Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Saturday, 24 August 2013

This City's Centre 2: Linger

I'm loathe to start another blog post with 'the weather', but ISN'T IT GORGEOUS! I've been quacking about this summer being a re-run of 1976 since February (should have taken my hunch to William Hill, dammit) so I'm making the most of every sun-kissed moment. When the sun's out, it's as if the years fall away and I just want to get outside and play (and chase ice cream vans, natch). So this week I grabbed a couple of friends, some copies of the new interactive Exeter map, Linger – hot off the press! – and hit the streets in search of fun.

Part 2 of the This City's Centre project (Part 1: Window is a video+sound installation at RAMM, which I wrote about earlier), Linger is a beautifully designed manifesto for playful interaction. An artwork in itself, the map encourages you to explore the city centre with an open mind and a willingness to participate, to engage in positive activity and to immerse yourself in the familiar in a way that reveals fresh perspectives. The colour-coded actions under different headings – including Street Dance, Be Neighbourly, and With No Particular Purpose – direct you on a walk around the city, inciting experiences and interactions along the way.

Some of the locations have QR codes attached. Scan them with your smartphone and you are pulled inside someone's life as their experience of that location unfolds in your ears. Standing by the war memorial in Cathedral Green, you hear revelations about the night-time behaviours witnessed by one resident; sitting on a tree-dappled bench on Fore Street, looking down towards Exe Bridges, you hear hopes and dreams for alternative vistas and are asked to imagine what you would do to change the view. I'd like less traffic, personally.

On the steps in front of the Cathedral we performed Green 2 and danced the Twankidillo. Behind Rougemont Gardens we followed the directions for Purple 7 and found a secret spot with spectacular views. On the crossroads of South St and North St we embraced Blue 3 and became monuments that announced our hopes for the city. But mostly we had a huge amount of fun. We tweeted our pictures and thoughts to @thiscityscentre using specific hashtags – you can see the interactions on the website.

It's such a common city-centre sight: people glued to their phones, plugged up with earphones, transported from their present location by the escape afforded by technology. Linger uses the same technology to root you firmly in the here and now. By hearing the voices of your neighbours, of people who have walked the same stretch of pavement over and again, just like you, and having their ideas, opinions and thoughts flow into your ears as you contemplate the exact same view that inspired those thoughts, you just might – as I did – feel increasingly connected to the people around you. It creates an opportunity to meet the city anew, to appreciate its intricacies, to see beyond the perceived mundanity of transitional actions – waiting for a bus, rushing to work – and hear the beating heart of its inhabitants.

Maps are designed to take you from A to B; that is their purpose. In its playful yet insightful subversion of that premise, Linger encourages you to enjoy the journey.

Pick up a copy of Linger for £2 (at that price you can have one to play with and one to frame – it's that lovely) from RAMM, Exeter Phoenix and various other outlets across the city.

Monday, 5 August 2013

This City's Centre 1: Window

When I lived in central London and the weather was so hot that it felt as if the tarmac was trying to consume you from the feet up, I loved to escape into the cavernous cool of the British Library. To stand amid the Ancient Egyptians, for instance, savouring the quiet chill while filling my imagination with stories about lives I’d never know, seemed a wise investment of time.

Our very own RAMM offers similar refuge, and its tagline – Home to a Million Thoughts – is enough, regardless of the temperature outside, to entice me in. There’s little better than picking a room and completely immersing yourself in its treasures; like sitting in a giant pile of gifts and slowly unwrapping them one by one. I could write reams about each room, about each corner of each room – especially enthralled by the taxidermy, of course, particularly the owl hat. Have you SEEN the owl hat?! – because everything comes back to the people, the individuals, at the heart of each exhibit. The person who carved intricacies into that grain of rice, collected and catalogued those beetles, wore THAT HAT… Where was home? How did they live? What did they see as they went about their daily business? These are the questions that keep me lingering for hours beside each exhibit, and it’s what’s lured me for repeated visits to This City’s Centre 1: Window, the video/sound installation currently occupying the Central Courtyard (just by the café).

Projected onto two adjacent walls are the views from Exeter residents’ houses, each one encompassing stories about home, place, and space – both public and private, and privatised public – and how those residents view that space. The screens show identical images – terraced roofs, a church spire, Haldon Hill in the distance – then one pulls back to reveal the frame of the window through which this view is seen; like looking into the distance and at the particular at once. The long-distance view is slowed down, encouraging you to take the time to savour it: the bird dancing with a breeze, the leaves playing with the light, life in careful transit. The second image is in real time, and as your eyes flick between the two, noting the changing pace, the voice of the view’s owner fills the headphones, giving that view substance and context. In the conflation of personal testimony, the view framed by its particular position and the horizon in slow motion, we are positioned between the intimate and the universal. The voices reveal the past and the present, cares and concerns, hopes and dreams; the meaning of ‘home’, and the sense of feeling part of something larger, of feeling connected to the immediate environment and the community that shares it. The stories are funny and moving; generous in their honesty and compelling in their detail. Some of the views I recognise – not in particular, of course, but in a directional sense – but most are completely fresh, offering new insights on the city.

Courtesy of Blind Ditch

Every five minutes or so, the views tessellate, each screen filled with a grid of different windows, the voiceovers merging to create a heteroglossial mash of stories, like the city of which they are a part. Your eyes flash over each, while your ears pick out snippets from the wash of words; a detail, a decorative element, an ornament catches your attention, and you wonder which voice matches which view. Who sees that vista on a daily basis, and what do they think, how do they live? And then the screens pull a view into focus, and once more we are invited into someone’s life for a few minutes.

Courtesy of Blind Ditch

Created by Devon-based art collective Blind Ditch, this installation offers much more than tantalising glimpses into the lives of others; it explores the boundaries between public and private space, concepts of ownership, and community engagement. It reveals the city in new and interesting ways, and encourages us to look more closely at the intricacies of our daily lives – the details and moments that get overlooked through regular exposure – and to appreciate them fully. And to turn to the person next to us, and ask, ‘How are you today?’

This City’s Centre 1: Window is the first part of a ‘digital triptych for Exeter’. Coming soon are an interactive map, called Linger, that invites participants to walk around the city, be active in specific places and listen to sound files via your smartphone, followed by a series of live performances - called Here, Now - in September during the new Unexpected festival. I'm planning to experience all the aspects of this artwork, so will be writing about the map as soon as it's released and booking my ticket (£10/£8 from the Phoenix) for Here, Now...

This City's Centre 1: Window is at RAMM until 22 September.