1. Reactions residency: MMU Crewe 8-18 November
Reactions was a residency I recently undertook at Manchester Metropolitan University Crewe Campus – as part of the Curating Knowledge programme. It took place from 8 – 18 November 2016, at Axis Arts Centre in the OpenSpace.
I was invited to present my initial responses to the process of undertaking a year-long MSc at the University of Manchester in Urban Regeneration and Development – to explore its impact on my cross-disciplinary (visual arts/performance) practice.
Due to an interest in the idea that artists should take a greater part in civic society, in recent years, I’ve embarked on a shift in my practice, repositioning myself as both a planning and regeneration professional and as an artist. Reactions enabled me to undertake practical research creatively addressing issues around regeneration, place-making, local economic development, and social, environmental and economic justice, including taking Crewe and the MMU campus as a context for making new work.
Activities undertaken during Reactions included: an exhibition of recent and new 2D works, a sound-place walking workshop, an artist’s talk and a performance-installation.
Soft space: combined authority (2016)
2. Reactions: exhibition of recent and new works
The exhibition of recent and new works comprised of textile, collage, photographic and video-based works.
Works made in the last few years were: Waymarking Manifesto (2012-2016), City Scribe: Montpellier (2014), Slices/Seams (2014) and Verse: Voices: Vistas (2011).
Exhibition in Axis Arts Centre
Verse: Voices: Vistas projected (2011)
New works were: Soft Space: Combined Authority (2016) (see above) and ‘I like the way it’s all laid out with little shops in each neighbourhood’ (2016).
‘I like the way it’s all laid out with little shops in each neighbourhood’ (2016)
The performance installation was entitled: Our Right to the City? (2016)
3. Reactions: sound-place walking workshop
I ran a workshop with 10 Community Practice students and staff. We undertook a sound-place walking workshop, comprising an hour-long walk and a creative performance focussed workshop.
The session was about the students gathering material to use as starting points for the creation of their own work (students were studying theatre, creative writing and music). I think that creative responses to the urban/the city/the town that help us reflect on a place are part of that producing of space.
As a collective we went on a walk, in silence – listening to and paying attention to the neighbourhood we walked through. The area was close to the campus, but which was little known to the group, and part of the walk was surprising such as the alleyway leading to a green open area, bordering the railway.
Students were asked to explore and experience their walk through 6 filters:
- Question assumptions
- Emotional response
- Embodying place
Sound-place walking workshop
I led the walk, introducing the 6 themes, asking the participants to respond to what stimulated them on the walk, making a record of images, sounds and ideas, using such means as notebooks, cameras, phones.
On our return the students shared the material they’d gathered and devised short performance pieces involving performance poetry, song and movement – in direct response to their reflections on walking in silence through Crewe.
4. Reactions: Our Right to the City? performance-installation
The residency centred around developing a performance-installation in the arts centre space, exploring new ideas and practical processes. This included creatively examining text from Cheshire East’s planning policy document Draft Local Plan, text taken from my Mind Map about the urban theory and activist movement ‘The Right to the City’, and detailed maps of the area – using projections (digital and analogue), string and paper.
The Cheshire East Local Plan is going through the stages of formal adoption. The version of the Cheshire East Local Plan used during the residency was the ‘Cheshire East Local Plan: Local Plan Strategy Proposed Changes (Consultation Draft) March 2016’ (accessed 10.11.16). This is no longer available on the website as it has been superseded by the ‘Cheshire East Local Plan Schedule of Proposed Main Modifications to the Local Plan Strategy – Proposed Changes (March 2016 Version) February 2017’.
The residency version of the Cheshire East Local Plan is a 592-page-long document. The text explored from this document came from the Introduction (p.1 – 11) and the Spatial Portrait (p.12 – 33). I read these pages of the Local Plan for the first time on the residency, and responded to the policy itself in conjunction with the context of being in Crewe, the relationship with the University and its students and the other found text garnered from my reading about the Right to the City and The Urban Impossible (Paul Chatterton), and which I formed into a mind map, whilst researching some of the theoretical underpinning of my MSc dissertation entitled: ‘Performance, policy, place: perspectives on social enterprise’.
I was particularly struck by key aspects of the spatial portrait and used these as the cornerstones of the large moving collage created during the residency.
The Right to the City[i], is a philosophical theory created by Henri Lefebvre, it is now also an activist movement[ii]. The concept of the Right to the City constitutes a complex set of ideas including how urban space and society are mutually constituted[iii]; the right for the needs of a city’s inhabitants to be met[iv]; the right of its inhabitants to ‘physically access, occupy, and use urban space’[v] and to participate in shaping the environment they dwell in[vi]; the right to be part of decision-making[vii]; as well as a call for heterogeneity in metropolitan areas[viii].
I was particularly interested in the intersection between these two documents, and in exploring the language used through dictionary definitions.
Deprivation: a situation in which you do not have things or conditions that are usually considered necessary for a pleasant life. [Longmans Online Dictionary]
Affluence: The state of having a lot of money or possessions. [Cambridge Online Dictionary]
[i] McCann, E. J. (2002), ‘Space, citizenship, and the right to the city: A brief overview’, GeoJournal, 58, 77–79;
[ii] Marcuse, P. (2009), ‘Postscript: Beyond the Just City to the Right to the City’, in Just City: Debates in Urban Theory and Practice (edited by Marcuse, P., Connelly, J., Novy, J., Olivo, I., Potter, C. and Steil, J.), Taylor and Francis/Routledge, London, 240–254
[iii] Marcuse, P. (2009)
[iv] Purcell, M. (2008), in Fainstein, S. (2009)
[v] Purcell, M. (2002), ‘Excavating Lefebvre: The right to the city and its urban politics of the inhabitant’, GeoJournal, 58, 99–108
[vi] Fainstein, S. S. (2009)
[vii] McCann, E. J. (2002), ‘Space, citizenship, and the right to the city: A brief overview’, GeoJournal, 58, 77–79
[viii] Fainstein, S. S. (2009)
5. Reactions: What next?
The performance-installation and the Reactions residency as a whole were an exploration into new ways of working, using place-based policy documents, specific to a place (Crewe, Cheshire East) and certain theoretical concepts, alongside processes such as using dictionary definitions to examine ideas, combining and juxtaposing text and physically manipulating it about on a surface, layering text using OH projection and performing ‘underneath’ projected text.
Key areas of interest for taking forward into new work, ideally with people living and working in that place, especially young people include:
- If a city/town or neighbourhood is an iterative process, which changes over time – then reflecting on the city is part of producing the city, as it changes over time.
- Finding simultaneous viewpoints which expose both the bird’s eye (macro) and on-the-ground detail (micro).
- Exploring further the 6 themes/filters from the sound-place walk and workshop; pattern, narrative, flow, questioning assumptions, emotional response and embodying place.
- Continuing to explore the language used in policy documents through creative means.
- Working with young people to explore how they can influence and ‘produce’ their neighbourhoods, towns and cities for positive change.
Image credits: Sarah Spanton