INTERACTIVE ART IN THE PARK
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Monday, August 08, 2005
"Imagining St Mary Magdalene's" Weekend
This image is one of my favourites from the entire project - it is the result of the printer running out of ink, creating a beautiful accident. (Click to see large)
I am still reflecting upon the impact this art project has had both upon those of us immediately involved in it, the artists, the park users, the churchgoers, the asylum group, and on the people who came from far and wide to see and hear and join in.
We had almost entirely good responses from local people, as well as people who had come specially to Islington.
The overall effect seemed to be to cause people to stop and look and wonder. Val, walking her dog, said to me on Saturday evening, "I keep intending to go home but I am still finding things to look at."
An enthusiastic young man I've never met came up to me and asked me who was responsible for this as it was one of the most beautiful things he had ever experienced.
I assumed he meant the experience of seeing the park and church and tombs lit up, voices, bells, speech, music, images and figures adorning the gardens, so I introduced him to the artists, Per Platou and Amanda Steggell from Motherboard, Lisa Muten, Ulf Knudsen, and my colleague in Funk, who was hugely important to the success of the event, Mark Crook.
The combination of a week of art, food, dance, music, and a sculpture which seemed specifically made for them seemed to have a greatly calming effect on the resident drinkers.
I realised that, drunk or sober, believer true or not, what most people here suffer from is boredom, and by alleviating that, the problems associated with this challenging urban space diminish.
Friday, August 05, 2005
47MB MP3 file of the piano piece Ulf played.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
St Mary Magdalene Elegy
Here is the audio "St MaryMagdalene Elegy" (46MB MP3 file) which Per composed from donated audio that London artists have uploaded to the website, recorded voices from the local area, the St Mary Magadelene bells, and other found sounds from the week-long project.
On the night this piece was distributed through the church and gardens via walkie-talkie, and accompanied by piano and organ.
Sunday, July 31, 2005
Most of the pictures remained for the duration even with no special effort made to safeguard them.
Some of the pictures were completely removed.
I am certain that one particular group of regular parks users were so pleased with the picture showing themselves, that it was very carefully taken down and is now decorating some local interior.
It would be untrue to say that the entire project was without criticism, however.
One cheeky image of her smiling young daughter Metta, which came from Mia Manners who sent in a lot of pictures, was ripped off by someone and then replaced very carefully by someone who decided that they liked it, I guess.
This picture of a smiling man, which was sent in and displayed in the park, was removed, written upon, and stuck back up in a different, more prominent place. I don't know why this picture out of over 40 displayed was deemed particularly worthy of comment.
Now that's interaction...
Dan's Man (Email)
The park became a gallery for the weekend as the weather finally warmed up.
Markus, who has helped us a lot with the art project, took the opportunity to involve the church.
On Sunday after the service, the church held an open-air shared lunch, and everybody who wanted food was fed. There must have been 75 people, including a group of missionary young americans and the combined congregations of St Mary Magdalene's and St David's. See more pictures here.
Watching an energetic youth group dancing, Ann my neighbour said to me, "I've been here 6 years and I've never seen anything like this! Isn't it great?"
Can Man Grows
Can Man was half-full already by Sunday morning, taking shape on the steps of the church.
When Glendales arrived for their Sunday clear up, this young man kindly assisted the project by filling him.
I found this newspaper placed carefully on the ground all around the mound at the Liverpool Road end of the park.
I was very impressed - someone had responded to the invitation to make art by improvising an installation with found materials.
Or had a newspaper simply not been binned properly, and was the placement just an example of John Cage-style random beauty? Either way, I was still impressed.
As I photographed the results, which I found quite pleasing, a gentle wind blew the pages further across the lawns.
I began to suspect the garden itself was playing along.
Saturday, July 30, 2005
Our urban garden evening art activities were a huge contrast to the world of the Holloway Road, which for a change, instead of dominating and drowning out, was being drawn inside.
It is amazing what lighting and costume can do to suggest and evoke. Petronella Carter, a performing artist who grew up near Highbury Fields, dressed in a Victorian mourning costume, with cape, gloves, veil, and even the correct lace-up boots so that she walked correctly.
As Petronella and Alev moved around, Mark was acting as both lighting director and mobile sound source, as he was carry one of the walkie-talkies. Per also moved around the space with another. It was really unusual to have both mobile and fixed sound sources, and then to move around the large space.
Ulf started to play piano in the church, and this became one of the sounds in the live mix. Per played the organ. The voices of the different languages spoke intimately, and the eight bells rang out all over. I have never experienced sound quite like it.
As the two figures moved around the outside of the church in the darkness, it really was as if the Victorian dead had come to join us, to bless us with their presence.
We had somehow got to that magic place where suspension of disbelief had spontaneously started to happen.
This graceful promenading had a Pre-Raphaelite feel, the spirit of the coming age when this place came into being almost 200 years ago.
Above us, still moving and glowing with vivid colour, Amanda's window projections shone like a spiritual beacon in the filled darkness.
There used to be angels painted either side of the big arch on the inside walls of the Chapel of Ease. Inside the modern church is a print showing these angels smiling down and welcoming believers to paradise.
It must have been a reassuring sight to the bereaved, seeing the heavenly host there to escort their deceased loved ones to a better place.
You can tell Amanda comes from a dance background from the way she treats moving visuals. She so enjoys operating the images manually, recording sequences of interaction and dissolving movement.
In this illuminated window she is using various images of flight, including a spiraling female figure that could be Mary, flying pigs, and medieval cherubs.
The colours dance and shine in the window in a fascinating, attractive, almost hypnotic manner, turning plain into stained glass, stillness into movement.
The church lighting in the other windows lit up the building and surrounding gardens, which drew people to the movement and colour of Amanda's centrepiece.
On Saturday evening, people came into the dark park to watch the projections and the performance art, and listen to the audio and improvised music in the church.
The months of research, meetings, form-filling, and the week's preparations and collaborations came together on one dark, cold July night.
The park is usually cleared and closed at dusk. There are ten to fifteen people who would then normally go elsewhere, perhaps go and sit on the benches outside on the Holloway Road. This evening, they stayed to watch, chat, and drink Rabah's excellent coffee, and were joined by the art-viewing public.
In twilight, the small figures seemed to animate themselves. Many were observed with interest by passers-by over the weekend, some being picked up for closer inspection and replaced carefully.
Coffee and Crêpes
It was dark, cold, and a tad windy as the evening arrived, with the odd spot of rain threatening more - not the best conditions for an summer event in a park. I was seriously worried absolutely nobody would show up.
People did come however, from the church and elsewhere. I was pleased that some local people were there - I spent some time chatting with a woman whose flat like mine looks out onto the park. Rabah made coffee and crêpes and people gravitated around him. People "mixed", drank coffee and ate, watching the projections brighten and take shape in the darkening evening.
Saturday Afternoon Modelling
Lisa arrived in the afternoon and began to remake her figurines. Some of them we recovered from Glendales, and those which were not too badly damaged she remodelled. Others were turned into raw materials once again for new figures. This curious squirrel, who clearly considered the tomb area his territory, could not work out whether plasticine was edible or not.
During the afternoon, Lisa was joined by ten or so people, known and unknown, who saw what she was doing and industriously began to make model figures.
It was nice to see how everyone took each character seriously and constructed them as if engaged in different activities. Interesting also how the results became so inventive the more everyone got into it and the activity developed. I spotted figures reading, sleeping, meditating, dancing, drinking, kissing, breast-feeding, listening to the radio...
Kenny and the Marquee
Art In The Park
This morning first thing I went and picked up two prints from Hanway Print Centre on Essex Road. Charles was extremely helpful on Friday afternoon and sorted us out with two large prints at late notice, for the front and back of the park, one by Matthew Griffiths and one by Fred Ahmet, my neighbour. Thanks very much.
His illustration is so perfect for this art project that it has pride of place at the front, opposite Cycle Surgery on the Holloway Road, temporarily replacing the WELCOME sign.
|This is Alev Ahmet, who has just finished a course in performance. She is going to be an angel for us later this evening, wearing angel wings supplied by local business The Costume Studio.|
Friday, July 29, 2005
Art, Technology, Community
Friday evening was very long indeed.
Amanda finished making her colourful projections in the central window, which had been attracting passers-by all week to stare transfixed through the railings.
Our remaining tasks were to light the church and grounds, and to install the audio.
We lit both sides of the church, picking out the tall late Regency windows with their classical curves, using green at the front and red at the back, which gave a great view through the building, revealing the scale of the interior.
We distributed all-weather lamps among the tombs and bushes, which threw up long shadows onto the wall of the church and created a magical, other-worldly atmosphere.
Per was working hard all week on the audio content, in which he incorporated the voices of local people, the asylum group, the sound of the church bells recorded on Wednesday, and the musical sounds that London artists Andrew Lagowski and Dan Powell had uploaded for us to use.
The ingenious way Per designed the audio to be distributed via 12 walkie-talkies working on different channels required reprogramming the walkie-talkie system and keeping the receivers open so that synchronised audio streams could be sent to them, and so Friday night for Mark and Per was a long period of much head-scratching, some moments of despair as the system stuttered and suffered from interference, and a triumph of patience and method as everything finally fell into place and started to work as planned.
There was something really lovely about taking this symbol of authority and power and using it to show the humanity and vulnerability of people in this place of sanctuary.
Drunk on the Steps
One of the problems of St Mary Magdalene Gardens is that it attracts a lot of drinkers, many harmless, but some out of control and rather alarming if not directly dangerous. On Friday, Per spent at least 20 minutes talking to a guy with a crutch (that I had secretly christened Wuhwah Man) who had turned up on the steps, barely able to say anything other than "wuh" or "wah".
The man insisted on pulling himself up to the glass door at the top, and waving weakly at people who were going in and out of the church to take or run English lessons, to make food parcels, or to run the church office.
It was totally impossible to understand what help he required, he was very beaten up, and had obviously at some point some time ago he had been seriously physically and mentally damaged; but Per kept asking him questions. I was hungry, I was ready to go, but Per was taking his time.
After twenty minutes, I realised the other drunk characters who had tolerated and mostly ignored him and who had been rowing among themselves were quietly listening to the exchange. It transpired that the man was Somali, knew Olso and even spoke some Norwegian. Everyone was surprised, he was actually conversing with the guy. Per's patience and persistence brought a moment of sense where previously none had seemed to exist.
I don't know whether the Somali man finally articulated or got the help he needed, but he was gone later that day, and I have not seen him since.
Matthew Griffiths, "Harmonica" Matt, as he calls himself, resident of Caledonian Road, has contributed to this project in several ways.
He drew an excellent sketch of a man playing harmonica, which was displayed opposite the school.
Aside from his visual art skill, Matt is National Harmonica Champion of Great Britain (Diatonic) with several other awards for his playing. Matthew dressed as a Victorian gentleman and played acoustically for a couple of hours in the park to passers by during the afternoon.
His imposing form moving around the gardens, much as people promenaded 150 years ago, began to bring something quite joyful to the park, as people did the odd double-take. Matthew kept in character and responded to questions with a playful diginity.
It started to feel like a festival.