here.

1) This is interesting – how architects are dreaming of schemes to enhance the positive social life of small urban spaces in 2011 – the forgotten spaces exhibition was on at Somerset House. Enjoyed.

Liftplatz by Colin Rose and Kathering Hibbert

2) Richard Sennett, Professor of Urban Studies at the London School of Economics mentions the High Line project in New York on BBC Radio 4 interview. It looks EXCITING like a linear version of the Eden Project.

Image by Joel Stemfeld

3) I am REALLY looking forward to getting William H Whyte’s The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980) book through the post, and here is his accompanying film – which is just brill!

 

4) Jessie Cape is an amazing online researcher, and always puts interesting public/ urban art examples on my facebook wall… this one is particularly relevant I think, and then, in a similar vein, there is Here Comes my Neighbourhood, found thanks to Helga Henry via twitter.

The Man of the Crowd (1840) by Edgar Allan Poe

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Photo taken from the cover of Minton's report into the Privatisation of Public Space for RICS, 2006

In my reading about Psycho-geography (from an introductory text by Marlin Coverley, 2010), the image, perception and history of the lone walker or ‘flaneur’ in literature and art theory are critiqued and explained. There are many seminal texts – The Practice of Everyday life (de Certeau, 1988),  The Society of the Spectacle (Debord, 1992), writings by Breton, Defoe, Baudelaire, and ‘Man of the Crowd’ by Poe.

‘Man of the Crowd’ is told from the writer’s viewpoint. Poe/ the writer, sits in a cafe, having sustained a 4 month period of ill health. Now having the luxury of experiencing the world again as he did prior to this bout, he explains his joy of breathing and the everyday life of the cafe. Then his attention turns to the bustle of the thoroughfare outside – the crowds – people watching. He defines different types of persons within the crowd; the gamblers, working girls, and pick pockets. He takes a particular interest to one individual and decides to follow him through the streets in the rain for what seems like many hours. He develops a sheer fascination with this older man. He is alone, and dips and bobs through back alleys and crowded squares, sometimes choosing to throw himself amongst the crowd to become one of them – one particular crowd mentioned is one exiting a theatre. But Poe wont ever understand this man. His secrets will never be told – he will never know why that man does as he does.

There are a few things I picked up on with this short story. Firstly, the feeling of the 24 hour city (something which Birmingham certainly lacks)… that seemingly only capitals have?

Secondly, the viewpoint of the writer. I do not know much about Poe – having skimmed Wikipedia (!) I see that he had a difficult life, trying to survive on writing alone, mostly living an impoverished but influential existence.

Is this important to know his background when reading this text? The man of the crowd is seemingly homeless – his life is the streets. He would be a no one – one of a crowd, had Poe not singled him out. My thoughts turn to the designing of a city, and our crowds, and our homeless population. I am interested in the background of  some of today’s psychogeographers, relational artists, community artists practising within the public realm, because their viewpoint of, and responses to,  their urban and social occupation of space is at the disposition of their upbringing. Does this matter?

Thirdly, and following from this, is the importance of public space and realm, and the inhabitation of this space, through different times of the day, and by different groups of people. Recently, Ixia posted a news item about the increasing privatisation of public space. There is an interesting report on this by Anna Minton in 2006 – which looks at socially excluded groups’ use of space, and discussed the question ‘Who owns Britain?’, which I look forward to reading.

Some other rambling unstructured thoughts on the matter:

  • Everyone’s experience of the city is different, depending on lifestyle, health, wealth, cultural signings. Planners have a duty to respond to this.
  • Design can be used as a corrective tool – to challenge or design out illegal or anti-social behaviour , or to design out people and communities who get in the way of comfortable pseudo-wealthy living.
  • Today there are a lot more policies and guidance on planning with communities; and examples of creative approaches, working with artists to encourage representative engagement and enable voices to be heard.