Richard White

explorations in place and time

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Gravity Fields/In Newtons Footsteps commentary

Project website: In Newtons Footsteps
Part of Gravity Fields festival 2014

Collaboration with Ali Pretty: walking and residency as part of the Gravity Fields festival 2014

What worked:

Support/logistics: the support we received from Gravity Fields was flawless, detailed and timely. Ameneh understood what we were about and communicated the needs of the festival to create an excellent compromise.

Long term developing engagement Feb to September successfully built relationships with a range of different groups and individuals, trust and respect established perhaps best expressed in the lowering of St Georges flag on top of Colsterworth church and its replacement by the flag co-created by Ali and people from the community including the vicar.

The residency at Grantham Museum, although not well attended those who came got and gave great value. It gave the project a home and a physical base before the walks, as a final destination for the inaugural walk and I hope will continue to host the banners and media for some time to come. All those who came to the residency workshops made a huge contribution, building a real sense of local ownership of it. This spilled across into the social media which in turn surfaced as installation text, sound and image. A beautiful expression of this was one participant meeting the walk on day 2 as it came into Grantham, with her disabled mother. She to show her mother what she had been working on. Hugely proud not only of the flag she had contributed to, but also her new achievements using social media she said to me “ I have been following you all the way on twitter”

The walks and especially the inaugural walks, greetings at each of the stops worked well as minor interventions, the presence of Jack Klaff as Newton on walk 1 and the contribution from map man John Manterfield took the walk experience to a different level. Jack’s performance gave the section of the walk an enjoyable surreality and John’s detailed local knowledge revealed deep and fascinating perspectives on the landscape and the people who lived in it and shaped it. From the ancient salters track which we crossed to the traces of impact of the closures John shared something of the lives that had been lived before us.

Mission Control: Paul Wilson’s contribution on both the recce walks and the inaugural walks in the Festival was tremendous. The twitter feed was hot and lively, the apple tree string perhaps being the strongest generating uploads to the flickr feed. Tweets were disseminated within minutes of posting to a very wide audience. Social Hiking and Viewranger took up the walks favoriting them and in turn generating further interest. Live contribution from the walking experts and the prerecorded inserts were all well received. On the day2 walk from Colsterworth the media attention generated gave the physical walk the performative dimension that I was hoping to achieve. With retweets and facebook shares continuing 3 days after the walk and a images still being added t the flickr stream I believe we can lay some claim to have extended the present for a performative walk.

Social media networks twitter and flickr were successful, the social media trail was successfully captured by Viewranger and Social Hiking. Social Hiking linking up with multiple user contributions. For those following online these provided a media rich experience.

What didn’t

Completion. Day 1 finished with the celebratory raising of a flag on top of Colsterworth church, consequent flurry of social media and warm farewells to walkers, two of whom joined on day 2. The end of Day2 and effectively the end of the project was scrappy. The potential of some kind of wrap up at the Museum was lost and people dispersed…including one couple who had left the walk mid afternoon and rejoined us refreshed and clearly hoping for some sort of closure event. Lots of emotional energy and powerful sense of achievement was dissipated. We had created and nurtured some important relationships and experiences there did not seem to be a way to complete and hand that on.

Equality in co-creation. As a performative walk this was both Ali’s work and mine with a massive contribution from a range of other people. Credit for that and orientation to it was well expressed in the Festival programme but not in the live presentations and introductions. Ali’s work represented in the visual presence of the flags is self evident, my work is less tangible but no less creative effort goes into it. As an artist and as custodian of others social media contributions I felt that my work was not appropriately acknowledged. My work did provide a lot of below the line promotional benefits and I access much marketing know-how but it was not a social media marketing campaign and it felt diminished to be described as such.

‘not my job guv’ much of the creative work and development work relied on individuals, whilst this was successfully transitioned to the institution at Woolsthorpe (NT) and Colsterworth(church), at the Museum and within the local authority this was less successfully done. Many left hands not knowing what the many right hands were doing. We were relatively minor players but there was a lack of stewarding on arrival in Grantham and parading through the town. At its worst staff and volunteers at the Museum did not really engage with the residency or the installation and on arrival appeared to have made no effort to get the computer driven element functioning. In the residency neither staff or volunteers took part in the workshops and thus had no idea or engagement in what was being created. In Jim’s absence no one was taking responsibility for the project, on arrival it looked as if the Museum was closed.

Online presence: the split between those controlling posting content to facebook and the three websites was frustrating as was the slow response from the Museum. From the Museum retweets happened infrequently. Delays in getting a common set of accurate information, times and contacts to the web and from Eventbrite. In Newtons Footsteps was effectively a blog and interesting/useful content got buried as the site was updated. The Facebook page was updated belatedly and missed much. Some of this was resolved live but we could have done it better, I did not establish the lines of communication going to each platform or get email contact details for prospective walkers so that I could brief them in advance. Stakeholder organisations and individuals did not seem to grasp the value of creative commons licensed Flickr content and continued to post images to Facebook only.

The media installation: For me the lack of closure at the end of Day 2 was further tinged with sadness to find that the media installation in the Museum was not working. The presence of my creative work and the representation of others creative efforts was considerably diminished by this. I had given up £500 of my fee in order to fund this.

What I learned/what to do next

  • Long term deep engagement works, builds relationships with a wider range of people and stakeholders
  • Physical base works, important that it relates directly to the walking activity..on the route or at the end of it…
  • Closure/Completion/wrap up activity is essential…to close and hand over and say thankyou
  • Social media/social networks work but more training, familiarization seems to be needed especially regarding making the connections to walking and active contribution.
  • Mission Control concept works, needs to be proactive across all platforms in use and live when the project is live
  • Reporting/installation element needs further development and contract compliance work. It’s a physical expression of the legacy. Possible exploration of a single aggregating online/offline platform.
  • Further clearer assertive articulation of my creative practice is needed.

Richard White 30/9/14