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: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00mr5n8.
And don't forget all those lovely stories (also downloadable as mp3s) at www.tfl.gov.uk/art

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 www.tfl.gov.uk/art, 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 admin@nald.org