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The Answer Is Cities

September 1, 2011 in PROJECT BLOG, R&D Process


“We get smarter by being around smart people. Cities make that happen.” – ‘Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier’ by Edward Glaeser.

Glaeser’s big question is, “How do we come up with the new, new thing?” The answer is that we do what we did in Newcastle at Northern Stage – people who have different skills and interests share some of what they know, and fingers crossed something new comes out of it. What Glaeser would add is that where-as we were convened, cities are a technology that makes this knowledge exchange and invention happen serendipitously, just by jamming a lot of people together in a small area. He uses the arts as an example of how this happens. Perspective in painting was invented in Florence, but it wasn’t invented by a person so much as being a product of the city itself. This is something that people in the arts can recognise quite readily, that a “scene” is useful. ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is a good example – that was a product of the musicians, the producer, the record label and the designer, none of whom planned to work together on what they worked on, plus countless hours spent listening to and watching other music. Plus something intangible which is “f*ck it lets just get on with it”. The technology that made those connections and knowledge exchange possible was Manchester, its sewers and bus stops just as much as its music venues (without bus stops people can’t get to see bands, and without sewers they die of cholera on the way).This might be one way in which the arts can contribute to the viability of places in the north – by making the process of creating a “new, new thing” visible – the Industrial Revolution was the new, new thing once, in fact Manchester itself was the new, new thing – and by asking whether the city-regions in the north have what they need to work as technologies for invention

There is a podcast recording of Glaeser giving a talk in itunes if you search for “CNU 19 Glaeser” then find “Strong towns CNU 19…” The audio quality is bad but it’s a good quick introduction.
Image: ‘Tuned Suburb’, copyright Ron Herron, Archigram.

Conventions of space

September 1, 2011 in PROJECT BLOG, R&D Process

'Early Morning in Toytown' by david anderson, da-photgraphy

Over to Caro:

‘I thought of how some places and spaces have an unwritten convention for how one behaves in that space. For example, I remember watching some documentary about theatre and a big group of young people were taken to the theatre for the first time. They were chatting, eating & drinking and responding vocally to the show with praise or disdain.

Other older theatre goers were tutting away, disgusted at this behaviour. This was, according to them, not how one behaves when you go to a theatre show. It annoyed me that they indirectly disapproved of the new theatre goers’ conduct. There are a few points in this example such as ownership of the space and the fact that no-one had informed the group of young people on how to behave during a theatre show. The anti-authoritarian in me also chuckled at the open-ness and freedom and perhaps increased enjoyment of those who were not confined by the space’s conventions.
Another example was at a concert at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. I was loving the performance so I let out a woo! at the end of a piece. My Mum was surprised but then realised that this was allowed ‘up North’ and remarked on how the crowd were more ‘lively’ and expressive in their response than ‘down South’.
I really like how in Manchester Art Gallery there is a couple of little sculptures that have the instruction – PLEASE DO TOUCH. I love this when we are so often told not to touch artworks.
So I was thinking if we could play with these conventions and perhaps use instructions like ‘Please make sure your mobile phone is switched ON for this part of the show.’

Manchester’s Portico Library




‘Parks are a very good example of a space which welcomes participation, and has an architecture for it (parks have no architecture, more or less!), and facebook is another (though the architecture of facebook, defined by software code, isn’t neutral). The kind of arts space that has the least welcoming architecture for participation, is a rows-of-seats-pointing-at-a-stage theatre. It’s rows of seats, bolted to the floor, all pointing in the same direction, and only usable for two hours a day. An un-reconfigurable space. That’s one of the many reasons why the Pub project at the Royal Exchange was so striking. The audience configure the architecture. They pick up the chairs and move them. They are allowed to do that because they know the rules of pub spaces, and often negotiate them to reconfigure the architecture: “Can I borrow this chair?” “Is anyone sitting here?”
‘Wish You Were Here’ at the Everyman Theatre had the same feel as well. A beach is like a park and a pub. People configure it for themselves. That’s not to say that participation and reconfiguration are always a good thing though. I hate people talking in the cinema, and I like books with a plot!’
Sam’s ‘Small Cinema’ project also has the same feel. Here’s a link to some lovely clips.
Feeling inspired, we had a think about spaces for participation that can be reconfigured:
You Tube
Mobile phone screens
Places of worship
Shopping centres
House parties
Sports pitches
The Internet
Weddings (and other ceremonies)
…and participatory public spaces that are, in theory, accessible to all…

Public spaces that are free:
City centre squares
City centre gardens
Cathedral gardens
Railway stations and platforms
Motorway rest stops
Phone boxes
Bus stops
Pop music
Computer games
Photo albums
Travel on roads – cars, bikes, buses, Walking
Board games
Take away food shops (burger king etc, kebabs, fish and chips)
Restaurants (some yes, some no)
Public spaces that you can enter for a fee:
…and this got us thinking about ‘public commons’, ‘a place in our world that has a public good that is free for people to view and enjoy and owned by everyone who wants to be a part of it’, according to Wiki. And of course culture is a kind of commons, one that transcends the limits of spaces.
And some final thoughts…
Participatory ‘public’ spaces
  • does free / fee / common / private matter as much as our role in the space?
  • people feel comfortable with consumer spaces because they understand their role in the transaction.
  • do people still know their role in common spaces?
Private / Commons
  • There has been an erosion of the commons. Cities and towns have been taken over by agents. Councils (and so the people) do not own the places they manage.
  • Liverpool One is a private, made to look like public space. But you can’t legally protest there.
Main Image: ‘Early Morning in Toytown’ by david anderson, da-photgraphy

An Open and Inclusive North

September 1, 2011 in PROJECT BLOG, R&D Process

'The Dream', a sculpture by Jaume Plensa located at Sutton Manor Colliery on the edge of St. Helen's, Merseyside.
We’ve been trying to come up with defininition of what a ‘Northerner’ in a North of the Imagination might be, a way of us avoiding being inward-looking and parochial.
Andrew saw a nice quote in the ‘Rough Guide to Madrid’, which was that there is a local saying: “If you are in Madrid, you are from Madrid.” In response, he then came up with this:
‘If you are in a place in the North you are from a place in the North. If you used to be in a place in the North, and you want that still to be part of you, then you are in the North as well. And if you are somewhere else and you want to be in the North, then you can be.’
That’s about right.

Documentary Animation

September 1, 2011 in PROJECT BLOG, R&D Process

A still from 'Howard' by Julia Pott.

Over to Kate:

I absolutely love animated documentary and have seen some amazing moving stuff at film festivals. Unfortunately not a lot of it is online but wanted to share some links. A lot of animated documentary deals with people relaying some kind of experience or first person account with the audience, often of a personal and life changing nature.

Animated Minds was a series commissioned by the Wellcome Trust (commissions science/arts cross over) dealing with mental states such as depression etc. I have seen quite a few of them at various film festivals. Here is the only one I could find online, about schizophrenia:

Julia Pott deals with stories of love and loss in first person narrative: here’s ‘My First Crush’…
…and the gorgeous ‘Howard’…
Jonas Odell is a Swedish animator and one of my favourites ever. He did a series of shorts animating peoples interviews about the first time they had sex. Some were horrific (drunken teenage girl being forced) and some magical and enchanting (elderly Swedish couple who were quite innocent and earnest). Here we go:
I’ve also managed to find an extract of ‘Lies’ online which is a similar structure of animating people’s interviews:







Ruth Lingford made ‘Little Deaths’ animating people talking about their experience of orgasm.Straight/gay/beautiful/guilt, it is all covered! Saw it at the LSFF at the ICA this year and it has won many awards. Not available online but here are some deets.

The Miracles

September 1, 2011 in PROJECT BLOG, R&D Process

Image: Reuters

‘The Mysteries’ plays were probably the earliest example of British popular theatre and have a very strong North of England connection:  the York, Wakefield and Chester Mysteries are well known surviving examples. They’re regularly updated within a contemporary context (there’s a production currently on at The Globe in London based on an adaptation by Tony Harrison). What we hadn’t heard about before was ‘The Miracles’ plays: a collection of contemporary vernacular stories realised by professionals and non-professionals in artistic collaboration, focusing on ordinary people who experience something extraordinary that changes how they see the world/others/themselves/a place. This all feels quite relevant to us at the moment, an old idea (the oldest theatre idea of all) that could be used in a new context. Here’s some more info:

‘Miracle plays, or Saint’s plays, are now distinguished from mystery plays as they specifically re-enacted miraculous and marvellous interventions by the saints, particularly St. Nicholas or St. Mary, into the lives of ordinary people, rather than biblical events. The Miracles emphasized the supernatural intervention of a saint or the Blessed Virgin the events might be infinitely varied, and this afforded the authors a wide field. They were ‘folk’ stories, concerned with the miraculous entering the lives of ordinary people. They could supply us a host of details regarding the manners of the times which are not found elsewhere, but unfortunately there are no surviving manuscripts of the Miracle plays. As regards the aesthetic side of this drama, modern standards should not be applied. This theatre does not even offer unity of action, for the scenes are not derived from one another: they succeed one another without any other unity than the interest which attaches to the chief personage and the general idea of eternal salvation, whether of a single man or of humanity, which constitutes the common foundation of the picture. Moreover, side by side with pathetic and exalted scenes are found others which savour of buffoonery. The plays used as many as one, two, and even five hundred characters, not counting the chorus, and they were so long that they could not be played on one occasion. This is true at least of the mysteries dating from the middle of the fifteenth century; on the other hand, the oldest of them and the miracles were rather short. Places were indicated by vast scenery, rather than really represented. Two or three trees, for example, represented a forest, and although the action often changed from place to place the scenery did not change, for it showed simultaneously all the various localities where the characters successively appeared in the course of the drama, and which were thus in close proximity, even though in reality they were often far removed from each other. For the rest nothing was neglected to attract the eye. If the scenery was immovable, it was very rich and secrets of theoretical mechanism often produced surprising and fairy-like effects. The actors were richly dressed, each defrayed the cost of his own costume and looked more for beauty than for truth. The subject-matter admitted of the marvellous.’

So now you know.

‘At Lunchtime: A Story of Love’ – Roger McGough

September 1, 2011 in A WONDROUS SPACE, R&D Process, Wondrous Cities

The Entry of Christ Into Liverpool, 1964 (Homage to James Ensor), detail by Adrian Henry.

‘At Lunchtime: A Story of Love’ by Roger McGough

When the bus stopped suddenly to avoid
damaging a mother and child in the road, the
young lady in the green hat sitting opposite
was thrown across me,
and not being one to miss an opportunity
I started to make love
with all my body.
At first, she resisted saying that it
was too early in the morning and too soon
after breakfast and that anyway she found
me repulsive. But when I explained that
this being a nuclear age, the world was going
to end at lunchtime, she took  off her
green hat, put her bus ticket into her pocket
and joined in the exercise.
The bus people, and there were many of
them, were shocked and surprised, and amused-
and annoyed, but when word got around
that the world was coming to an end at lunchtime,
they put their pride in their pockets
with their bus tickets and made love one with the other.
And even the bus conductor, feeling left
out climbed into the cab and struck up
some sort of relationship with the driver.
That night, on the bus coming home,
we were all a little embarrassed, especially me
and the young lady in the green hat, and we
all started to say in different ways how hasty
and foolish we had been. But then, always
having been a bit of a lad, i stood up and
said it was a pity that the world didn’t nearly
end every lunchtime, and that we could always
pretend. And then it happened . . .
Quick as a flash we all changed partners,
and soon the bus was aquiver with white
mothball bodies doing naughty things.
And the next day
and everyday
In every bus
In every street
In every town
In every country
People pretended that the world was coming
to an end at lunchtime. It still hasn’t.
Although in a way it has.
Featured Image: The Entry of Christ Into Liverpool, 1964 (Homage to James Ensor), by Adrian Henry.