Wednesday, 2 July 2014

BENEATH THE PAVEMENT - The Participant's View - BEN EVANS


notes from the underground. 

'Beneath The Pavement…The Beach!' once rang out across a nation in turmoil, and despite our immediate landscape not being one of revolution - man is a political animal, and every move made is surely an assigned one. 
We had come gathered in Airspace to put our heads together to grow some ideas (through interaction) on how we could bring new light to a city that seemed remarkably confused about its current position in history. What once was, now wasn't, what could be, still unsure. Industry has bottomed out but left us with notes on the dangers of wealth & prestige grown in a speciality. Stoke-on-Trent could be said to be entropy encapsulated, but I will stake my claim and stick my flag into the shifting sands that it is precisely because of this that there is a palpable potential here, and it has become apparent that it is not only I that believes this. Take up your shovels again, the time for digging graves has passed. 

Remarks: Anna Francis was the ground of being, confident in that which we can find in the soil belong us - we should treasure the all too missed beauty of the natural world, replete in its oft-ignored splendour. With her everything was illuminated as made, the buildings are brick which stand not as immoveable monuments in our mind, designating pathways and practices but rather something that has been propositioned, something that we have put there. Something moveable, something culpable for our crimes, great concrete cloaks over ideas like a child who roars beneath a sheet with eye holes cut into it. 

Mark Gubb held humour in his practice, street signs taken out of context can become awfully confusing when married with the unlabelled sprawl of a country park. This registered a subtle nervousness in my mind, I am want to progress via the rules of the sign but know that given the forest setting it is completely ridiculous to. His atmosphere was light-footed and buoyant, citing the curiousness in tribute bands playing in the settings that their progenitors had graced. He tore a hole into the subtleties of the small acts of storytelling in life, projecting them through Art. 

Dan Thompson has beaten a different path in life and this has given him a refreshing view of Art and its usage, he spoke without the strict confines of Art History behind him but instead ran with creativity in its purest form - this gave him an addictive, charming power that radiated a distinctive energy. Through him I learnt to just do, do not spend months agonising but rather get out - leave the house before you find a reason to stay in, take to the streets with eyes ablaze and do, just do. His tone was revolutionary, propounding maxims that he had gathered from years of experience in public space - most importantly of all that we must talk to each other, we must converse, we must collect stories and work outwards from there. Our power is misdirected as singular beings bent on branding - the real importance is unity. By the end my pitchfork was sharpened and I wanted to stand and clap forever, benevolent righteousness, I was ready to charge the gates.

Acts: Upon taking to our groups we ventured out into the city to begin to dissect its details. Being a resident of the place I found this intriguing, as my assumptions were confronted at every turn and i was thrown into a new light regarding my surroundings, taken out of my usual way of living - a fresh start in a old town. I learnt to recognise my every step. 
From then on the conversations during the day were excitable, we had sunk deeply into the feeling of infinite potential that was capable - we had been tasked to build and our imaginations were already constructing. 
This was noticeable in the stiff and marked reaction Council Regeneration operative Steve Ralphs received upon the end of his speech. He defended himself well, parrying away our aggressively inquisitive advances upon his notions and reasons for public space designation. We were Wolves, he a well guarded Shepherd. 
But what this conversation unearthed was the horrifying amount in the city of what The Guardian had recently come to term 'Hostile Architecture'; Architecture that was tokenistic - Public Space designed to form the aesthetic of being for the people that was actually anything but. The sloped seats and Skateboard stoppers actually shouted: your interests & idiosyncrasies are not welcome here, you are to be uniform in your interaction and distant in your admiration. The whole city had become an overbearing 'Keep Off The Grass' sign. 
These aspects proved passionate within the group, once the worldwide home of Pottery innovation and design Stoke-on-Trent was being reduced to just another modern city. With further consultations regarding the positive & negative aspects of the city the urgency seemed to grow, we must do something - lest gentrification swallow us whole. 
Taking to the city again to see its night time economy, or lack of, we sunk away into the evening rolling hands over each other in anticipation. 

The next day held a reaffirmation of purpose and a further cementing of yesterday burgeoning friendships. No longer singular people from distinct circumstances, we had moulded into an amorphous mass of hopeful creativity. 
We set out again into the wilderness, only purposefully silent this time - an act i found extremely useful. However delightful and inspiring talking to people can be it is sometimes suffocating to be surrounded by possibilities which shift from millisecond to millisecond, each thought being surpassed by the ecstasy of its more developed kin. This demanded silence echoed between us and I found myself looking at things more deeply, fully delving into my own explorations and defining what I had learnt. 
It is not about looking, it is simply about seeing in the most simple of ways, what is directly in front of you. The idea of looking requires a sort of effort that is beset by personal prejudice but to simply let the environment guide your vision and rest organically upon momentary points of interest is unspeakably stronger. This act of resting is subtle but acute in its accidental observations. From Karl Greenwood suddenly pointing out that there was, infact, a bin for each of the 4 benches that sat within a 5 metre radius of each other to someone else saying how the brownfield site was actually a glowing, incredibly active site for anything but weeds (as i have oft looked over it as) these sudden interspersions of vision were the most profound attacks of the 2 days. Leading me to form a mantra that the most valuable thing you can do as an Artist is question your own assumptions. Even as an Artist, someone bought in to wield his supposed powerful creativity I still move down the same roads and follow the same signifiers as the rest of this town and for any real change to be enacted this must be killed.
In a way you must live outside of your own geographical existence. 

How do we engage the movers and shakers though? was our next question, how do we reach out a hand covered in paint and demand that the glistening shine of an ironed suit accept it? 
This has always been a problem, we appear to live different and terrifying lives to those unknowing. I felt like a hired outsider. A supposed disparity between those with power and us emerged, they surely cannot think like we do? rang a cautionary tone in discussions upon how to present our ideas. There is something wonderfully bizarre in the canyons between strangers and their numbered professions so we build a bridge, most carefully constructed, and hope the olive branch sticks.
It must be immersive, they must be as enveloped as we are! they cannot see without experience so we must provide such a show. This I agree is paramount, everything must be done, they must feel embraced and safe. We have spent so long immersing and proving to our paradigms that we do infact know what we're doing that to be suddenly confronted by anothers world view and expected to understand its circumference can be daunting indeed. 
The Artists world is welcoming, you must only trust us. 

After a careful consideration of any seeds of ideas we said our goodbyes, the task in hand that we must build a present for the city. Because that is it really, we are not forceful individuals bent on the egoistic reign of a desired space but members of a community who simply say 'thats weird, why is that..that' and try to twist notions of space. 
That existence might find itself anew under something akin to an opticians voice asking 'better or worse?' when given new perspectives of vision. 

















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