Wednesday, 9 July 2014


Beneath The Pavement – Sarah Nadin

'Observe' is a word that keeps coming up. It is not the most respected of actions or verbs unlike effort and determination. To observe implies that you are not being productive, a negative word in a society valued by output. However, I am starting to think that this is not true, to truly observe is one of the most productive things we can do. 'Beneath the Pavement' (BTP) welcomed the observer, and for two days I became a bystander and student of the city.

What did I observe?

Whilst walking around Hanley I noticed that, like the geography of the six towns, the movement of people is very linear; there is little loitering, stopping and unexpected change of direction. The pace of the city is a hurried walk. It seems that most journeys are preplanned and time bound - a parking ticket a lunch break perhaps. It is subdued, in sight, smell and sound with little chaos and few people, the very thing I expect from a city centre. Last but by no mean least, its bold architecture and open vistas feel undervalued and normal, when really they are not.

One beautiful building, Airspace Gallery sits next to a brownfield site. A small parcel of land that provides no use to its current owners (Tesco), it is up for sale. After years of inactivity this plot has become a home to an array of wildlife and wildflower. Having no economic benefit it has been forgotten and silently gone about its work, producing a landscape of colour from an almost fallow soil. A visual pause in a commercial landscape it has many qualities Hanley does not; disorder, diversity and on the micro scale, chaos.

I feel that artists share similar attributes to brownfield sites. We go about our work mostly under the radar, are adaptable, and are generally a undervalued commodity. We provide pockets of risk and uncertainty in a often sanitised environment; we are the pause, the chaos and disruption that vibrant city spaces are defined by. Unlike many planners and landscape architects we are free to challenge, be bold and unforgiving. This is the added value that cities like Stoke-on-Trent need to become thriving interesting places to be. I feel that in order to to fully realise their vision, city planners need to view the arts as an integral part of any public realm.

BTP was an opportunity to contemplate these thoughts in a forum of inspiring and like-minded artists. For a city that has been in constant regeneration of buildings and infrastructure I feel that what has been missed is the regenerating of people. You can design a grand masterplan, but with no people to enjoy it there will never be a city. In an age dominated by convenience and internet shopping the city can provide everything that the world wide web lacks; full sensory participation, shared experiences and interaction, with real people. I came away from BTP feeling a sense of empowerment, less concerned about failure or permission. As artists I feel that we are in a unique position to show the city what it has been missing, and that it was all there in the first place, we just needed to look.

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