Art is Long, and Time is Fleeting

Programming

“I worry about the British public,” said performance artist Marina Abramovic in an interview with the BBC before the opening of her new durational work at the Serpentine Gallery, 512 Hours, adding that the public’s cynicism might get in the way of creating “a pure emotional connection”.

If the feedback cards published online are anything to go by, it seems that the dreaded British public is reacting quite nicely so far:

Better than yoga

Marina participants feedback

Instead, it’s the British press she should have worried about:

 … what I was seeing is what I imagine the open ward of a mental hospital in which the inmates have been heavily sedated must be like.
Richard Dorment, The Telegraph

 It goes without saying that each interaction with the artist will be a unique and subjective experience. You might cry. You might laugh. You might feel bashful. You might feel irritated. But you might do and feel all those things when you see your gynaecologist. This makes neither your gynaecologist a great artist, nor your last smear test a great work of art. — Fisun Güner, The Arts Desk

Abramovic is currently establishing the Marina Abramovic Institute for Long Durational Work in Hudson, New York, which, according to the website, “will be the only institute of its size dedicated to long durational works: works of art that elapse over extreme lengths of time.”

Given the controversy raging over her claim to pioneer the ‘art of nothing’, I thought it’d be worth listing a few actually very long works, so long that they will span across several generations, to set the standards for Marina’s Institute and avoid a further “row over nothing“.

(Turns out I’m not the only one concerned about Marina: some kind souls have set up the Marina Abramovic Retirement Fund of America to help her stop having to make art).

– –

FUTURE VIEWERS

Jonathon Keats & Team Titanic: Century Camera – an intergenerational surveillance program

In May 2014, the Team Titanic gallery distributed 100 pinhole cameras to Berlin residents, to be hidden on the streets and take a 100-long-exposure record of the ups and downs of the city’s build environment. Camera custodians have to ensure that the secret location is passed on from generation to generation, until the camera is returned to the organisers – or whoever will be in charge – in May 2114.

century camera tin pinhole century cam

From the press release:

WORLD’S SLOWEST SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS WILL SPY ON BERLIN FOR NEXT 100 YEARS

The city of Berlin, currently undergoing the biggest real estate boom since German reunification, has been chosen to pilot a global initiative monitoring urban development and decay over the next century. Instigated by experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats in cooperation with the Berlin-based team titanic gallery, the unauthorized surveillance program will use ultra-long-exposure cameras to continuously document 100 years of municipal growth and decay for scrutiny and judgment by future generations.

 This is the latest project by Jonathon Keats, a rather prolific inventor, who previously copyrighted his mind (2003), attempted to genetically engineer God (2004), choreographed a ballet for honeybees (2006), released a mobile phone ringtone based on Cage’s 4’3” titled “My Cage (Silence for Cellphone)” (2007) and created “The Longest Story Ever”  (2009) for the cover of a magazine – only 9 words in length but printed to appear at a rate of one per century.

The ‘century camera’ is adapted from the traditional pinhole camera, using black card stock instead of photographic paper to considerably slow down the exposure process. The project is meant to be intergenerational and participatory, and going low-tech is a way to withstand the test of time: the simpler the technology, the more likely it will be usable in the future, whatever the circumstances (this brings to mind the ill-fated floppy disk and VHS tape). The pinhole cameras will act as visual time capsules, capturing timelapse records of the changing cityscape for future generations, but perhaps also influencing planning decisions by placing on the streets a watchful eye that never sleeps.

The process of returning the cameras in 100 years brings up a whole lot of questions: whilst the artist will most certainly be dead, will the gallery still exist? How will any change be communicated to the camera-keepers of the next century? Will the value of the €10 deposit dramatically increase or decrease? Will the euro actually still exist?

Team Titanic
Jonathon Keats
(Twitter)

 

FUTURE READERS

Katie Paterson & Situations: Future Library

Another 100-year long project that has just been launched a few days ago, Future Library is both growing a forest and commissioning writers, to create a completely new body of work – physical and immaterial – for future readers.

It’s produced by Situations, the Bristol-based cultural producers who published a few months ago The New Rules of Public Art, a manifesto challenging what public art looks and feels like.

Adapted from the press release:

Scottish artist Katie Paterson has launched a 100-year artwork – Future Library – Framtidsbiblioteket – for the city of Oslo in Norway.

A thousand trees have been planted in Nordmarka, a forest just outside Oslo, which will supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in one hundred years time. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished, until 2114.

The texts will be held in a specially designed room in the New Public Deichmanske Library, Oslo. Tending the forest and ensuring its preservation for the 100-year duration of the artwork finds a conceptual counterpoint in the invitation extended to each writer: to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future.

One author a year will be selected by Katie Paterson and the Future Library Trust, with the first to be announced in September 2014.

Future Library is part of Slow Space, a wider programme of public art projects, events & publications produced by Situations in Bjørvika, Oslo’s former container port, over the next four years.

Situations
Future Library
Slow Space

 

FUTURE LISTENERS

Jem Finer & Artangel: Longplayer, a one-thousand year composition

1,000-second timelapse video of first performance of Longplayer Live at Roundhouse, 2009

Jem Finer is an artist and composer with an interest in “deep time and space, self-organising systems and long-durational processes” (and also, for a bit of pop trivia, one of the founding members of The Pogues).

Between 1995 and 1999, with the support of producers Artangel, he developed and composed Longplayer, a continuously playing and ever-changing score written to last 1,000 years. Longplayer started on 1st January 2000 and can be heard in the lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf, London, at other listening posts (currently in London and San Francisco) and online via a live stream.

Longplayer was conceived by the artist as an exploration of time, “as it is experienced and as it is understood from the perspectives of philosophy, physics and cosmology”. It is based on a 20’20” score for Tibetan Singing Bowls, the ‘source music’, and five transpositions that vary in pitch and duration and are combined in always unique ways, for exactly 1,000 years. For now, this process is computerised, but other methods are considered – mechanical, human – to ensure that the work will survive technological obsolescence.

Ensuring preservation is an integral part of the work, and the Longplayer Trust has been set up “to make the music available to as wide an audience as possible and to research and implement sustainable platforms for Longplayer’s future”.

Jem Finer
Longplayer
Artangel

High Street Art

Programming

I’ve managed to clock two conferences in two days, both about the future of the arts (and arts funding), but otherwise different in every possible way.

On Thursday 5 June, Owning the Arts: Making Things Happen, organised by Rowan Arts as part of the Holloway Road Festival, aimed at “artists, arts managers, producers, educators and community activists”, was all about creative and collective problem-solving. The following day, Arts Development UK’s national seminar on The Value of Public Commissioning gathered arts and cultural organisations engaged in community building, well-being and regeneration together with public service commissioners for a day of keynote speeches and case studies presentations to discuss evidence, outcomes and evaluation.

I’m probably going to blog for quite a while about all the people I met, projects I’ve discovered,  and things I’ve agreed and disagreed with, just in the space of these two days, but to start with I wanted to highlight two great projects taking art to the high street – by taking over retail spaces and codes – that were presented at each conference. I’m also throwing in a personal favourite for good measure, to follow my preferred tripartite format. As I haven’t – yet – fully experienced these projects myself, I’ll let them speak for themselves in their own words, photos and videos.

1. Fully dysfunctioning: Hunt & Darton Café

A nice treat at Owning the Arts: participants didn’t just get to hear about the concept of live art duo Jennifer Hunt and Holly Darton’s project. We first got into teams to compete in the Not Great British Bake-Off, a sugar sandwich competition, to get a taste of the Hunt and Darton Café’s live experience, before getting into details of the project background and history.

Here’s what they say themselves about it:

Hunt & Darton Cafe is the product of Hunt & Darton, artist led producers creating theatrical experiences in unconventional spaces. Audience experience is our priority.

A fully functioning Café that blends art with the everyday, Hunt & Darton Cafe is a social and artistic hub where spontaneity and performance meet great food and drink.

Jenny Hunt and Holly Darton expose the inner workings of their business by presenting everything as art-from public display of their bank balance to the lovingly handpicked charity shop crockery.

Hunt & Darton Cafe encourages playful participation and meaningful social encounters. It can operate as an offsite micro-venue or temporarily transform and existing space in a gallery, theatre, public building or outdoors under canvas. Whether seeking surprising art or a relaxing place to spend the afternoon, customers can expect a welcoming atmosphere and food served with a twist. This is an exciting, innovative and entrepreneurial project unveiling and celebrating the ‘Cafe’ as an iconic and socially important hub for creative productivity and conversation.

The Cafe takes over empty shops, often working with council initiatives and art centres to benefit and increase artistic activity within the area. The alternative service from Hunt & Darton themselves (often wearing their iconic pineapple outfits and hats) comprises deadpan style and theme days such as ‘you-do-it-day’ where customers are encouraged to serve each other. Hunt & Darton also commission local artists to wait on the tables and create unique performances as they serve. (…)

Hunt and Darton Café, Hackney, 2013

Hunt and Darton Café, Hackney, 2013

The café started in Cambridge in April 2012, travelled to Hackney, Edinburgh and Brighton, and is about to embark on a 5-city tour over the next 18 months. Here’s where and when to catch it:

Colchester – Oct 2014
Folkestone  – Feb 2015
Manchester – March 2015
Harlow – June 2015
Peterborough – Oct 2015

 

2. Social & Emotional Transactions: Encounters Shop

Ruth Ben-Tovim presented her work with Encounters Arts in a Cultural Commissioning session on place-based outcomes. It’s an art based on co-production, dialogue and long-term relationships – and for Ruth, the essential part of her work is to craft the invitation.

From the website

Since 2003 Encounters have been taking up residence in disused Shops across the UK, working with thousands of people to create evolving, co-authored artworks about the joys and challenges of everyday life.

Shops have taken place in Sheffield, Winchester, Liverpool, Dewsbury, Totnes and London. We also deliver Mobile Shop projects that tour and connect different locations within a neighbourhood.

Encounters Shops become meeting places in which local communities can collect and exchange experiences, memories, objects, journeys and thoughts about their lives, where they live and the wider world.

We use photography, visual art and text to collect personal material from visitors reflecting this back through the creation of interactive, evolving displays and verbatim performance events and publications. Talks, workshops, community visioning, feasts, inter-generational exchanges and cross-cultural dialogue processes can also take place in the Shops.

As well as using a selection of these favourites in each new Shop we set up, we tailor-make Invitations to Join In that respond to the place, context or commissioners focus.

Over the years, Encounters have developed a tried and tested series of participatory Invitations to Join In that you are likely to find in any of our shops including; Blackboard Questions, Memory and Story Maps, Recipe Cards, Stepping Stones, Lake of Tears, Tell Me a Story About, Seeds of Change, Family Portraits, Journeys, Collage Blocks, Anyone Who’s, and Lost and Found.

Where’s the heart of Andover? Inside the Encounters Shop.

Inside the Encounters Shop – photo (c) Paul Bevan Photography

The 10th Encounters Shop is currently in Andover, Hampshire, until 15th June.

 

3. Heart-felt nostalgia: The Cornershop

Felt artist Lucy Sparrow crowdsourced over £10,000 – from an initial £2,000 bid – for her Cornershop project, and she is now creating enormous amounts of felt-replicas of everyday objects that will go on the shelves of her pop-up Cornershop.

From the Kickstarter campaign:

In 2014 I, Lucy Sparrow, will be restocking an abandoned Cornershop in London with felt products. Each item – from the bean cans, to the cigarette packets, the chewing gum and the porn mags – will be made entirely out of felt: each item meticulously hand sewn, stuffed and priced by yours-truly. During the month-long installation The Cornershop will be visited by both local passers-by and art audiences, once inside the shop they can not only view the products, but can handle, and even buy them. They will also be able to watch live-sewing events, participate in workshops and can even be drawn into improvised performance works that make them reflect on our taken-for granted shopping behaviours. The installation will be accompanied by a series of making workshops. In addition to drop-in workshops for one and all, I will also offer more specialist workshops for the local community and the neurologically diverse communities.

Weetabix

Weetabix -work in progress

Tampax

Over the counter emergencies

Rizla

A cross-section of rolling papers

Cat food

Cat food (supermeat)

Lucy’s ambition is to create in felt every single item usually found in a cornershop, in the right proportions: here’s the full list of everything that needs to be made. The shop’s opening is currently planned for August 2014 in Bethnal Green, and Lucy’s progress can be followed on her blog, website, Instagram and Twitter.

Jazz sous les pommiers 2014

Spotlight

I’m just back from Jazz sous les pommiers, a long-established festival in the small town of Coutances, Normandie, where I was lucky enough to be invited as the UK Coordinator of a Franco-British collaborative project called Jazz Shuttle. It was a short stay – only two days – but packed with discoveries and emotions, so I wanted to commit them to memory before going back to the rest of my activities (mainly more jazz and more festivals right now).

The festival takes its names from the ancient apple trees – pommiers – on the town square, under which it all started 33 years ago. It’s a busy week-long festival, with over 50 indoor gigs that represent a wide spectrum of contemporary jazz, as well as daily outdoor amateur showcases and street theatre. It’s a remarkably well-run event that attracts a huge (and fiercely loyal) audience: 37,000 in 2010, in a town that counts 9,000 inhabitants year-round. As hotels fill up quickly, the tourism board has developed a bed & breakfast system with local residents who have a spare bedroom to rent. That’s just one of the festival initiatives that transform the way audiences access the music; I picked up below my personal musical and experiential highlights.

Jazz & Châteaux 

On Friday morning, I got up early to embark on a coach tour of the Normandie countryside and take in two concerts in unusual venues.

First stop was the 17th-century Château de Cerisy de la Salle, where the famous annual Colloques de Cerisy, an influential series of academic conferences on literature, philosophy, science and society, have been hosted since 1952. After an enlightening introduction about the Cultural Centre by its current director Edith Heurgon, Rhizottome (Armelle Dousset, bisonoric chromatic accordion & Matthieu Metzger, sopranino sax) performed their singular interpretations of traditional dances in the castle’s barn.

The second castle was the 16th-century Château de Canisy, self-styled “world’s oldest B&B”, a grandiose setting with a small formal theatre space, fully draped in pale gold, where vibraphonist Frank Tortiller gave a solo performance.

The total round-trip was just over 3 hours long and offered an interesting collective experience: all on board a school bus borrowed by the festival for the occasion, chatting away and letting ourselves get driven to the gigs, with no worries of being late or getting lost. I found it immensely relaxing and conducive to attentive listening. In previous years, the festival offered similar programming linking music and heritage on foot and by bike, paired with cider and cheese tasting (which sounds even more appealing, but probably more tricky to organise weather-wise for a late Spring festival).

Magic Mirrors

Magic mirrors is the French name of what is called Spiegeltent in English – which comes from the Dutch term for ‘mirror tent’: a good example of European linguistic mélange.

This was finally my chance to experience the magical world of these travelling performing spaces, originally built in Belgium at the end of the 19th century as mobile dance halls. They come complete with wooden floors, a raised stage, a bar and a circular central standing space surrounded by stalls. They are decorated with stained glass, mirrors, velvet and brocade, in a fairly exuberant and circus-like Art Nouveau style. There are still a few of the original 1920s tents touring the world, as well as new modern ones.

Salon Revue - dancefloor view

‘Magic Mirrors’ – view from the dance floor

Salon Revue - Stalls

‘Magic Mirrors’ – Side Stalls

I saw two gigs there, including an all-star medley led by touche-à-tout Thomas de Pourquery, current artist-in-residence at Jazz sous les pommiers (a 3-year tenure during which musicians can immerse themselves in the local community and develop participatory projects). With his ‘Beautiful Freaks’, a bunch of musicians from varied musical horizons, he turned the Magic Mirrors into a cabaret-disco, a fitting use of the venue.

Laurent de Wilde’s ‘Fly’

My third space-and-music experience was in Coutances’ brand new arthouse cinema, which is fitted with what must be the most comfortable seats in the world.

On stage, Laurent de Wilde on grand piano faces electronic musician and improviser Otisto 23, who samples, reworks and loops the piano sounds with his electronic machines. Encircling them, panels of translucent fabric hang from a circular curtain pole, providing a 3-dimensional projection surface for video artist Nico Ticot (aka XLR)’s mesmerising visuals.

Neither my description nor the video above (filmed in 2010 at the New Morning) really do justice to the experience created by these three collaborating artists, but it was interesting to hear from Laurent that they have performed in all sorts of settings – namely in China’s Forbidden City and on a beach in La Réunion: like the Magic Mirrors, another travelling experience that takes the audience on a journey into its own world wherever it lands.

The Art of Evaluation

Tools of the Trade

On my third day in London, I got lucky and was offered a place on a sold-out workshop hosted by the Live Art Development Agency that just sounded too intriguing to be missed. Here’s the description that caught my attention:

Fed up with the standard evaluation surveys? Situations and the University of Central Lancashire have been developing an innovative new group based evaluation method to move beyond overt measures of impact and unlock the deeper story of an artwork’s effects on the imagination.

Titled Thinking Beyond Measure, the day-long event, part of the Public Art Now national programme of events, promised a mixture of practice and theory to explore the scope of results and potential applications of what the research team calls the Visual Matrix: an interpretation process based on a series of images that act as prompts to elicit associative thinking and make it easier for people to think and talk about their experience.

The case studies we discussed were Nowhereisland, an itinerant, durational and participatory project by artist Alex Hartley produced by Situations in 2012 as part of Artists Taking the Lead, the Cultural Olympiad series of major commissions –  and Verity, the Damien Hirst’s half-sliced pregnant bronze warrior loaned for 20 years to the Devon resort of Ilfracombe, one of Nowhereisland’s port of call.

The research team, led by Professor Lynn Froggett and Dr. Ali Roy from UCLAN in association with Situations, conducted an evaluation in Ilfracombe on both works in 2013, one year on. They used the Visual Matrix alongside other forms of evaluation to explore Nowhereisland and Verity’s respective role in reflecting local engagement and citizenship, as well as their legacy in terms of change and transformation.

I’ve summarised a few key points from the day but there would be much more to say – not least about the contrasts in findings between the two selected works and between different methods.

Process

First, some disclaimers: the workshops featured two sample 20-minute Visual Matrix and participant feedback sessions, one on each work, so a short version of the 2 first steps of the full process. Besides, workshop participants had, for the vast majority, no direct experience of the artworks – this was meant to be an exercise. By contrast, the case studies that we were somehow reproducing had gathered people with a varied range of exposure to both artworks, from passer-bys to contributors, all living in Ilfracombe and therefore able to reflect on a personal and community level on the effect of these two artworks on citizenship and their legacy of change.

1. The Visual Matrix

Ideal group size should be between 6 and 20, with at least 2 facilitators.

– Chairs are arranged in a snowflake formation – concentric circles that are slightly out of alignment to avoid direct eye contact.

No introductions are made: this is to avoid the bias of expertise and authority that can sometimes be overwhelming in a traditional focus group.

– Participants are explained that they will be shown a slideshow of 20 to 30 images, each lasting for 10 seconds, about which they can then express what they feel – what it reminds them of, in which state of mind they find themselves. They are expressedly ask to suspend judgement and refrain from interpreting or analysing what they see, and instead to feel what the images do to them.

– In the ensuing 1-hour session, which can occasionally be stirred – but not chaired – by the facilitators, participants should be reaching a state of “rêverie”, gliding from one idea to the other. They are not quite holding a group conversation, but rather letting their mind go back to the images and the experience itself  and absorb the new thoughts and images produced by the group.

– A form of documentation, such as note-taking, audio and/or video recording – whichever is most practical and less intrusive – is essential to this stage of the process.

2. Feedback with participants

After a short break, the participants, guided by the facilitators, start pulling together the themes that emerge from the Visual Matrix. This was an interesting process of convergence, pulling together the threads of information produced in the first part of the session, and we worked as a group to make sense of what had been expressed. One of the facilitator organised the ideas in a visual form.

3. Feedback with research group

Reconvening after another break, the research group – now on their own – starts to analyse the participants’ responses, working on their memories and notes of the Visual Matrix session as well as the synthesis co-produced by the participants. The nature and quality of the metaphors and the vitality – or lack of – with which they were produced are equally taken into consideration.

4. Wider discussion

The last phase of the process looks once again at the Matrix results and the layers of interpretation created by the participants and the research group, and can involve external advisors if appropriate: the aim here is to expand and generalise the results, for example to the realm of policy-making.

Benefits of the Visual Matrix

The Visual Matrix is inspired by Social Dreaming and aims at unlocking the deeper effects of an artwork on the imagination. Because it is based on imagery and metaphors, and not on expertise or status, such process makes it easier for anyone to participate. All thoughts are valid and they feed into one another to express a rich and nuanced response to an artwork or situation.

It is essentially a collective, participatory process, which seems appropriate to explore the collective resonance of complex works of public art (or other situations in the public realm).

It is also an open-ended creative process, and as such closer to the artistic process itself than sliding scales of enjoyment or debates about taxpayers’ ROI.

Considerations

The workshop allowed plenty of time for a group exchange about theoretical and practical considerations, and here are the ones that stuck out for me.

A. Training

The Visual Matrix method has been used for a while in different settings, but introducing it as part of a new evaluation framework for the arts would take some dissemination and training. It would be interesting to get to practice the interpretation steps and to be guided by an experienced mentor, to be able to reap the full benefits in a set amount of time.

B. Participants

Results are highly influenced by the group composition, and the dynamics between the participants will have a bearing not just on what they produce, but also on the ‘quality’ of the matrix – whether it is solid and keeps going in a steady state of “rêverie”, or breaks down into analysis and critical judgement.

Participants for the two case studies presented mostly responded to invitations from mailing lists and in the local media; they were self-selected and not screened against specific criteria.

My concerns here are as much about outreach – to attract a varied group of participants – and effective facilitation, to create the right setting and understand barriers and biases.

C. Image selection

The matrix is supported by visual materials – although other types of sensory prompts could be used, such as sound or movement – so it seems rather important to choose them well. It is probably also worth stating to the participants that the sequence of images is not meant to form a narrative sequence.

Practical Applications

This is an interesting method not just for evaluating the effects and legacy of public art, but also any collective experience: for example, applied to a volunteer programme, this method would allow to go much deeper than focus groups to uncover the intrinsic motivations of arts volunteers and the benefits of volunteering. It enables to measure success in terms of effect, not just figures.

Just like any other evaluation method, the trick is in the interpretation of the findings – and as it’s the part of the Matrix that we didn’t get to do by ourselves, I look forward to more workshops and guided applications to learn more about the process.

 

www.situations.org.uk
www.uclan.ac.uk
www.publicartnow.com

Activate your Alley

Spotlight

…and so the alley could once again become a special world, not so much a place for the discards and helpless but for a wider range of city dwellers. It offers one of the few urban rather than suburban or rural ‘retreats’, an enclave just off the busy street, a step away from the hurly burly.

from Alleys: A Hidden Resource by Grady Clay

As the streets of Toronto are disappearing one more time under a beautiful blanket of snow that will turn in no time at all into slush and ice, an article on alleys and urban renewal in Torontoist made me long for the days when you can go out without the mandatory down-filled uniform (video). After all, now is the perfect time to plan for next summer’s alley parties, so here are a few thoughts, images and links.

Eventful Alleys

World Cup screening, Alley Network Project, Seattle (2010)

World Cup screening, Alley Network Project, Seattle (2010)

‘Alley activation’ is one of the core activities of Seattle-based not-for-profit International Sustainability Institute. Focusing on the network of alleys around the historical Pioneers Square and working collaboratively with residents, business owners and community groups, they have developed the Alley Project Network to promote local arts, commerce and healthy living.

Since 2008, the Alley Network Project has hosted art installations, documentary screenings, bike festivals, Tour de France and World Cup viewing parties and performance art shows, attracting over 5,000 visitors to the alleys surrounding Pioneer Square.

They share the lessons learned in a handbook (pdf) that provides a step-by-step guide to organising an alley event, from a planning checklist that would be relevant to most situations (including cleaning, signage, communicating with residents…) to a breakdown of the alley permit application in Seattle, useful to understand the kind of process and responsibilities that might be involved in other contexts and plan in consequence.

The handbook opens with the guiding principle behind the ‘alley activation’:

WHY EVENTS?
Putting people in your alley is a first step. People breath new life into spaces that have long been used for illegal activity or dumping trash. Our approach was to throw unique events. After hosting numerous events over several years, we can see Pioneer Square’s alleys transforming. A bicycle repair shop recently moved into one alley – with its front entrance in the alley. Plants and flower pots are starting to sprout up in the nooks and crannies of alleys. And some shops now feature their signs and menus on alley doors. All of these steps are collectively starting to change how these spaces are perceived and used.

The cobbled back streets have hosted photo slams (local professional journalists presenting 5 to 8 minute photographic essays on a variety of topics, from prison photography to portraiture), a summer festival called Alley-Palooza, various screenings (documentaries, World Cup, Tour de France…), PARK(ing) Day installations and an annual dog parade (with hot chocolate and live music), all of which are free, broadly inclusive and involve local businesses or interest groups. Coming up: a Bike Love Party, with beer and tattoos. In late 2013, the Project also led a series of community consultation workshops to develop a new “historically appropriate” lighting and resurfacing design.

alley-Open-House-10.3-1024x768

Alley Design Concepts Survey ‘open house’ (2013)

———————

There are many other projects around the world injecting a new life into the dark and neglected back alleys, most of which I borrowed from Vancouver blog This City Life.

Green Alleys

Vancouvery Photo c:o Ben Nelms for National Post

Country Lane, Vancouver (Photo: Ben Nelms for National Post)

Vancouver has been running a Country Lane programme for several years, ‘countrifying’ back lanes by depaving them, save for 2 concrete strips, and planting durable grass.

Montréal has a similar volunteer-run programme, Ruelles Vertes – the website offers lots of links and practical tips (in French).

Chicago has retrofitted over 100 laneways since 2006 and produced a free Green Alley Handbook (pdf) for inspiration.

San Francisco is also developing a community-led Living Alley concept and offers workshops to residents to help them design and implement a Living Alley Network.

Ruelle Verte, Montréal (photo Sylvain Ouellet)

Ruelle Verte, Montréal (photo: Sylvain Ouellet)

Public Art & Design

Athens street

Pittaki Street, Athens, Before Light & Imagine the City (2013)

Sydney has developed a curated programme of commissioned public art, Laneway Art, featuring among many other projects the lovely Forgotten Songs by Michael Thomas Hill, a sound installation commemorating the songs of fifty diurnal and nocturnal birds once heard in central Sydney; yarn-bombed steps in Sussex Lane by Knitta founder Magda Sayeg; and a giant PVC donut by Brook Andrew.

Austin Art Alliance created “temporary activations” in Alley #111, a “mix of installations and multi-generational happenings” including visual and sound installation, an opening party, a Pecha Kucha and a family day.

Athens-based non-for-profit urban renewal organisation Imagine The City partnered with creative studio Before Light to illuminate one seedy back-alley for one year, gathering “Chandeliers, shantungs, bell shades, paper Asian lanterns (…) retrofitted with new wiring and weatherproofing” to create a party-ready fairy-tale atmosphere (video) that makes the alley both safer and prettier.

Dublin‘s city centre Dame Lane got ‘activated’ for 8 full days by designers me&him&you, who conducted a community consultation to install colourful custom seating, a ‘play me’ piano and lots of plants.

And finally, small street parties everywhere have their own planning toolkit (covered a few months ago) which goes hand-in-hand with the outdoor event accessibility guide.

Laneway Project Dublin

Laneway Project Dublin by me&him&you (2010)

Street Art

Most of the banner images I use on this blog were taken in Toronto’s back alleys.  They provide access to garages and business back doors – and, incidentally, perfect canvases for street artists.

Lego Head - Spud & DMC

Lego Head – Spud & DMC – via Torontoist

Toronto is developing guidelines and programmes for street art, encouraging commissioned murals to ‘beautify’ neighbourhoods and deter vandalism (including graffiti). A map of these official murals is available on the City website, and if some are easily forgotten, others are pretty epic, such as Andrew Schoultz’s ‘The Winds Are Changing‘, which I try to walk by as often as I can.

Left to their own devices, alleys develop other interesting sights. Local guide Graeme Perry (from whose website the opening Grady Clay quote is borrowed) has been leading free walking and cycling alley tours for 10 years and has documented his favourite categories on his website: greenery, textures and ‘funk dump junk’.

Graeme Perry_GreenGraeme Perry_TextureGraeme Perry_funk dump junk

Local photographer and urban cyclist advocate Yvonne Bambrick also captures the alley sights, here framed within reclaimed bicycle wheels:

Yvonne Bambrick, Rusted (2013)

Yvonne Bambrick, Rusted (2013)

Yvonne Bambrick hot pink

Yvonne Bambrick, Hot Pink (2013)

If Toronto’s alleys lend themselves well to urban exploration and graffiti safaris, they’re also prime estate for another type of activation, also a bit more on the wild side than previous examples.

Every summer for the past 3 years now, the Ossington neighbourhood has hosted an Alleyway Party that has everything from local bands – including Toronto’s very own Balkan-Klezmer-Gypsy-Party-Punk-Super Band, dancing in the rain, communal BBQ, giant Scrabble and collective garage door painting. It’s a bring-your-own, pass-the-hat affair between neighbours, with no lane closure – traffic is usually very light – or formal schedule. Time to get planning…

Ossington Village Alleyway Party

Ossington Village Alleyway Party (2012)

Ossington Village Alleyway Party Scrabble