Read about Project:Public here and see Adele’s commission here.
It was a warm afternoon at the start of May when I first met Julia in Myrtle’s coffee shop to discuss Project:Public. I’d always enjoyed hearing the project’s title mentioned on occasion throughout the months Shop Front Theatre’s closure was taking place, and felt extremely curious about its connotations and potential breadth of themes. The two words together sit so comfortably and the adjoinment between a colon blends them together into one picture, one whole, to the point that it’s hard to think of them as separate words at all and in that is something quite sinister and maybe quite telling: are we, the Public, a Project? The city we inhabit certainly feels like one. Its nuances, spontaneities and mysteries is something I’ve fed off in my practice since I first picked up an analogue camera. Head to the streets, see what happens. But, back to the start, and the surprise of Julia’s meeting, the unmatched thrill of a new commission proposal. What are you currently thinking/obsessed about?
I panicked at first. Maybe it had been a while since I really thought about it. Maybe I’ve always felt distracted and unfocused because there is too much to think about and obsess over. Maybe it’s hard to know where to begin. Maybe that’s a privileged place to be. I started scribbling notes frantically, trying to answer the question. It’s usually in the shower that I start to answer questions. It all comes back to instincts, to chance, to nature, to randomness in that way. To being open and allowing things in. The shower is somewhere that phenomenon seems to play out most commonly for me, which seems ridiculous, but is worth paying attention to.
Some of my answers from the shower were more questions: How can we question the status quo? How does art effect communities and how can this be shown?
Other answers from the shower were terse and a little unspecific: Seeing things/landscapes. Art is confined to art spaces. Looking at access and public/not public space. Council as gatekeepers.
I couldn’t avoid some answers from the shower being more tangible, more practical, more thing-like: Conversations with artists. Making polaroids of each other. Recording dialogue while walking and seeing. Making films (because, ultimately, filmmaking is hard, cine-filmmaking which I really love is expensive, and time is scarce, so given the opportunity this felt like the perfect scenario to make one.)
I sent long emails of ideas to Julia and Chris with a hope that articulating them would bring me closer to something which looked more like what I thought a provocation should look like – a clear question. But the notes and questions just got longer.
– Being outside, seeing the outdoor environment, experiencing and travelling through the city, the urban, suburban and rural. Looking at things in new ways whether that’s visually within a lens based frame, through sound, found materials, or through emotional, political or psychological perspectives. I’m interested in theatre and performance as a form of disruption, but I haven’t explored this ever so much before, but I feel as if ‘unplanned walking’ is sort of related, and am curious about other ways.
– How are artists, and people, able to question the status quo? How can the questions and ideas really make a difference to anything? How much do we really question? How programmed and conditioned are we really? This is partly relating to the first point and in how we experience and respond to the world around us.
– The open fluidity of dialogue and themes which flow through the act of walking and responding to what is seen.
– How does art and an artistic mindset and creative activity spread through communities, how does the artists holed up in a studio actually improve a city?
– What is the nature of different kinds of urban spaces and what do we have access to or not have access to and why? Sometimes this can seem very arbitrary? Within this I’m interested in common land and open spaces, disused car parks and retail spaces. What is ours and what is dictated to us through the authorities? How can this ever really be probed?
Chris responded reassuring me that there was a flow and a meeting point between each point and that all should be kept as ingredients whilst also highlighting particular points of resonance with Theatre Absolute and with Chris and Julia as individual independent artists. With this in mind, I started to feel less panicked and more excited and overwhelmed with the responsibility of what I was asking. Perhaps this is a good moment to acknowledge that my viewpoint is very limited, that I have certain privileges in the city that others don’t and that should never go un-noted. I started to read to try and put my ideas into further context – some of the books I delved into are below.
Starting with ‘Walking, Stumbling, Limping, Falling’ by Alyson Hallett and Phil Smith published by Triarchy Press, I read about the experiences of those with obstacles to mobility, and the notion that as a society we could all do with disrupting what this whole idea of ‘walking’ even is. Hallett writes:
“I became aware of strains of fascism in our cultural perceptions of what constitutes normality in relation to walking. Limping is most definitely not a part of the common picture. Instead of striding or strolling through the town, I now loped from side to side. I moved slowly and painfully. I had to recalibrate every journey: a dash across the road was something I could now only dream of.”
Later in the printed correspondence with Smith, Hallett states that “It’s really time to break the rather conventional idea of walking – to blow it open.”
I don’t experience any mobility issues but I feel we can learn a lot from less conventional, normative approaches to moving through the environment. We tend to walk fast, and with purpose, from A to B, but where is the creativity in that? How much do we not see, how much is missed?
In the book ‘The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives’ by Leonard Mlodinow, published by Penguin Books, Mlodinow explains that “Random processes are fundamental in nature.” He writes that: “The outline of our lives, like the candle’s flame, is continuously coaxed in new directions by a variety of random events that, along with our responses to them, determine our fate. As a result, life is both hard to predict and hard to interpret.”
It’s frustrating to me that leaving the path might come with such fraught consequences and anxiety. I open up the The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes, published by Bloomsbury. Hayes argues that: “The root of social inequality is the uneven distribution of land.” and that “By law of trespass, we are excluded from 92 per cent of the land.”
I thought a lot of about Hayes’ first statement, about how different the Project of our Public, the Project of the City would be if we had more to call our own, more access, more autonomy, and more say in how land was used. From my studio I see a very large empty car park, cordoned off for no particular reason so that not even cars can park there. Start looking, and you’ll notice the city is full of empty car parks. How can our city centre, our public playground, social ground, leisure ground, meeting ground, our centre, be taken up by so much space that pushes us out? How could our sense of self, our empowerment as people, be transformed with a little more sharing, more open space? How could being open to chance, to play, to disrupting the ordinary paths through space change, maybe the course of our lives, but more so: our mental agility towards surprises?
It was time to start making work in response to this, I had invested in a Zoom audio recorder and Julia and I had our first walk planned, so I constructed prompts. Prompts for a Podcast Perambulation with Polaroids, and I had also organised the loan of a beautiful Canon Auto Zoom 814 Electronic super8 cine-camera from Alan Van Wijgerden. My prompts and materials are below. Equipped with these tools, I was excited to be surprised by the shapes the commission would take.
At the moment I am in the process of talking walks in different areas of Coventry with Julia and Chris in locations chosen by them, seeing what comes up, and picking prompts at random – faced down like a magic trick with a pack of cards. Often the prompts aren’t needed and we find our minds are already full without us realising, full of passions, complaints, discomforts, joys, criticisms. The conversations are recorded and will be released on the commission page as Podcasts. Alongside the conversations will be a series of Polaroids, and, eventually, a short super8 analogue video filmed whilst walking featuring fragments from the conversations. Follow the work as it’s being made here: Podcasts, Polaroids and Perambulation.
I’ll finish with one final quote from the book ‘What Does Photography Mean To You?’ edited by Grant Scott and published by Bluecoat Press, which reaches to the core of the ‘Why?’ and the ‘What are you obsessed about?’ Czech photographer Julie Hrudova describes her photographic motivation as:
“It is also my compass because I have no sense of direction, I let the hunt for the image lead me through the city and I often find myself in strange neighbourhoods or remote place. There is always a sense of excitement that maybe around the corner something will happen and, of course, often that is not the case. It is often a frustrating hunt but when I give up there is a surprise waiting for me and that’s what I love about photography in the public space.”
Polaroid 600 images by Adele Mary Reed, Coventry city centre, 19th June 2023.
Blog written by Adele Mary Reed, 10th July 2023.
The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes, Bloomsbury Circus, Great Britain, 2020.
Walking, Stumbling, Limping, Falling by Alyson Hallett and Phil Smith, Triarchy Press, Axminster, England, 2017.
The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow, Penguin Books, Great Britain, 2008.
What Does Photography Mean to You edited by Grant Scott, Bluecoat Press, Liverpool, England, 2020.