The View on the Street

15 Jul road ahead closed

Further to my earlier announcement about the Loitering with Intent exhibition at the People’s History Museum, in Manchester, featuring a special edition of STEPZ zine, here is my article as published:

The View on the Street

The full text is reproduced below:

On considering the whereabouts of the People’s History Museum, I did what anyone these days would do, I checked Google Maps. I soon found myself roaming around Salford on Street View, looking through the “eyes of the Pegman”.
In the silent, frozen time of Street View, my mind created its own soundscape. Seeing the railway arches of the viaduct into Salford, I was transported back to Attercliffe, Sheffield, 1983. I am walking to British Rail’s permanent way maintenance depot. Beyond the viaduct on Furnival Road, there are glimpses through huge metal doors into the steelworks. Molten steel glows orange. I feel the subterranean boom and clangs of machinery. There is a sulphurous smell of coal.

I click on the white chevron…

Since it appeared in 2007, Google Street View has gone beyond mere novelty, and established itself as a near essential tool to many practitioners in urban design, environmental study and other site-related professions. With Street View it is possible to do preliminary reconnaissance or even avoid site visits altogether.
Street View has created the opportunity to explore more locations across the world than any individual could physically reach in a lifetime. On the face of it, this can be done safely, free from intimidation, and it is open equally to all. Or at least it is if you have internet access.

It would be nonsense to suggest that, in its current guise, it can in any way replace the experience of walking. However, as technological developments continue to advance, the virtual reality foreseen by William Gibson appears ever closer.

With Trekker busy tramping around national parks and pedestrian areas, Street View allows the user to veer off road. There are Street View-based web-tours in which users trigger recorded sounds. Google Cardboard and Photosphere can provide virtual 360o 3D experiences. People already insert their own images into Google Map. It is not a huge leap to incorporate video, sounds, physical sensations or real-time CCTV.

As Google makes more frequent updates, it offers the ability in some places to go back and review previous views and witness how the landscape has changed. This is akin to time travel. Street View becomes ever more synchronous with the present, and if viewing into the past becomes more universally available, then our disconnection from time and space will be complete.

Rebecca Solnit proclaimed that “walking is how the body measures itself against the world.”1 Rhythms of walking, ambient sounds, chance human encounters, and relating time and distance are integral to the pedestrian experience, which cannot be easily replicated. By contrast, Street View is like sensory deprivation, and any urge to meander off down an alleyway or over a fence is curtailed.

How will people approach the real world as Street View becomes a more pervasive everyday experience? Some people may become more sensitized to the visceral chaos of the city, while others navigate purely by series of images, headphones on, oblivious to the feel of the air on skin.

There are more sinister implications to Street View and its impact on public/private space. Many people find Street View an invasion of privacy. If Street View makes some places more easily accessible, could it also be used to make other places disappear? Perhaps so for those with sufficient power to maintain their privacy from Google’s cameras. What will become of public spaces if people retreat from them into a virtual world?

Businesses advertise and promote information on Google Maps. Street View facilitates further commercialisation of space, virtually, and by extension, in the real world. Google has appropriated editorial control, and all our movements within Street View can be tracked. People appear to have lost the battle for virtual space without realising it was there to be won.

Continuing my virtual dérive, I found this poem within the images of Street View:

Welcome you are now in Salford
Rome
No Stopping except taxis at any time
Controlled zone
We’re demolishing this structure to create an opportunity for a modern gateway building
Spin factory
Sounds from the other city
The Fall
The courage of one will change the world
Road Closed
Diversion
£3 real deal
Earn it
For timetables and bookings download the app
We lead others follow
Ahead only
Road ahead closed
A fresh perspective
Warning CCTV cameras in operation on these premises 24 hour surveillance
Luxury city centre apartments for sale and to rent
Garden Lane
Danger
Keep out
“My four-year-old could’ve done that”
Zone ends

1 Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust. A History of Walking, 2001.

A couple of montages that accompanied my original draft are here (all images courtesy of Google):

Here are all the images from Google Street View as seen on my virtual derive through Salford.

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STEPZ II – Between the Rollerama and the Junkyard

1 Jul IMG_3740

Earlier this year in February, I was invited by Tina Richardson, (writer/academic/psychogeographer) and Ally Standing (artist/psychgeographer) to contribute to a special edition of the zine STEPZ.  The zine will feature, along with supporting artwork, in an upcoming exhibition at The People’s History Museum in Manchester, Loitering With Intent. The exhibition runs from 23 July to 13 October 2016.

Inspired by the lyrics of the Mancunian punk poet, John Cooper Clarke, this STEPZ II edition of the zine is Manchester and The North influenced, in particular looking at themes across urban space. The zine combines written pieces with visual elements such as photography, illustration and collage.

My written piece considers the impact of Google Street View on our perception of urban space.  Taking a virtual dérive from the People’s History Museum around Salford and Manchester, it is immediately apparent how, in its current form, Street View can only be a pale imitation of the experience of walking.  Yet Street View has created the opportunity to explore more locations across the world than it would be physically possible to travel to in a lifetime, safely and, arguably, equitably to all with internet access.

I reflect on how increasing use and applications of Street View may influence how we approach walking in the real world in the context of future technological developments.  For example, will we become more or less sensitive to the sensory and psychological affect of the urban environment?  What will become of public spaces if people increasingly retreat from them into a virtual world?

It concludes with a short poem created from imagery and found text recorded during the virtual dérive.

I’ll post a copy of my article and provide links to the zine nearer the date of the exhibition.

The zine was produced at by Rope Press on a Risograph with a traditional “low production style” zine aesthetic in two colours.

STEPZ II in production, image courtesy of Tina Richardson

STEPZ II in production, image courtesy of Tina Richardson

Tina has published a taster blog at:

http://particulations.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/announcement-stepz-ii-between-rollerama.html

And here’s a blog to advertise the zine:

http://particulations.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/between-rollerama-and-junk-yard.html

The exhibition and associated events at the People’s History Museum are organised by The LRM (Loiterers Resistance Movement), a Manchester based collective interested in psychogeography, public space and uncovering the secret stories of the city.  Since 2006 they have been organising public walks, dérives (drifts), games and spectacles offering new ways to explore the streets.

Against the Inevitable

8 Jun Entropy, Against the Inevitable, Andrew Howe

My Canon camera has become afflicted with the dreaded ERR099 fault, and I fear its final demise may be imminent.  Before this, and perhaps as some kind of forewarning or omen, I found myself taking shots of seemingly futile patch repairs and supports to bits of infrastructure facing the inevitable drift from order into ruin and chaos. Its hard to resist a morbid fascination in the relentless entropic process of disintegration and gradual takeover of vegetation and other organic growth.

These photographs were taken in and around Shrewsbury and Walsall towards the end of 2015 and early 2016.

The Minutes

18 Mar 20140505_9999_135

My “In Parallel” exhibition has been running for a couple of weeks or more, and has another week to go.  I’m receiving some very positive feedback and its certainly creating some interest.  I delivered a talk about the ideas and motivations behind the project at the Participate Contemporary Artspace gallery last Wednesday 16th March, which was well received too.  I’m still reflecting on some of the ideas and themes in the project, so it was a useful exercise to try and bring it all together, communicate it to people, and then answer some questions.

Some of the visitors to the exhibition have commented that it was useful to read my book “The Minutes” first, as it gives an insight into how my ideas developed during my walks to work over a twelve month period or more.  The book is displayed as part of the exhibition, and I had thought that it was more of a supplementary piece rather than the key introduction.  Other visitors have said that they preferred to see the paintings in the exhibition first and form their own view, without having any preconceptions set by the book.  So it is interesting to consider the impact of the book on the exhibition experience.

The book comprises photographs of the business park/office and edgelands (most of which have been featured in this blog in earlier posts).  The photographs are coupled with text describing my perceived experience, or phenomenology, of these environments at specific times and dates over a twelve month period.  Hence, the title refers to the minutes during which I recorded my perceptions.  I was interested in the “parallel universes” of the business park and edgelands, what was happening in one “universe” when I was observing the other.  To paraphrase Hans Peter Feldmann, I was interested in the unexceptional 95% or so of the day when “nothing” was happening.

My interpretation of what phenomenology means to me is that our mind passively receives sensory stimuli from the external world. This is an objective process.  The mind then internalises these stimuli by actively responding either with emotion or thought or both.  So there are two processes of perception and affect.

  1. Perception – tends to the objective
  2. Affect – tends to the subjective

This illustrated in this diagram, based on Yi-Fu Tuan’s ideas about how humans gather experience:

phenomenology

The Muppets make a more amusing explanation of phenomenology here.

In the book, I concentrated on the perception part, allowing the reader to respond to the “affect”.  It was quite difficult not to respond to the affect myself, and I did veer into a more subjective form of writing in several places.
You can preview a small selection of the pages in the book here:

In Parallel Exhibition

15 Feb "This Space" oil on board

On the 29th February 2016, I will begin putting up my exhibition entitled “In Parallel” at Participate Contemporary Artspace CIC.  Its located on the Ground Floor of the Riverside Shopping Centre in Shrewsbury town centre.  There will be a private view on Friday 4th March 2016 (4pm – 6pm) and on Wednesday March 16th 2016, I will be giving a talk about the project from 6.30pm at the gallery.

The exhibition will effectively be my degree show for the BA(hons) in Creative Arts that I have been studying by distance learning with the Open College of Arts.  I began almost 12 years ago in 2004, originally intending that the course would provide some formal structure to my art practice (not having had much in the way of formal academic education in visual art previously).  As I became engrossed in the academic studies and practical development in painting and photography, I became more determined to take all 7 modules up to degree level.

The work in the exhibition represents the outcome of 2 years of research for the last module in painting. The paintings will not be assessed during the exhibition but later at the college in July.

In some ways, I was amused by the idea of having an MA in Engineering Science and BA in Creative Art.  Some might see these as opposing ends of a spectrum, but having worked through both, I can see that there are so many similarities in how engineers and artists take observations of the world, develop creative ideas and then use judgement to make a statement of some kind.  In the case of engineering this is normally a physical construction with some defined purpose, while art works may be real or virtual, useful or not, profound or banal or basically anything.

The project

I adopted a working title of “Parallel Universes” because I set out to investigate the relationship between the adjacent “universes” of the office where I used to work on the Shrewsbury Business Park and the surrounding area.  The area encompasses edgeland landscapes of a cycle track (formerly the Bridgnorth to Shrewsbury railway), suburban estates, the River Severn, agricultural land and post-glacial meres, one of which is below Thieves Lane and another lies in public open space next to the Mereside Community Centre.

I was interested in how a highly controlled environment co-exists in close proximity to a very different landscape with elements of wilderness.

A particular event helped define the project for me.  Whilst sitting at my desk looking out of the office window, I witnessed a crow attacking, murdering and then eating a juvenile blackbird, while its parents looked on helplessly crying out.  It was a truly horrific scene, which highlighted a stark difference between the office world, and the world “out there”, separated only by a pane of glass.  Life, death and the everyday.

The paintings touch on issues of land ownership, opportunistic or tactical uses of space, and the experience of time and place.  I explore the tensions between control and liberty, geometric order and chaos, the organic and the human-made.  I consider whether these must always be viewed as polar opposites, or whether hybrid or composite situations are, perhaps, a more realistic interpretation.

During the project I researched space and place, the everyday. psychogeography, walking as art practice, ruins and entropy, paths/boundaries and various other aspects of site specific art.  Key writers included Miwon Kwon, Lucy Lippard, Yi Fu Tuan, Doreen Massey, Michel de Certeau, Guy Debord, Henri Lefebvre, Ben Highmore, Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, Felix Guattari, Hal Foster, Simon Schama, Edward Soja, Tina Richardson, Phil Smith, Nick Papadimitriou, Iain Sinclair, Richard Mabey, Rebecca Solnit and Merlin Coverley .

A selection of the artists I studied includes George Shaw, Laura Oldfield Ford, Mark Bradford, Ingrid Calame, Clare Wood, Toby Paterson, Julie Mehretu, Stephen Willats and numerous cartographic artists, such as Matthew Picton and Val Britton.

The Work

The art works featuring in the exhibition will include paintings and a book.  The exhibition is a curated eclectic experience of the “parallel universes” and the work is quite diverse.  The paintings may be broadly categorised into:

  • representational or collage-style paintings, mainly in oils on mdf or plywood board;
  • reverse paintings in acrylic on clear perspex and acetate sheets;
  • mixed media painted reliefs constructed in layers of lasercut plywood or acrylic sheet.

Layering is a connecting theme or approach which runs through each of these categories.  Layers, whether by physical layers of lasercut materials, by layers of paint, or layers of imagery, offer a means of combining or juxtaposing different concepts.  Palimpsest, obscuring and revealing, play a role in these works.

There will also be a book, entitled “The Minutes” comprising photographs of the business park/office and edgelands, coupled with text describing my perceived experience, or phenomenology, of these environments.  I’ll write a separate post about the book.

The paintings incorporate everyday motifs, like air conditioning units, fluorescent light fittings, blinds, and manhole covers, drawing attention to the aesthetic qualities of these rarely noticed objects.

Stair cases and transitional spaces below bridges also feature in a number of the paintings, as do renegade spaces such as dens and trees appropriated for rope swings.  These are heterotopia where different people might attribute different meanings or values to each place.  The edgelands (referred to by Stephen Willats as “the lurky place”) offer a place of refuge or subversion, whether it be for walking the dog, building a den to hide and create a personal space, or for just hanging out.

A few examples of my paintings are shown below:

Darwin’s Childhood Garden

27 Dec darwins garden artwork

As if managing our own garden and an allotment, and various other projects wasn’t enough, I became involved with the restoration of part of Charles Darwin’s childhood garden earlier this year.

Darwin was born in Shrewsbury in 1809, and he lived in the family home on the Mount until 1831.  Darwin spent much of his childhood in the garden, part of which was a woodland adjacent to the River Severn.  This was where Darwin’s interest in the natural world was kindled.

Much of the garden was built on in the 20th Century, but part of it remains as an overgrown woodland on the steep bank leading down to the river.  It is a beautiful location, and with a wealth of flora and fauna, it has an aura of its own.  Since I stopped walking to work at the Business Park in the Summer, it has become part of my new “walk to work” as I return from dropping my daughter at school and walk around the loop of the Severn from Doctor’s Field past the Darwin Garden via Frankwell and back home.  I had noticed the progress of initial works to restore the garden.  Its only five minutes from my house so it makes sense for the family to take part in the restoration.

The land was acquired by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust in 2013.

and further details of the plans for restoring the garden for public access can be found here: Darwin’s Childhood Garden and at a Facebook page.

Some work to begin clearance and install some timber steps had already been carried out by the Trust and a team of volunteers.  My first involvement was in answer to a general invitation by Sara Lanyon to help clear a larger area and to create an artwork on the somewhat functional fencing along the perimeter adjacent to the river path.

The plan for the artwork was to construct an interpretation of a sketch of the “tree of life” taken from one of Darwin’s notebooks using branches found on the site, and in the nearby area known as Doctor’s Field.

This work took place on 15th August 2015 and was completed by a small group, including my wife, Julie, and daughter Eliza.  In fact, there was a small opening ceremony in which Eliza and another girl cut a ribbon into the garden.

IMG_2352

The branches were painted:

before fixing onto the fence:

There is scope to add plant specimens and other artefacts from the garden into jars fixed to the “tree of life” over a period of time.  Here is an image of the full length of the art work as we left it.

darwins garden artwork

A bug hotel was added:

20150816_9999_3

I participated in both the art work and clearing of vegetation.  It was good to be part of a long term community project, which will hopefully engage with a wide range of people.  I don’t expect to contribute a huge amount of artistic input or even engineering/environmental knowledge but I’m sure I can play a useful role.

Here are a few more photos taken on the day, including some shots of the overgrown ice house.

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In a later work day on 10th October 2015, a different group gathered to clear another area of the garden in preparation for the construction of some additional timber steps.  The steep, sandy bank is quite treacherous.  It will be quite a challenge to stabilise this, and then to create paths and planted areas of the garden.

Here are a few photos from that day:

Quotidian

26 Nov quotidian_feature

During the Voyage of Enterprise exhibition at the Shrewsbury Market Hall, there was a digital screen installed on the balcony above the main market hall,  The screen displayed a diverse programme of images during the exhibition including:

  • Traders and people associated with the market over the years to the present day;
  • Historical photographs of the Victorian market hall and the current Market Hall;
  • Art by Pat Jones and Andrew Howe

My photographs formed a series entitled Quotidian:

Quotidian adj. 1. Daily. 2. Commonplace

This is a series of photographs of fragments of the building fabric showing its wear and tear from 50 years of use.  These familiar details are normally unnoticed and yet they have their own beauty.

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