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


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The potting shed at Heligan. An inciting moment

Some years ago I visited the Lost Gardens of Heligan with my partner and daughter.

It was a hot day. We explored, I was intent on seeing the kitchen garden and the cold frames where long ago, warmed by the heat of decomposing horse manure, the gardeners had grown pineapples. I was fascinated by the story of this garden being reclaimed from the past. Being brought, respectfully, back to life.

In my memory I find myself treading ochre gravel in a warm open space ringed with sun warmed and recently restored red brick walls. I feel the sun on my skin. I once worked in a garden and although my responsibilities were few I loved that feeling of being enclosed by the garden walls and the gentle gusts of a dissipating sea breeze.The garden was warm in the radiating heat of wall and gravel, greenhouses against the wall, still bare, in front of me a row of the famous cold frames.

I am always interested in the work done in such places, who dug the gardens, who grew the vegetables, who cut the grass  and cyt the hedges, rather than being much interested in names of plants or Lord and Lady So and So’s roses. Who shovelled the horseshit, who nurtured those cold frames to produce the pineapples. What they must have felt growing that strange thistly fruit so prized by the master. Somewhere I felt an echo of myself, not even identifiable family stories of being in service but something of that. A thought of a former lovers dad,  an old soldier and  proper estate gardener, estranged from his daughter who on his death bed told her his greatest secret. Something of the company of men in growing food, sustaining life.

Close by the walled garden we had walked into a space where once the garden boy kept the fire going and sleeping some of the night fitfully I imagined him fearing a cold grate in the morning. Here too we saw the famous Heligan graffiti, the names scratched in the plaster on the wall of the bothy. The names of the last gardeners.The next time those names appear in the history of the community are on the war memorial. I raged silently about the cruel trick that patriotism, service and loyalty played on that generation of young men. In the company of men, led, wounded, cajoled, comforted and, at some point in that distant long time ago war, killed by their fellow men.

Day time eye candy tv was part of my kaleidoscopic experience in this moment, a documentary about the Gardens, my first hearing of the story of the pineapple and the names in the plaster. More than a tv stunt, in memoriam an ice scuplture of a gardener slowly melts. My chest fills and my throat chokes even as I write this.

So into the cool calm of the potting shed, I had t leave this to last I knew how it would be. A high bench and dusty window out onto the hot reds and yellows of that enclosed garden. Part of the garden but separate from it. Racks of garden tools hanging, silent. Watering cans. Empty. Trays. And stack upon stacks of red clay flower pots. Some in concentric sizes, some lying down in rows like the legs of Flowerpot Men. All clean, intact. Ready. Trowels, rakes, hoes, sickles laid out in order. Tidy. Ready for work. I thought of the men who had gone off to war, leaving the space in order, anticipating their return. But they never did.

I remembered myself in a smaller but not dissimilar shed drinking a glass of Guinness with a slice of fruit cake. Looking out through another dusty cobwebbed window over the garden I worked on, my garden. Savouring the moment of thoughtful solitude. Dd those ld gardeners ever have time to reflect, moments of pride and sense of ownership like that, I wished they did. I wished to share it with them.

In the cool of the potting shed at Heligan I stood awash with experience, the smell of dry earth, a dark floor below the bar of the bench, dust just stirred floating in the shaft of sun light. I thought about each of those tiny red clay pots, I imagined hands filling them, caring from them, bringing life out of them. I wondered what knowledge had been lost with that generation, what stories they could tell. I tried to hear their distant voices and sounds of their work,  but could only hear the tourists and plant enthusiasts milling around outside. I tried to imagine those who might have filled that space during the working day. I stood there in silence. They never came back.

I bore witness. I was calm and thoughtful holding all that past and present in balance. A familiar voice at the half open door calls me, a loving presence beside me and somehow the wave breaks. I could have cried for a generation. The ice sculpture was made from tears of mothers, lovers and comrades and in my minds eye it weeps forever.

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Place and Time

AB digital natives

Struggling towards nailing down a PhD question I am here:

PhD Practice-led research

The earliest recorded expressions of humanity are about presence and place. In a time of enhanced connectivity, physical mobility and apparent dislocation from the land how do we express presence in a place? How do these factors affect perceptions of place? This future facing research is grounded in participatory artwork using both highly localised/physical and networked global/virtual engagement to articulate presence and place.

I am engaged with walking artists and want to work collaboratively using accessible tools, creating transformative experiences. I am making art that is accessible to many and is socially useful. I want to develop my work articulating what it means to be alive at a particular place, seeking to express creatively an understanding of identity in relation to place and time. I am fascinated in the development of pervasive computing and locative media, especially in the way that it is challenging our sense of who we are and where we are in the world. My interest is not so much on the technology, more on the impact it is having as it becomes more ubiquitous. I am developing a practice creating enhanced interpretations of places, performing the landscape, generating a profound, shared, immersive experience of place.

I am supporting the spread of digital media literacy, enabling wider participation in social networks and engagement with social media. I am interested in the intergenerational, insider/outsider communication of knowledge and understanding about place and technology that this will generate. I enjoy the interplay of notions of liveness and presence and I believe that these are key elements in making the work distinctive, meaningful and engaging. I want to make work that tests and explores those experiences

Through my PhD I will develop participatory strategies for effective virtual and physical engagement in such storytelling/memory rich, outdoor celebratory/heritage contexts. I want to make work that addresses the live performative phase and look at how I can combine online networked elements with locative elements to create that profound experience of place.

Freedome on mydoorstepwider

“Eerie! Never walked, not a step, yet now transported alongside those walking”  message in Walking Wiltshire’s White Horses visitors book August 2013