Monday, 21 December 2009

Speak to Strangers

I've just come across Gemma Seltzer's brilliant 'Speak to Strangers' blog, a hundred hundred word stories about London, with a lovely interactive map to explore where the stories happened. Enjoy!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Know Your Place - 2nd February 2010

UrbanWords has teamed up with Spread the Word to present Know Your Place a panel discussion exploring the value of writing residencies.

Writers in residence can now be found in many places: at airports, bus stations, in shops and even on the Tube. But what impact do these residencies really have on the people, places and organisations involved, and how do they, in turn, shape the writing that's created? What are the objectives of those who employ writers this way, and what impact do these have on the writers themselves? What role do writers have - and what role could they have - in regeneration and place-making? The panellists include:

  • Charles Beckett - Literature Officer for Arts Council England, London
  • Sarah Butler - Director of Urban Words, and writer of 'Central Line Stories'
  • Tamsin Dillon - Head of Art on the Underground
  • Emma Hewett - Director of Spread the Word
  • Kat Joyce - writer of Spread the Word's Neighbourhood Commission, 'One Mile Away'
  • Lemn Sissay whose residency at the Southbank Centre created GPS (the Global Poetry System)
This event will take place in the evocative space of the German Gymnasium, a Grade II listed building at King's Cross , now redeveloped as the visitor centre for the King's Cross Central Development, one of the largest urban regeneration projects in Europe.

Staff at the German Gymnasium are happy to provide a free, short introductory talk on the King's Cross development to attendees. Please arrive at the venue at 5.30pm if you would like this.

Tuesday 2 February
6pm - 8pm
German Gymnasium
26 Pancras Road, Kings Cross, London, N1C 4TB
Train/Tube: Kings' Cross
£ 8/ £ 6 (concessions)
Booking: 0207 735 3111 or online

Friday, 27 November 2009

Subtlemob 16th December

Subtlemob is happening again, 6.30pm in London on 16th December, in Birmingham on the 18th and Bristol on the 19th. Definitely worth checking out:

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Imaginative Engagement

I gave a talk and ran a workshop for architecture and creative writing students at the University of East London this week. We had some really interesting conversations about how writing can help us to understand and unpick place, and how writers and architects might work fruitfully together.
Helena Blakemore, who runs the creative writing course there, brought my attention to a really interesting project at Sheffield University, which has explored how creative writing can work to re-engage people with place, in this case the River Dearne in South Yorkshire. Worth a look:

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Poetry, Rain and Tokenism

I've been back from the internetless world of Hawthornden Castle almost two weeks now. It's been a bit of a whirlwind! Here are a couple of interesting things I've done/come across since I've got back:

A mass poetry writing project by Alan Summers, creating a 1000 verse renga, a really interesting Japanese form of communal poetry writing. You can find out more and get involved at:

Last week, I took part in Duncan Speakman’s Subtlemob in Covent Garden (a lovely take on the idea of flashmobbing). Participants loaded one of 2 sound files before the event, positioned themselves in a specified area of Covent Garden with a partner and then listened and followed instructions. It was pouring with rain. My partner was suffering from a cold and I felt bad dragging her through dark wet streets! I liked it though. Liked rather than loved. People were asked to do things (put a hand on their partner’s shoulder, look in a window etc.) and the story was orchestrated so that people were doing actions that were being described to you through your headphones. Some of it worked – I loved it when people were looking up at the tops of buildings, and when we were asked to dance. But there was an uncomfortableness there too. I felt we were asked to hold positions for maybe too long – though I can see it was needed for the thing to work. I was struck by the pacing and how music/soundtracks can influence our experience of a place. I found some of the content bordering on cheesiness, but I loved how it made you stop and look at the city in a way you hardly ever do.

On Monday I went to 'Architecture in an Age of Anxiety', a talk by John Sorrell (about to step down as chair of CABE) at the Tate Modern. He was talking about the state of architecture and the threats posed to high quality places by the recession. He issued a ‘clarion call’ to architects, to stand up and be counted, to turn down compromised jobs, to fight for high quality projects. Unrealistic, maybe, but it was interesting to listen to thoughts about how architecture needs to change and how the recession offers opportunities for reassessment and questioning. He talked about ‘informing and inspiring’ people so they can make informed and inspired decisions about their environment. I asked him to talk more about this – how do we enable people to talk with understanding and passion about the places they live in, how do we empower people to get involved? His answer was not inspiring to me! He talked about working with local people as clients, taking them to inspiring places, educating them about architecture. Fine, but he said ‘we need to find a group of people who represent the whole of the community’ – is that possible? I’m not pretending I have an answer, but I’m not convinced that this addresses the issue that lots of people don’t feel informed, inspired or motivated to fight for better places; finding a group of 5 people with the time to get involved, even if that group is truly diverse, isn’t going to solve this wider issue.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Off to the hills....

I'm off to Hawthornden Castle for a 4 week writing retreat. A world without internet and probably without phone reception.... so no blogging, no emailing, no distractions, just me and my novel - I can't wait! I'm back on 9th November.

Check out Global Poetry System, the brain child of Lemn Sissay, writer-in-residence at the South Bank Centre, co-ordinated by the fabulous Participation Manager, Lucy McNab. The site, which encourages people to photograph and upload the poetry they find in their environment - engraved in marble, scratched onto trees, written on toilet walls in permanent marker - was launched yesterday, on National Poetry Day. There are some real gems - have an explore and add your own discoveries.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Barking Arboretum

I went to the opening of Barking Arboretum on Wednesday. Having spent so long looking at plans and thinking about the potential of this space, it was great to see it finally open and being used. I love the way muf have made the space so magical: the railings turn into trees, seats are hidden away in corners, there's a stage just asking to be performed on.

There was also an exhibition of the work the RCA students did as part of Barking Metamorphosis. It was great to see how their work has developed since I last saw it. Some pieces have been made into permanent chairs and flooring in the arboretum. Will brought along a table-tennis table made from the Olympic blue fence, which was immediately put into use by passers-by.

My only disappointment was that there were no library staff or residents at the opening. I really hope people make this space their own - and I think there's real scope for the library to spill out into the arboretum...

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Books as physical locations

I’ve been reading Art and Architecture: A Place Between, by Jane Rendell, who’s a really interesting professor, based at the Barlett (Faculty of the Built Environment, UCL). She comes from an architecture/public art/ art writing background, and is interested in writing’s relationship to art, place and architecture.

One of the many art pieces Rendell discusses is Roni Horn’s ‘Another Water’. The final piece is a book of images of the surface of water, interspersed with technical accounts of deaths on the Thames, and footnotes which are descriptions in the 1st person by Horn. The project was part of a series of commissions for the River Thames. Talking about it, Rendell says:
“Like the Internet, books are public sites accessible to diverse audiences, but not usually regarded as ‘physical’ locations. However, it is important to recognise that these kinds of sites have specific formal limits and material qualities, for example the size and layout of words on a page, and that ‘surfing the net’ as well as reading a book. Horn’s work points towards how different texts, from the empirical account constructed through careful and systematic research to the more poetic reverie, can, by drawing attention to the spatial ways in which we read images and words, main texts and footnotes, produce critical spaces through the act of reading, asking us to question the relation of fact to fiction in the writing of a cultural history of a place.”
I haven’t quite processed this yet, but I’m really interested in the connection between text and space, and the idea of reading as a spatial activity.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009


You can listen again (or download the podcast) of my Radio 4 debut on Midweek this morning:
And don't forget all those lovely stories (also downloadable as mp3s) at

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Canal Club

I spent three days last week on the Canal Club, on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal (towards the Liverpool end) as part of Urbanism 09. I was commissioned by PublicWorks to write a new fiction for the canal – a magical story which pulled out the potential of a place which is frequently dismissed as a 'wasteland'. My story is called 'Fishing For Stars' (inspired by the star shaped lanterns attached to the 'Club'). It follows three characters, Caib, Rhaw and Bywell (their names are drawn from a mural of ancient tools painted on one of the canal's walls) who all discover their own routes into a magical parallel universe, where their wishes for the canal come true. Here’s the beginning few paragraphs:

“Let me tell you how I found this place. I was fishing for stars. You can see them, if you look, just below the surface of the canal, like silver, sharp-edged fish. Mum says they’re the souls of the people who built the canal. Dad says they’re the dreams of children whose bedrooms overlook the water. Whatever they are, they are as heavy as stone. I was fishing for stars and I caught one. It pulled me right in – headfirst, surprised. I like fishing. I’ll step onto a door one of the boys has stolen from a skip, and push my way to the middle of the canal. But I’m not a swimmer. I hate going underwater I didn’t choke or splutter or drown though, and the water was crystal clear and rubbish-free. I’m telling you, you can breathe as easy as air down here, and if you open your mouth the world tastes sugar-sweet. It took me a while to work out the upside-down thing, because the water makes everything shimmer and shift when you move, like there are a million crushed diamonds floating in front of your eyes. You have to stand absolutely still before things become clear, before you realise that you can walk on the sky, dip your toes into cool white clouds.”

The Canal Club was only in existence for three days, over the lifespan of Urbanism 09, which presented a number of challenges, including finding ways to get visitors to engage with my story. Our plan was to ask visitors to write letters to the fictional characters, but whilst some people did this, it was difficult to get them to commit to reading the story 'on site'. We put vinyl-cut extracts from the story onto the Canal Club itself, hung copies up by the seating areas, and gave away photocopies. It's a short story, only 4 sides of A4, but that's quite a lot to read if you're just 'dropping in'. I think giving the copies away was the best tactic, but then it's very difficult to know if anyone read it, what they thought about it, and whether it influenced their thinking about the canal.

If the project had been longer, I would have liked to involve more people in the story's creation, to have sent copies to people before the 'live' bit of the project, and posted it online, and organised more 'formal' (by which I mean people commit to come for a specific length of time) workshops where I could have read the story and then worked with people to write responses to the characters. Equally, it would have been good to have a blog (or fairy post box!) where people could post responses to the story after the event.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Canal Club

I will be at Urbanism 09 Thursday-Saturday this week, organised by the Liverpool Biennial. It looks like it will be an extravaganza of art interventions and urban conversations. I’ve been commissioned by PublicWorks to create an imagined fiction for a stretch of canal in Bootle, Liverpool. I will be ‘resident’ on the Canal Club, a temporary floating structure on the canal, and will be inviting visitors to write letters to the characters in my fiction as a way of imaginatively exploring the future of the canal.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Central line Stories

Central line Stories, the result of my recent writing residency on the Central line, is being launched tomorrow. Posters are up across the Tube network at the moment, and 15,000 booklets (a collection of name stories written in collaboration with Central line staff) are being given away to passengers. There’s also lots of writing (and audio) available to download from, including two new short stories, inspired by conversations with Central line train drivers. A big thanks to Art on the Underground for the commission, it's been a fantastic project to be involved with.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Literature Development and Regeneration: An Introductory Training Day

I am running an introductory training day in London on Thursday 24th September. It's been commissioned by NALD, and is aimed at literature professionals who are thinking about setting up a literature project in a regeneration context.

The day will introduce you to the world and language of regeneration, and show how writers and literature organisations can develop projects that engage with regeneration and urban change.

I'll be joined by guest speakers: Anita Nadkarni, a trained architect, and experienced arts and regeneration professional, and Kate Cheyne from Architects in Residence.

As well as presentations and group discussions, there will be the chance for you to think about how your own work could fit into regeneration contexts and agendas.

Course attendees will be supported by online activity in the 6 month period after the workshop, allowing you to continue to access expertise, advice and support while you are developing your ideas.

10.00-16.00 Thursday 24th September

Venue: The Poetry School, Lambeth Walk, London

£30 NALD Members £60 Non members To book a place mail

Saturday, 22 August 2009

The Dreaming City

I have just read a really inspiring book called The Dreaming City: Glasgow 2020 and the Power of Mass Imagination. It's free to download from Demos's site and I would really recommend it.

The book documents the project, Glasgow 2020, which the authors describe as a mass imagination experiment. It used storytelling and story creation as a way to co-create a new story of the future of Glasgow: “The stories that we tell matter because they indicate how we see the world, and whether we believe we have the power and capacity to shape it for the better. Stories are one of the main ways that we make sense of the world, and understand and interpret our lives and experiences. Stories and engaging people’s imagination are potentially a powerful way to open up the futures of cities in democratic and creative ways.”

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Writers Shaping Places

There is a review of the Writers Shaping Places event that took place last month at Shortwave, on the RUDI (Resource for Urban Design) website.

Here are some of the comments from event attendees:

‘The event was really thought provoking and created a number of new ideas for using writing and digital media to enhance our regeneration projects. Places, particularly changing places, need to communicate to people and vice versa. Writers can make this happen.’
Chris Brown, Chief Executive, Igloo Regeneration

‘Writers Shaping Places is interesting because it reminds you that places are shaped by people, how they use it, their memories and stories. Writers can help reveal this, and help make people aware of their neighbourhood, what is special about it and why they care for it. This is very important in a process of change.’
Dann Jessen, Architect, East

‘Writers Shaping Places showed me clearly what UrbanWords exists to do: to create a dialogue between those who engage imaginatively with place, and those who engage with it practically. Of course, architects and writers do both, but in very different ways. I left feeling excited to find out how each person in the room ‘imagines the unimaginable’ and even more excited about how this might translate into the shape of our city.’
Miriam Nash, poet

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Poetry, Optimism and Delight

I am currently doing an online course hosted by the Homes and Communities Academy, which aims to give people a greater understanding of the sustainable communities agenda. I can't help but feel a bit cynical about the idea of sustainable communities - it's a great idea, but I worry about the achievability of maintaining a growing economy and increased standard of living for all without impacting on the environment or adversely affecting future generations' abilities to improve their quality of life...

Anyway, as part of the course I came across this article by Miriam Fitzpatrick, a member of CABE's Urban Panel, on CABE's website. She begins by quoting from Oscar Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol, and argues that "sustainability must address our needs as human beings before obsessing over the measurable". I enjoyed her use of the engineer Randall Thomas' definition of sustainability as "poetry, optimism and delight. CO2, water and waste are secondary." She argues that "it is only after raising our spirits as humans that design for sustainability should go on to tackle quantifiable issues such as CO2 emissions."

A strong argument for the arts, I'd say, though the rest of this article does talk more about physical and design issues than raising human sprits, I notice...

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Article in Mslexia

I have an article about writing and public art in the Summer edition of Mslexia, in which I interview 3 writers: Linda France, Donna Daley-Clarke and Denna Jones who have all worked on public art commissions in very different ways.
Hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Writers Shaping Places

Thanks to Chris Meade, Kate Cheyne, Spread the Word, and all the audience members for taking part in the Writers Shaping Places event on Tuesday. Lots of thought-provoking ideas and discussions came up, which we're looking forward to continuing talking about on
Miriam Nash, from UrbanWords has posted a review of the event on the site - so please do sign up and have a look:

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Social Networking Site for those interested in writing and regeneration

Chris Meade will be presenting his paper A Place That Makes You Go 'Ahhhhh' at Shortwave, Bermondsey, London, this evening, and will then be in conversation with Sarah Butler from UrbanWords and Kate Cheyne from Architects in Residence.

We have set up a social networking site so that those at the event, and those who were unable to make it, can continue the conversation about writing and regeneration online. The site is open to anyone who wants to join, at: It's easy to get to grips with, but to help you along, we've written some notes on getting started below:

What is Shaping Place?

Shaping Place is an online space for writers, urban designers, architects and planners interested in creativity and place, hosted by UrbanWords using the social networking tool Its aims are:

1. To provide a contained online space for interested people to discuss issues, share best practice, and test out ideas about how writers and urban design professionals can work together.
2. To create a space for writers and urban design professionals to profile their work and interests.
3. To enable people to get in touch with each other to take forward individual projects and conversations.

Sign Up in 5 easy steps

1. Go to

2. Click ‘Sign Up’ on the right hand side of the page.

3. Enter your email address, password, date of birth (you can choose whether to display this publicly), and the security code shown.

4. Enter your profile name and basic details. Upload a profile picture if you like.

5. You now have access to the entire Shaping Place network and can add blog posts, events, forum discussions and comments. Use the tabs at the top of the page to explore the site. We encourage you to add text, images, weblinks, etc. to your profile page to enable other Shaping Place members to find out more about you and your work.


Q. How private is

A. Non-members can only see the main page. However, anyone can sign up to be a member, so you may wish to avoid giving out personal contact details – see below for information about how to contact other members through the site. We want the site to be as open and easy to use as possible, so currently we are allowing people to sign up without moderation. We will monitor this, and change it if necessary. You can choose your own privacy settings by clicking ‘Settings’ underneath your profile box, displayed on the right hand side of the main page.

Q. Will I receive email notifications from Shaping

A. Only if you choose to. You can choose what kind of notifications to receive by clicking ‘settings’ (as above) and then ‘email’.

Q. How do I send someone a message?

A. To send another member a private message, you need to add them as your friend. This is why creating a profile is useful as it allows members to contact each other directly. Of course it’s up to you if you want to add your personal contact details or just be contacted through
Alternatively you can leave a public comment on any member’s wall.

If you have any questions, please contact

Thursday, 18 June 2009

A Place That Makes You Go Ahhhh....

Prior to the discussion event, Writers Shaping Places, on Tuesday 30th June, UrbanWords has commissioned a new article by writer Chris Meade, drawing on his experiences of working with designers and public artists, Snug and Outdoor. It's an engaging read, which offers concrete examples of how writers can facilitate creative consultation and make a valuable contribution to the design process. The article - "The place that makes you go ahhh.." is free to download from the Articles and Critical Thinking section of the A Place For Words site.

Chris will be talking about the issues and examples he raises in his article at Writers Shaping Places, on Tuesday 30th June, 6.30-8.00pm at Shortwave, Bermondsey Square, London, and will then be in conversation with Kate Cheyne from Architects in Residence, and Sarah Butler from UrbanWords. There are a handful of (free) tickets left. Please call Spread the Word on 0207 735 3111 to book a place, if you haven't already.

We are setting up an online networking site to enable people to continue the conversation after the event, and to bring in people who cannot make the event, but are interested in the issues raised in Chris's paper, and in broader ideas about writing and regeneration. The site will be launched on 30th June and I will post up details of how to sign up on that date.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

A Place For Creativity? RUDI Conference thoughts

I spent yesterday at a conference in Manchester called A Place For Creativity?, organised by RUDI (The Resource For Urban Design Information) and PlacesMatter (an organisation focused on generating a strong sense of place in environments throughout the Northwest).
It was a good day – lots of interesting presentations, and a couple of arguments! I wanted to blog about2 things that came out of it that I think relate particularly to writing/literature.

1. Throughout the conference architects, urban planners and artists kept talking about finding the story of a place, discovering the narrative, getting under the skin of a place. ‘Every town’s got a story if someone takes the trouble to find it’, one speaker said. Sans Façon are a really interesting collaborative arts practice (2 guys – 1 an English artist, the other a French architect). They talked about how they ‘read from’ place – which I thought was an interesting phrase. It strikes me that this is what the poets on Apples and Snakes' My Place or Yours project are doing – getting under the skin of the places they are connected to. It also strikes me that this kind of understanding of place is like gold dust for those developing masterplans, strategic frameworks etc. for regeneration projects.

2. Paul Kelly is a name I’ve come across before connected to a fantastic project in Liverpool in the 90s called Further Up In The Air (a series of artist residencies in a tower block destined to be demolished – which included a residency by Will Self – I’d encourage you to find out more, on Neville's site, and A Place For Words ). Anyway, he’s now a project manager for Heartlands and is working with Liverpool Biennial on a public art commission on the canal in Bootle, Merseyside. He talked about the incredible low aspirations of residents and the council in Bootle, how he is consistently told: “you can’t do anything here, it’s Bootle”. Which brings me to another hobby-horse topic of mine. I think that story can be really powerful in this context – that sometimes places (and organisations, and individuals) get stuck in a cycle where they keep telling themselves the same story (Bootle’s rubbish, nothing exciting can happen here, for instance). For me, regeneration is about telling a new story, about opening up the idea of change, and through describing this new narrative for a place, creating the space for that change to happen in.

And finally, this gorgeous project by Sans Façon. As part of Glasgow’s Festival of Light in 2005 they created this piece with 2 theatre spotlights attached to a streetlight, and then camped out in a building with a view of the street to see what happened: everyone who entered the ‘limelight’ performed. I just think it’s beautiful!

Friday, 12 June 2009

UrbanWords at Leeds Festival of Design Activism

I will be talking about UrbanWords at the Leeds Festival of Design Activism Practitioners Conference on Friday 4th July. It's a Power Point free conference, which is a refreshing thought. Visit the website to find out more and book a place.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

My Place or Yours

I am guest blogging for a couple of weeks at My Place or Yours, a project which has placed 5 performance poets in 5 places (including an allotment!) across the UK. The site is well worth an exploration. The poets and their mentors are using blogging as a way of 'laying bare' their process and keeping in touch with each other and a wider writing community over the life of the project.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

What do you do with 250 fictional booklets about chairs?

You plant them in Ikea... Click here to see the photos...

Which I think is genius (credit goes to Yemisi Blake!)

For more info on the Barking Metamorphosis project, visit the project blog.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Blank pages?

I'm editing an article at the moment about writing and the public realm. This quote from writer/consultant/lead artist, Denna Jones, is one that I keep coming back to. Denna spent some of her childhood in the desert of Southern California; she says: ‘I’m very aware of the language used to erroneously describe the desert – bleak, empty, etc. – and I notice similar pejorative language used about areas designated for regeneration too. But, in reality, the desert is a hugely rich and complex place. I get very concerned about projects which assume places with problems are just blank pages.’

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Online writing - Public Art?

I am taking part in In Digitalisation, a course run by Spread the Word looking at digital possibilities for writers. Last night Naomi Alderman talked to us about her online, and offline writing, which I found really inspiring. One thing that struck me, as she was talking about issues pertinent to online writing, was the number of similarities with the concerns of public art: people won’t read the work in a linear way; the visuals are really important – you need to find a designer/artist who can do visual justice to your words; the reader is immediate and present in a way that’s perhaps less evident with the written page. Perhaps online writing can be seen as another kind of public art, in a world where lots of us lead lives that constantly cross and recross the boundaries of online of offline, and new ‘virtual spaces’ are constantly being created.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Writers Shaping Places: Free discussion event - 30th June

UrbanWords has teamed up with Spread the Word, the writer Chris Meade, and Architects in Residence to host a free discussion event on Tuesday 30th June at Shortwave, the fantastic new community cinema, bar and production facility within the Bermondsey Square regeneration scheme.

How do writers work with architects, designers and planners to explore and interpret people’s relationship with and aspirations for a particular place?

Join writer Chris Meade, UrbanWords Director Sarah Butler and architect Kate Cheyne, at Shortwave, a new cinema, cafe bar and production facility within the Bermondsey Square regeneration scheme, for an evening of ideas, discussion and the opportunity to network.

This event will also launch a new web piece by Chris Meade, sharing his experiences working with artists/designers Snug and Outdoor, and the conversation will be continued online after the event.

This is an opportunity for writers who teach or run community projects to explore new ways of working and for regeneration professionals to see how writers can add value to their work.

Date: Tuesday 30th June
Venue: Shortwave, 10 Bermondsey Square, London, SE1 3UN (
Time: 6.30 – 8.00pm (followed by the opportunity to network)

For further information contact: Places are free but limited, please call Spread the Word on 0207 735 3111 or visit from 8th May to book

This event is supported by Arts Council England, Spread the Word, Architects in Residence and Shortwave

Friday, 3 April 2009

Location for creative text

This is an image from Lulu Quinn's work, which both makes me laugh, and I think asks an important question about what text in the environment does, or can do.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Permanent or Temporary?

I’ve spent the last few weeks developing proposals for an arts programme to complement a regeneration scheme (hence the blog silence!). It was an intense and very interesting piece of work which threw up some key issues for me about public art and the idea of permanence.
The area I was working in is a mix of marshland/nature reserve and industrial estate. The funding for an extensive scheme of infrastructure and public realm improvements comes from central government and from Europe, and is, very specifically, for capital spend; in other words, for ‘stuff’.
Yet working in this area, walking, talking, reading, and walking some more, it became evident that a lot of the reasons why the natural resources are underused are psychological and emotional as well as physical. In addition, thinking about physical art work in this context is difficult. The area’s ‘charm’ is in its emptiness, it view, its industrial nature; some of the area’s problems are to do with having too much clutter – too many signs, bollards, fences etc. Would putting ‘pieces’ of art there not just mean adding more clutter to a cluttered landscape?
For me, a programme of temporary interventions, temporary signage projects, and text pieces that would generate interest and intrigue, but would eventually disappear, make sense in this context. For me, creating a role for art to engage local residents and employees in rethinking their area, and developing new relationships with a place on their doorstep, through participatory projects that build relationships and lasting partnerships, has a stronger resonance and potential than a series of permanent art commissions.
And yet the funding that exists is for ‘things’, and so the only option if you insist on taking the ‘participatory, temporary approach’ is to look elsewhere for additional funds. The other tension here is whether you end up arguing ‘against art’; whether you end up saying it is better not to spend this funding on permanent pieces of art because it isn’t the right place for them. In doing so are you failing to fight the ‘art’ fight? Or are you trying to be genuine in your response to a specific place? Linda France said something interesting to me the other week: artists need to be humble, she said, and advised writers with public art commissions to “ask yourself would a tree be better here?” But isn’t that complicated when the artist has been commissioned by someone whose funding and agenda insists that there should be something there, even if a tree might be a preferable option?

Saturday, 7 February 2009

City of Stories

I am working for the British Council in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on a project called City of Stories. I will be back in the UK in early March, doubtless with tales to tell about writing, cities, orangutans and Laksa...

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Poetry on Hoardings on Greenwich Peninsula

A poem created by myself and year 3 students at Millennium Primary School as part of Almost an Island? has been used as part of a commission by artist Faisal Abdu'Allah - the piece is called In The Same Place and consists of a temporary lightbox attached to the hoardings on John Harrison Way, opposite Greenwich Millennium Village.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Spatial Writing?

Speaking to Donna Daley-Clarke recently about the residency she did at Cabot Circus shopping centre in Bristol last year, I was struck by a comment she made: about her interest in the processes of construction, and that had she had more time for the residency she would have liked to explore whether she could find her writing process in these construction processes. I am really interested in this – in whether writing in the context of regeneration requires us to think differently about the way we write, and the form we write in. Can there be a spatial writing? Jane Rendell at the Bartlett is doing interesting work in this area, with her project Site-Writing. At a recent lecture she asked “can writing be architecture, rather than just talk about architecture?” There is something here, that I can’t quite get to grips with, something about writing creating rather than just reflecting space and place…

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Glocal Imaginaries

I recently put together a conference abstract for Glocal Imaginaries, a really interesting looking conference which marks the end of the research project Moving Manchester. I’ve been continuing the thinking I started when I wrote a paper for Playing in Urban Spaces at Leeds Metropolitan University in October 2008 (available to download from A Place For Words). Through discussing the idea of writing as an active process that can engender change, I keep returning to the question of how this model – of a powerful writer – intersects with democratic ideas of place and aspirations towards conversation and participation. I keep tying myself up with questions about readers and writers and texts. I think a lot of the work I’m interested in is about how people’s relationship with place can change positively when they engage with it creatively through writing. So where does that leave the text? And who is the reader?

Monday, 19 January 2009

Conversation, collaboration - a network?

I interviewed the poet Linda France about her work with poetry and public art last week. Discussing teaching a module on text and public art at Newcastle University, she talked about how she found the module a valuable forum for discussion and creative debate. She said: “There is no canon, no critique for this work – we are creating it ourselves, and so we have to keep talking. This is a collaborative process which will only move on and grow through conversation.”
Her thoughts echoed my own about the need for collaboration and conversation to realise the potential of working in this field. I am currently thinking about the best way to create a network of interested people from across different disciplines, which can facilitate debate as well as partnerships that will result in specific projects.
I am thinking about programming a ‘trial’ programme of networking events in London, which will be mirrored and supported with some kind of online life/networking/forum opportunity. Any thoughts or suggestions would be gratefully received.