Thursday, 27 August 2015

"I was born here and not back in the future"

The title of this post is something that Jess, an 11 year old resident on the Middlefield Lane estate said to me a couple of weeks ago when I was there helping with the Dream House 'happening' (as I like to call it), which I outlined in my last but one post, 'Back to the Future 1965-2015-2016'. I'm not sure I can even begin to unravel the temporal or cultural complexities of Jess's statement, but the one thing I do know is that after spending three days on the estate I now see it more as a positive thing rather than something unwittingly forlorn and regretful as I might have previously thought. 

For three days, artists Kate and Steve (aka The Poly-Technic), Alice and Elizabeth from LOV (LincolnshireOneVenues young people's project) and myself set up a mock 1960s living room on the estate to get young people in particular to come and play with a 1960’s dolls house and some 60s games (GO! anyone? Waddington's game of international jet-set travel?), to do some drawing and colouring, and to get them to talk about their lives on the estate. We set up shop by a tree with a tyre swing and near to the various parks along Aisby Walk (one thing I loved about that was how all the children naturally referred to each park in the same way - there was 'the skate park', 'the big park', and 'the baby park' - naming and shaping these places for themselves, creating reference points for their future memories ('we used to play such and such on the baby park ...'). 

We soon got a number of children ranging in age from 3 to 11 coming along to see what was happening, and parents/carers would call by soon after to ask what we were doing, and why. All were exceptionally open and receptive to what we were up to - most of the children stayed with us all day (in between occasionally drifting off to the big park), others (older boys on scooters mostly) drifted off once they found out what we were doing and decided it was rubbish. After the first day, we had gained a small bunch of acolytes who would be there first thing on the second and third morning, nonchalantly waiting for us to arrive to set up again. Along the way, we interviewed some of the children about where they played on the estate, what they did, and about what they thought of the estate. One - the aforementioned Jessica, who was about to go up to secondary school - took us on a tour of the estate, to the places which were significant to her. Another - Natasha, who was 6 - took us on a fun tour of the estate simply, it seemed, to be a leader and to boss us around for half an hour. Jess's tour was interesting (we filmed these tours as we went along, and aim to produce a finished, edited, film of our time at Middlefield) mainly because it showed us how, in spite of today's dominant rhetoric of isolated, weight-gaining, PS4 obsessed, indoors-y children, little had in fact changed in the forty years or so since I was 11. It was a fine, sunny week-day during the summer holidays and everyone - but everyone! - was playing out. Jess showed us the wall her friends played football against, the gaps between the blocks of houses where they cycled, and the den they made under a large, overgrown hawthorn bush in the field opposite my old house, where me and my mates also made dens back in the day. They played blocko and tig and kerby.

Jess explained how time slowed down for them when they were bored and didn't know what to do, and it went by far too quickly when they were into a game, or when they were creating the den. She also recalled how they came back to their den a couple of days later to find that someone had trashed it in the meantime. Plus ca bloody change. 

As well as filming the tours around the estate, and conducting several interviews with anyone who cared to talk about the place, we pushed the 'Time Pram' around (a pram with the 60s dolls house stuffed into it as per the photo above) just to see what happened (not much, but that's ok), and Steve and Kate enlarged an old photo of me and a couple of fellow den-builders and blocko players taken in front of my house and created this:

Steve cut out a hole where my head was so that anyone could poke their face through and travel back in time, back to 1967, to be me. At one time, I carried the photo over to my house to send my adult self back in time and space. Unfortunately however, there is now a fence around my old front lawn in order to contain a slightly lairy dog, and so we looked for the nearest equivalent, just a few doors down (where Susan Gittins lived back then) and took this:

I like working with Kate and Steve because their credo is simple and direct: 'With people, in places – doing things'. You can read their blog via the link listed on the right here. They like old school theory (Bloch, Benjamin, alongside a bit of Bergson time and memory stuff for me) and wear it lightly. In Benjamin-speak, I think that our project is 'actualising' the estate: we are finding ways to help people to recognise the new once again, so that the past (in the form of a good, well designed and planned council estate like Middlefield) is, as Benjamin put it somewhere in his Arcade writings, 'reborn into a present capable of receiving it.' For me, the estate remains a good place to live - the planned, green spaciousness of the estate as a whole was clearly still relished by the residents I spoke to, young and old. The estate obviously has its share of problems but, on the days that we were there at least, it certainly was the same calm, free and contented place that I remember it to be back in the 60s and 70s. I still feel very happy and very much at home there. We have more to do at Middlefield (again, see the last but one post here) but I'd be happy with our days on the estate if, at some stage in Jess's life, maybe in thirty or so years time, she will look back and say 'do you remember when those people came onto the estate and we helped to make a film about how we played out there when we were kids?' If that happens, I hope she will realise that actually, back then, she was, already, back in the future.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Back to the Future 1965-2015-2016

BACK TO THE FUTURE 1965-2015-2016
Middlefield Lane estate, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire

Kate Genever and Steve Pool – aka The Poly-Technic. 
Dr Ian Waites – University of Lincoln.
Alice White – LOV young peoples project.

Programme of events

Dream House. 10/11/12 August:
Onsite activity and actions to take place on the green spaces across the estate. A 1960’s dolls house with furniture and a life-size set of a front room will be moved around the estate and be made available for play, for starting conversation and photography. 
Tours will be led by ex-resident Ian Waites who will share stories of the estate and its past. Perhaps current residents will want to share their special memories and places - creating new tours for others to join?

Sharing: [September - date to be confirmed]
Images and films created during the Dream House work in August will be shared with residents as large-scale digital projections - onto estate buildings.

Poly-Math Residency: [October  - date to be confirmed]
An opportunity will be made available for an artist [or possibly 2] to undertake a short residency on the estate. This residency will be supported by The Poly-Technic and will involve the artist working in close alliance with residents and site. Further details to follow.

Film Festival at the Trinity Arts Centre, Gainsborough: [November  - date to be confirmed]
Using the work created and with the Middlefield Lane Estate as a theme, a free-to-all one day film festival of films relating to council estates and childhood will be shown at the Trinity Arts Centre. The films will include the Dream House work, local archive footage, and independent/commercial films and documentaries that centre on council estate environments, such as Fish Tank and Gregory’s Girl. A large-scale projection on the front of the Trinity Arts Centre will also form part of the event.

A new house just like the old house, only NEW!: [Spring 2016 – dates to be confirmed]
The group will temporarily occupy one of the houses on the estate and create a pop-up ‘Back to the Future show home’ by ‘restoring’ some of the interior spaces back to how a typical home might have looked in 1966. The house will be open for visitors and will be used as a communal exhibition space. It will commemorate the history of the estate, provide space for artistic interventions and workshops - possibly theatre based - for residents young and old.  

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Council estate archaeology from the air

Inspired by re-reading Kitty Hauser's fabulously otherwordly book, Bloody Old Britain: O.G.S. Crawford and the Archaeology of Modern Life, I started to googlemap the Middlefield Lane estate from the air. This is the field I used to play in - a former cornfield back in the day but now marked by ad-hoc 'desire' lines created mostly after my time there:

My house is to the right of that mid left-hand side shadowy gap (just above the reference to someone's mobile disco business ... ). When I was a child, there was a large electricity pole and two large sewer manholes near the centre of the field that slowly disappeared over time. There doesn't seem to be any trace of them on this photo but I'm going to look for them next week when I'm on the estate - notes on that to follow ...