A collection of artefacts found by members and supporters of the River Roding Trust in the process of cleaning up the banks of the River Roding. The photographs were all made along the west bank of the Roding between Barking and Ilford by Andrew Brown in October 2020.
Just looking back over the posts that I have made over the FMP period (50 FMP posts in total, 250 over the course of the MA since the first MA post) as I prepare to submit my Final Major Project pdf and Critical Review of Practice . I’ve stuck pretty much to the intention expressed in the first of these FMP posts, ‘to be more tightly focused on my own project … so I think that means shorter and more speculative items, with occasional longer posts to take stock and pull things together’.
The development of the FMP is effectively mapped, from the initial proposal, through revisions in the process of doing the work through to the adaptations that have had to be made to accommodate the covid-19 measures implemented over the past couple of months. Alongside this I have discussed some the the emerging influences and new directions for the work, such as the use of pixel-sorting and moving between analogue and digital images, and the paradoxical influence of Stephen Gill’s work. Being awarded a place on the London Creative Network artist development scheme has been important, and the influence of events held has been documented (though, sadly, meetings with mentors are now online, but still useful). There’s a record of some of the things that haven’t, in the end, been possible, such as the plan to exhibit work in public spaces, but the exploration of portable exhibitions did prove fruitful in the circumstances. The CRJ has provided a useful means for documenting presentations and exhibitions, and aspect of the work that haven’t featured in the final FMP, for instance photographic work with community initiatives like ShedLife. Also documenting exhibitions and events that have been influential. And galleries presenting my visual work as it has developed.
There is a lot that isn’t here, however. Particularly over the past month, when the primary focus has been on production of the FMP pdf and CRoP. In particular, I haven’t been able to document the feedback that I have received on my work, including a series of invaluable online discussions with other photographers working in similar areas. I have also been discussing ways of developing the work after the FMP, for instance with Kathrin Böhm & Levin Haegele, with Tamara Stoll and with Noel Moka’s Park Society. That’s for another day, and another place …
Alongside the visual and textual contents of the boxes, I have provided a soundscape for each of the three settings. ‘Soundscape’ is a term first used by composer Murray Schafer (1969) and subsequently used widely, and variably, by scholars in the sonic arts (see Kelman, 2010). Here I am using the term as a sonic correlate of ‘landscape’: these are binaural field recordings that provide a sense of the place, which contextualise, and are contextualised by, the images and other material. As Labelle (2018) has noted, street sound is leaky and transgressive. In all three cases, one can hear what cannot be seen in the images. And, in all three of the recordings, the human and the non-human, the constructed and the natural are inter-woven, as they are, in different ways, in the images.
I have uploaded the soundscapes to the web and in the pdf and in the archive boxes I have put a QR code for each setting that will download the file and an audio player to a browser when scanned.
Kelman, A. 2010. ‘Rethinking the Soundscape: A Critical Genealogy of a Key Term in Sound Studies’, The Senses and Society, 5, pp. 212–234.
LaBelle, B. 2018. Sonic Agency: Sound and Emergent Forms of Resistance. London: Goldsmiths Press.
Schafer, R.M. 1969. The New Soundscape; A Handbook for the Modern Music Teacher. Don Mills, Ont.: BMI Canada.
The clamshell box (above) that I made at a London Centre for Book Arts workshop last year has done good service as a portable portfolio, and prompted the idea, at the Falmouth portfolio review, of incorporating some form of physical archiving, and making archive boxes, as part of my final major project. After a couple of days of making therapy, below are the three A4 boxes that I’ll use for the three collections.
Although I’ll not now have an opportunity to use them before the end of the MA programme, I have also put together a set of large mounted prints, stored in an archive box (I didn’t make this one) for portability, for pop-up exhibitions.
Completion of an MA programme seems relatively trivial in the light of the pandemic crisis and its repercussions, but, in order to get the work done by the due date, I have to think through how I will adapt my project plan to these new circumstances.
The work in Singapore that I had scheduled for early March had to be cancelled (maybe to be rescheduled for September) and, in order to safeguard my mother, I had to cancel my trip to Falmouth to for the face to face event (workshops, portfolio reviews, conference). The following events and activities relating to my project have been cancelled:
- 25th March: Memory and Archiving Workshop (Everyone Everyday, Barking)
- 9th April: Trade School on Community Archiving (Participatory City Warehouse, Barking)
- 18th April: Open Table Exhibition (Everyone Everyday, Barking)
- 29th April. Presentation to the London Prosperity Board.
In addition, the weekly workshops and meetings with the Shed Life group and at Greatfields School (and the planned exhibition) have been postponed for the foreseeable future. It is unlikely that any of this work will take place before the submission date for the final project.
The cancellation of the two archiving workshops means that I will not have the opportunity to work further on the contents of the archive boxes with residents, and therefore will not be able to include resident material in the collections nor get further feedback from them on my own work. We have looked at and discussed my images at earlier workshops (likewise with the students at Greatfields and other project participants over the past two months), but I haven’t formally recorded this. The cancellation of the exhibitions means that I will not be able to present this work to a wider audience as planned, and get feedback from those events. The presentation to the the London Prosperity Board would have provided an opportunity to reflect on the project as a whole and reflect on the wider implications of this way of working, and in particular the contribution of the arts to multi-professional activity and interdisciplinary enquiry, with policy makers and practitioners. It is possible that this meeting will take place online, though this does not allow people the opportunity to handle the materials (the tactile and material aspects of the collections are important, for instance relating to the material used for the prints, and the handmade books) and take part in the planned activities.
I want to be able to complete the project and submit on time despite the extraordinary circumstances, and the increasing volume of other more pressing concerns as the pandemic develops and wider consequences are felt. That means adapting planned activities from this point onwards and rethinking what I submit as a final outcome. At this point, it looks something like this:
- For the final PDF, submit a selection of my own images from three series (one focusing on Barking town centre, one on the wharf area and one on Riverside), with short passages to contextualise the work.
- Compile the three collections for the archive boxes for each of the areas (my own images, including those in the pdf, handmade books, maps, documents, historical images) and make the boxes to house these.
- Edit and upload soundscapes from each area.
- Make and upload videos of the contents of each box.
- Pull together and represent public engagement (pop-up exhibitions, workshops and presentations) to date.
- Design and compile the draft PDF.
- Send out the PDF to a small group of people for comment (to meet the requirement for reflections on the work by other practitioners, which would have been met through the events that have been cancelled).
It will be a challenge to place this material in the context of the wider project. Longer term, I need to think about how to develop this work in a (hopefully) post-pandemic world. The materiality of what I am producing has been an important part of the work (having prints of different sizes and media to handle and discuss together, for instance, and the pop-up exhibitions). This does not translate directly to online environments, and workshops will be challenging if social distancing continues for an extended period of time.
Participatory City Warehouse, Barking, 4th March 2020
An opportunity to bring together a selection of my community focused work with work on various housing developments around the borough (town centre, wharf, Riverside and Creekmouth) in one pop-up exhibition. A total of 64 prints, zoned with the community work at the edges around the entrance, and the FMP work on display boards in the centre. Used pins, hooks and clips with 500x400mm mounted prints as in previous exhibition, and was able to set it up and take it down rapidly. I’ll include something about these rapid and portable pop-up kits in the FMP submission.
The lighting was particularly challenging, so I need to think about how to handle this in different settings. I also set up a a ‘Photo Booth’ which generated some interest.
There were a number of other events running during the evening, which brought a variety of local people into the exhibition. It was good to be able finish the evening with a showing of Noel Moka’s film Pathways (2019), and to discuss themes related to my own work with Noel, and the possibility of doing some work together in the future.
SPACE Ilford, 29 February 2020
‘This day will begin with a practical session of developing your presentation skills and techniques for effective communication. We will then look at the different economies and strategies that exist to support artists and artistic development, followed by a session around crowdfunding’.
The first LCN day was excellent, not only for the substantive content but also for being able to get to know other artists working in the area. I want to make some quick notes about the sessions, focussing on aspects of particular relevance to my current work and thinking about what I might do after the MA.
Introduction to SPACE – Persilia Caton, Exhibitions Curator, SPACE
Persilia was able to give us insight into the process by which the work for the first exhibition (by Lindsey Mendick) was selected through an open call process and how the gallery worked collaboratively with the artist. A key factor was engagement with the local community, and the ability to ensure both that the process of producing the work was of value, and that the outcome is a worthwhile and engaging exhibition. In particular, it was interesting to see how the work from the workshops (making work in clay with elderly people from the area with no prior experience) fed into the exhibition. The process also allowed the artist to experiment with new ways of working, and for participants to gain new skills and interests. The central theme for the exhibition (advice that you wish you had been given and taken, inspired by Baz Luhrmann’s Sunscreen), was clear and relatable.
Presenting Yourself – Alex Evans
Good opportunity to get to know other members of the group and learn about Alex’s practice (which spans community focused work in east London and his own drawing based work). One of the communication activities involved describing a Lego construction to a partner who had to construct it solely on the basis of the description, exploring the need for a common language. This was reinforced in relation to describing our own practice to different audiences and for different purposes.
Alex introduced the Who (you, brand, partners, fabrications, collaborations, organisations, audiences, customers, clients), What (activity, product, services, company, charity), When (milestones, markers, timelines, stages, evolution), Where (places, spaces, residencies, stockists, connections, communities), Why (reasons, motivations, drive, values, ‘call to action’, ‘reasons to believe’), How (processes, skills, ethics, forms, discoveries), Wow (concepts, achievements, unexpected, magical, imagined) structure and we prepared one minute statements to share and discuss in groups of three (see below for mine).
The framework provides a structure and set of prompts for production of accounts (for instance, and artist or project statement) that can be adapted to different audiences (by, for instance, shifting focus, realigning priorities and changing language). It can also be used cyclically and a different levels in the same account, for instance to describe practice in general and the details of a specific project or a particular work.
Mapping and Strategising your Networks – Kathrin Böhm
In this session we (i) identified and mapped out our networks; (ii) looked at the economic underpinning of artistic practice; (iii) considered an ‘iceberg self-portrait’.
The network mapping helped me to think about the relationship between my prior (academic) work and my current (artistic) practice, and the manner in which networks relating to these different domains might be mutually supportive. For me this is a matter of bringing my artistic and photographic work to a state of relative maturity, and keeping in mind how the work produced (and the processes and contexts of production) might constructively draw on and feed into my academic work and networks (for instance, in forming partnerships between academics and artists in the development of community relationships around UCL East). It was particularly productive to be able to put artistic practice at the centre of the network diagram. Kathrin emphasised the power of working as a collective.
Katherine Gibson’s (2014) iceberg metaphor was used in considering the economics of artistic production. This acknowledges that visible practice is supported by a greater volume and diversity of invisible activities (both personal and institutional). This led to a consideration of the diversity of forms of and audiences for art, and Stephen Wright’s concept of ‘usership’ rather that spectatorship, emphasising a need to be clear about how art is used in different contexts and by different communities. This relates to the manner in which I am using different forms of photography, and using photography in different ways, in different parts of my project (for instance, in activism and as a collective activity). Similar ideas are put forward by Arte Util (useful art); I will explore these further in the critical review of practice, in clarifying the relationship between the components of my project, and, in particular, the positioning of the outcomes of the FMP (as a subset of a wider programme of activities). Returning to the iceberg metaphor, we considered Gregory Sholette’s (2011) application of the idea of dark matter – the stuff that holds the market together but is not readily visible – and where in our own practice we might identify the ‘visibility’ line. Art viewed in this way is special (as a particular form of activity) but not other (set above or apart from everyday activity), resembling Laruelle’s notion of ‘non-philosophy‘.
We explored diagrammatic forms of representations of relationships between activities, like those produced by the Institute for Human Activities.
This session was particularly important for me in (i) helping to think through alternative forms of relationship between art and everyday practice, particularly through the idea of ‘usership’; (ii) thinking through how I can use visual means to describe the relationship between the components of my work (for instance, in providing a ‘visual index’ in my FMP pdf submission).
Crowdfunding – Tamara Stoll
Tamara mapped out how she moved from the production of a book dummy for her Ridley Road project (8 years and 150 colour images) to publication, and how she used crowdfunding to fund the print run. The project stemmed from identification of a gap in the Hackney archives around the history of the market, and evolved into a site specific, collaborative project concerned with ‘streets and the people who make the streets’. Centerprise was an important influence (in both the publication of local writing and as a place to meet). As in my own work, building trust among the community was important, and she took on the informal role of campaign photographer for the Save Ridley Road campaign, organising workshops and exhibitions. She uses a TLR on a tripod to make the portraits, which quickly distinguishes her from the opportunistic street photographers who are not particularly welcome in the area.
Lots of insights into Crowdfunding – see notes below (and pdf provided by Tamara).
The major insight for me, however, was into Tamara’s work, and resonances with aspects of my own work. In all, the day provided a number of strands to follow up, particularly around relationship between the community engagement aspects of my project and my own work
Gibson-Graham, J. K. 2014. ‘Rethinking the Economy with Thick Description and Weak Theory’. Current Anthropology 55, S9: S147-153. doi:10.1086/676646. [Accessed March 7, 2020].
Sholette, G. 2011. Dark Matter : Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture. London; New York: Pluto Press.
Wright, S. 2014. Toward a Lexicon of Usership. Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum. Online at https://www.arte-util.org/tools/lexicon/ [Accessed March 7, 2020].
Following feedback from Wendy, I’ve simplified and focused the descriptor. I’ve got a clearer sense of the outcomes of the project in relation to the work done so far, and how the work submitted for the FMP will relate to the wider community engagement work. The relationship between this work and the wider body of work can be discussed in the Critical Review of Practice, which will include some thoughts on how the work might be developed following the MA. There is still some finessing of the text to be done (including the titling of the three components).
Beating the Bounds
Beating the bounds is an ancient English custom that, in a period that pre-dates maps, involved walking the boundaries of an area in order to remind a community of the extent of its territory through visceral experience of its natural and human markers.
This project, inspired and informed by my community engagement activities in east London, explores three areas of rapid and extensive redevelopment in the Barking and Dagenham, London’s poorest and fastest developing borough. The urgent demand for new housing has put particular pressure on the outer boroughs of east London, optimistically referred to as the ‘rising east’. A combination of availability of disused industrial sites, neglected housing stock, social demand and aspirational local government has led to a proliferation of large-scale housing developments.
These regeneration projects have a profound impact on communities and the environment. As contested, privately owned spaces, they disrupt the relationship between community and place, severing continuity between the past and present and hopes for the future, and transform the relationship between the built and, an increasingly manicured, natural environment. The vision for the three areas presented by the developers is generic and homogeneous, and consequently dramatically out of step with the particular environmental, social and cultural characteristics of each area.
My photographic work presented for the final project visually explores aspects of this disjunction. The work is produced from images and sound recordings made, and artefacts collected, in walking the ‘bounds’ of each of the three developments. It is presented alongside contextualising materials, including maps, historical images, planning documents, text and computer-generated images.
Beating the Bounds One. The town centre is a transport and retail hub that acts as a focus of activity for a diverse community. The vision of creating a ‘mini-Manhattan‘ with high rise apartments and upmarket retail outlets lies in tension with the life-worlds of current residents in one of the poorest wards of the UK. A market, dating back to the twelfth century, runs along one edge of the development area. The images explore the complex entanglement of everyday human activity with the changing natural and built environment, an entanglement neglected and negated by the CGI projected vision of the developers.
Beating the Bounds Two. Barking is an ancient parish, dating back to the seventh century. It straddles the River Roding and developed around fishing and boat building from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century, at which time it was home to England’s largest fishing fleet, the Short Blue. The industrial properties and retail parks that built up around the river following the decline of fishing are now the site of a number of large high-density housing developments, collectively referred to as the Roding Riviera. The images explore the developments reflected in the river that flows alongside them and represented on the hoardings which separate the development from a historic site along its eastern border, which includes the Church where Captain James Cook and Elizabeth Batts were married in 1762.
Beating the Bounds Three. The Barking Riverside development runs along the Thames and is surrounded by industrial units, scrap yards and waste processing plants. It sits on marshland adjacent to former sites of two power stations (a decommissioned gas-powered plant and an older now demolished coal-fired plant) and chemical plants, which have left high levels of pollutants in the land. This development is one of the largest in Europe, comprising of over 11,000 units, and ultimately housing a population equivalent to a city the size of Derby. The aspirations of the council leader are to create a ‘Barcelona on the Thames‘, a reference to the regeneration of the derelict industrial eastern Barcelona waterfront in preparation for and following the 1992 Olympics. In this series of images, the unruly industrial and natural periphery of the Barking Riverside development is explored through the chemical and digital degradation of images of the development, and through images made of along the boundary between the riverside public footpath and the private land of the new development.
The images and materials are presented in three artist made archive boxes and can be configured and used in different ways (for instance, as an exhibition, as the basis for a group activity or for individual handling and reflection). There is no predefined order to the images or expectations about how viewing of the images should be combined with the contextual materials. The work is non-didactic and is designed to eschew a single narrative. The sets of images are presented as a lyrical response and intended to offer the viewer the opportunity to construct their own narratives and sense of place from their engagement with the work, and, indeed, to reconfigure and add to the collections.
‘The catalyst that converts any physical location–any environment if you will–into a place, is the process of experiencing deeply. A place is a piece of the whole environment that has been claimed by feelings’.(Gussow, 1971:27)
Alan Gussow. 1971. A Sense of Place: the Artist and the American Land. San Francisco: Friends of the Earth/John Muir Institute.
In this talk to at the Architectural Association, Gill gives insight into his practice spanning a number of projects. My particular interest in this is the manner in which he uses visual means to explore place, and specifically areas of east London. In Hackney Wick, 2005, for instance, Gill uses a toy camera purchased at Hackney Wick market to make images of the area.
To form an even closer link to the place itself, in Buried, 2006, and Hackney Flowers, 2007, he buries prints in the ground, leading to a degradation of the image caused by chemical interaction between the surface of the print and the soil (in a manner similar to Matthew Brandt’s soaking of prints in lake and river water; in Co-existence, 2010, Gill also immerses prints in water from the pond that is the focus for the series, and photographs local residents through pond water).
I am exploring similar interactions between contaminated soil and chemical prints, as well as forms of digitally altering and degrading images. In Talking to Ants, 2014, Gill introduces environmental material into the body of camera, producing a combination of photogram and photograph, and introducing further chance and place related elements into the work.
The productions of artist books, which he self-publishes, has become a core element of Gill’s practice. He is clear, however, that it is the project itself that takes priority, stating that:
‘I try to keep the picture taking stage and the book-making very, very separate. And for me it’s so dangerous, even when I’m photographing to think of a book or that series in book form. I think it’s only at the very end that I would decide. I think that is quite important for me to mention because I do make books and it’s dangerous I think if the book itself starts to steer the picture making stage so I only start editing for books when I have completely exhausted the subject or its definitely come to an end and then I tend, it’s a fine line because I try not to rush the book making process but at the same time it’s almost like you don’t want to take too long either’.
For me, the most striking feature of Gill’s practice is the tight control that he places on the scope and method of each project. The artist statements for each project are succinct, though in many cases the issues being addressed are complex. Each project has a distinct visual aesthetic identity. The roots of this way of working appear to lie in the challenge of taking London as a place as the focus of his work
‘It’s so visually overwhelming, London, and I found it very hard to pin down some of the things that I felt compelled to photograph so what I decided to do is to make these tiny subject parameters and then explore these thoroughly’.
The struggle for me has been to reign in the complexity, which is multiplied by adopting a collaborative way of working. The challenge with the FMP project is to produce a clear descriptor to orientate the viewer whilst not constraining the scope and ambition of the work.
Gill, S. 2006. Buried. London: Nobody Books.
Gill, S. 2010. Co-existence. London: Nobody Books.
Gill, S. 2007. Hackney Flowers. London: Nobody Books.
Gill, S. 2005. Hackney Wick. London: Nobody Books.
Gill, S. 2011. Mostly Within the Area: Photographic projects from in and around East London, Photographers’ Gallery @ the AA, Wednesday 9 February 2011. https://www.aaschool.ac.uk/VIDEO/lecture.php?ID=1340
Gill, S. 2017. Talking to Ants. London: Nobody Books.
London Centre for Book Arts, 22nd February 2020
Half day session at the London Centre for Book Arts. Had the opportunity to talk through ideas for constructing my archive boxes for the FMP with people there, as well as learning about and experimenting with Risograph printing. Lots of potential for producing vibrant colour work at volume for a reasonable price (cutting a stencil costs £1.50, ink costs £1.50 for 50 sheets, provide your own paper). Could be useful for outputs from community focused work, and in particular production of posters, zines and books (paper up to A3, and can scale up). Not sure whether this is something I would use for the FMP as it is currently conceived, though people have used it for reproduction of photographic work (see work by Christine, who has produced a case bound book combining letterpress with risograph – see test prints below).
We worked from original and found artwork, but it is also possible to work with digital files (though the software for this is dated). Useful tips for using risograph printing at http://stencil.wiki/