Monday, 30 January 2012

Over the hedge 2

Occasionally, I do manage to get out and about and beyond the deeply internalised musings that can be found here, thanks to many kind people who ask me to talk about my work. A couple of weeks ago, I went along to the annual show of work presented by the staff from the School of Art and Design at Nottingham Trent University, in the Bonington Gallery. It ends on the 10 February so go and see if you can, if only for Jonathan Gillies' 'In Orbit', a fab, sound based animation which "reimagines place as a stellar abstraction" but which also has some lovely swoony electronic sounds from a 1960s/70s Italian electronic arts collective, the magnificently named Gruppo Nuove Proposte Sonore. As part of this exhibition's events, I participated in a live and informal panel discussion on preoccupations with place and the role it plays in our different practices. Others who took part were Kate Genever and Steve Pool, artists who have recently spent time working in Parsons Cross, a council estate in Sheffield, the photographer Katja Hock who has been documenting decaying ex-Nato bases and housing in Germany, and the aforementioned Andy Lock, who convened it all. A lot was said about the differences between our practices, and our different approaches to a common subject, and all to a small but very select audience of about 10 people - all I remember saying is that the younger members of the audience should go and 'download' 'Sugar Sugar' by The Archies, a lovely, soulful and joyous pop song (handclaps are always the key here) that I will defend to the hilt with anyone who cares to slag it off.

In May, I shall be at the University of Derby, taking part in the 'Affective Landscapes' conference, giving a paper entitled ‘Places in which I forgot things: memory, identity and the English Council Estate in the paintings of George Shaw'. People seem strangely reluctant to get their head around Shaw's work (which is more complex than we think) and this paper offers a few tentative perspectives on what might make Shaw tick.

Later on, in June, more of my dubious pop references crop up in a paper called 'Sharing horizons that are new to us: planning, freedom and growing up on a 1960s English council estate' which will make a contribution to the 'Geographies of Enthusiasm' session at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference in Edinburgh. A taster for this can be found on the admirable 'Conserving the Twentieth Century' website.

Over the hedge

Above is an excellent photograph by Andy Lock, a photographer who has recently been making studies of the Stocking Farm estate in Leicester. You can view his work on his website here   

There's a great deal of the slightly strange, sharp-edged quality of the post-WW2 architectural photographs by Eric de Mare in Andy's photo, but I also like this for two other reasons - one is that it's a quite typical image of the council estate landscape, somehow refracted through the very English surrealism of the paintings of David Inshaw, and tempered with a good dose of sunny Sachlichkeit. 

The other reason is that it shows a privet hedge. If and when I get some research money to do my deep archaeological/phenomenological study of the Middlefield Lane estate (the AHRC Connected Communities strand of funding has just turned me down, so here's another council estate community that won't get connected quite yet) I will look at the continuing existence of the privet hedge there. Here's one by the gate to the back garden of one of the houses on Priory Close:

And very neat and compact and naturally defensive it is. This hedge must now be forty six years old. I have fond memories of being told off as a kid for deliberately diving into them (or was I pushed?), and of the sweet, heady scent of the small creamy white flower buds that more often than not did not come into flower at all. I know that the privet is viewed as being dull and 'suburban' but they do make a difference across a council estate, they soften things, especially in contrast to the mish-mash of fences that the post-Right to Buy world has admitted. But I've been led astray in relation to what I really wanted to write about, which will now turn up in the next post. 

Thursday, 12 January 2012

You and Me in Time

I thought that the previous post had broken my quickly acquired and predictable habit of naming them after trendy pop songs but here we are again, tired recidivist that I am. I hope I'm excused however by stating that I thought I'd post this photo with this title out of being mindful that it's nearly a year since Broadcast's Trish Keenan died, so it's for her with respect. 

A typically wonky photo by my mum in front of our house (note the 'picture window'), me at the back on the right with friends (Phillip Butterton trying to get something out of his head!). 1967.

Odds and Evens

These signs have been on the Middlefield Lane estate since its inception, and so they are forty-five years old at least. Some have weathered better than others:

This planning of this estate was based to some extent on the 'Radburn' principle gleaned from an experimental 'New Deal' settlement that was developed in Radburn, New Jersey. This involved the fundamental separation of the car and the pedestrian, where cars gained access to the houses only via culs-de-sac roads that were situated 'round the back' of the short terraces of the houses themselves. The other side of these houses - 'the front' as we called it - had the main living area (the 'living room' to us, and NOT a 'lounge') which looked out onto an individual although unfenced or hedged 'private' expanse of lawn which led onto a public green space and a network of pavements, or 'Walks' that connected Dunstall Walk to Aisby Walk and so on. 

I hesitate to take Alison Ravetz to task again, but she notes how 'it was difficult to distinguish the backs from the fronts of houses: in a conventional sense they had neither'. In fact it was easy - the 'front' led to a garden; the 'back' to the road - and no different surely (albeit with the situations reversed somewhat) from any number of terraced houses. 

'Signs with arrows pointing to runs of odds and evens were provided ... Visitors, even residents themselves had difficulty locating addresses.' Hmmm ... odds on one side, evens on the other, except with an expanse of grass separating the two rows instead of a road? Again, not difficult to grasp, although not exactly conventional either, but wasn't that the point at that time? So what was there not to like (apart from those other signs forbidding kids to play ball games on these 'greens', but that is another story).