Thursday, August 26, 2010

Window Audit - Nearly done...

Been stitching the West Bromwich buildings together, and will then colour code them according to the business type, to see whether the assumptions made by various people that West Bromwich high street has only pound shops, charity shops, phone shops and empty shops, is really true...

So here above is the colour coded version, it is plain to see that there are only 2 empty shops (in yellow) quite a few pound/discount shops in green, pawn and betting shops in pink, and charity shops in blue.
The remaining shops which are left uncoloured are mainly chains like WHSmith, New Look etc.
I have just finished the text drawing - it seems much longer than the other one. Also for some reason the colour coding is really light - not sure why. There are a lot more empty shops on that side of the road - I think that is because of the market stands - you can't really see the shop frontages, which is a real problem on the Queens square side there are just two empty properties, but on the Kings Square side there are eight and a half.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Second West Brom Interrogation Recce

This year's interrogation may be much more challenging in many ways for the artists undertaking the missions.
Although last year our target zone was within the public realm, the space which was being interrogated was purposefully directly outside of the New Art Gallery Walsall, and therefore in many ways was immediately identifiable as an art space. We were outside, but in many ways we were protected by the shadow of the building.
This year we will be working in a very public public space. We will not be affiliated to an art space (though of course there is one in West Brom - The Public) and our investigations will actually be taking place on the high street. In addition to this the High Street in question seems to be in great need of an intervention. There are regen programs underway in the town, and it will be interesting for the project to in some way consider how the changes are going, and to speak to the public about the Town, what it used to be like, what it's like now, and what might help to make it better.On our last visit we walked around the target zone with a golf-sale-style sign, saying Interrogation: West Bromwich - Coming soon to a high street near you, and wearing our uniforms. We just walked around and handed out flyers, and conversations with the public did not really get going.We decided today to try to measure the public reaction to us - and thought the best way to do that would be by measuring the clock tower at the end of the high street, and see how people might respond.We walked from the Multistory offices, giving out flyers on the way. Agent Orange commented that he felt the atmosphere today was less 'baffled curiosity' (as it was last time and a little bit more antagonistic. We did have some calls of Naziism! and 'What the f*%! are you doing?' which were met with a smile and the offer of a postcard explaining a bit about the project.One man refused the postcard I offered him saying 'No way, I hate anything to do with the French'. We had some extended conversations regarding the safe and no-go areas of West Brom from a friendly bloke called Candy (a self proclaimed local music star). He told us that the market part of the high street is safe, that wearing the uniforms here and carrying out the project is fine in daytime, but that if we go up towards the bus station direction and beyond that it is dangerous - that someone was shot outside the chicken shop, lots of times, and now no one hangs around there at night - that we should avoid that area after 7pm, and that Caucasians hang out there, but they are on drugs and are dangerous. He said that if you go in the opposite direction (towards the Fox and Hounds and beyond) that it is more cosmopolitan (as it is towards the big city -Birmingham) but that it too could be dangerous - people might look at our moustaches and assume we are undercover policemen and that might be bad news for us. He said all of this several times, and in all seriousness. He told us that we should not get our cameras out down there and someone would try to steal our sign.
We met two blokes who had grown up in West Brom and had gone to the grammar school in the 50's and 60's. One of them had become a lawyer and one a doctor, and now lived elsewhere, they said they hadn't been back for a long time, and hadn't seen the high street for decades - they said they were shocked and that it felt like Baghdad. They said they were quite shocked at the decline, and showed me a journal they were referring to called the Throstle's Chronicle - a booklet about how things in the area have changed. It looked really interesting.
We met another guy who said that the town today is 'SHIT!' and that this is because of all the foreigners who come over and steal all our jobs, and that West Bromwich is full of foreigners who and none of them work.Another man asked us where we were from, and we told him Stoke, he told us that there are loads of racist people in Stoke, but that it is not like that in West Bromwich - he said people aren't racist - but people don't like those that do not contribute.
We had another look at the space in Queens Square, and had to explain ourselves to the security guard.
One of the differences this year in my role is that I will be focusing more on evaluating the project. I am currently working on ways to engage the public in the Interrogation programme, asking their opinion and gathering their comments. I have decided to do a different mini evaluation each week - using different participatory appraisal techniques each time. This is something we are pleased to implement this year, as we were unable to gather the public's response last time. It will also mean that my role will be to act as a bit of a gateway between the public and the agent artists - acting as someone to ask about the project. This seems even more important this year, in particular in relation to the earlier point about the 'relatively unprotected' context which we will be working within.
The first Interrogation Mission takes place in 3 weeks time, which is very exciting, but of course nervewracking at the same time. We return to the town in two weeks to start setting up the Interrogation Room, and to carry out another mini intervention. We hope that by the time the first mission starts the idea of moustachio'd agents might be in some people's minds - and may mean the public might be a bit more willing to engage with the artists.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Paris Correspondence School Stage 2

Yesterday I finally got my Paris Correspondence School Postcards in the Post. Click here for previous post about this project.
The postcards went all the way from Stoke, to Shell Island and Back and then up to Yorkshire where they were finally posted (well somewhere on the way back anyway.)

I decided to focus on this aspect of postcards when making my changes to the originals. The way that when you go on holiday you might send people a postcard home, but the place is generally not that fascinating for the recipient, if the postcards gets there at all - or it might be that you buy the postcards but never get around to sending them, I have done that a number of times.
I had meant to make changes to the originals while on holiday, camping in North Wales, but the weather (rain and wind) somehow was not conducive to such an activity, so I ended up bringing them back to Stoke again. I wanted to talk about this somehow, and also about holidays being an escape from the everyday.

I decided to doctor the postcards by putting 'headlines' from the local Stokie paper on the cards, and a message about my failures on holiday, and then send the cards back to their original designers.

They then went in the post, and I look forward to hearing from anyone who receives their card over the next few days.

Meanwhile, I have now received 7 postcards from strangers, and am rather enjoying them coming. I have also persuaded artists Andrew Branscombe, Michael Branthwaite, Glen Stoker and Bernard Charnley to join the project by sending postcards to Charlie Levine (project initiator) at her Paris address.

They will eventually end up in two exhibitions in London and Birmingham.

I rather enjoy doing mini-projects like this. Fun, engaging, and a way of connecting with others.

Interrogation: West Brom Recce

Interrogation: West Bromwich starts early next month, so we are really busy getting things in place for it. A couple of Wednesday’s ago Agent Orange and I headed over to West Bromwich High Street in order to take a look at our new HQ, and to see how the good people of West Bromwich might respond to an influx of moustachio’d artists.

We had a look at the empty shop unit which we have been lucky enough to get for our HQ(Unit 26 – Community Arts Space; next to BOOTS, Queens Square Shopping Centre, West Bromwich, B70 7NJ) and measured up for the window vinyl and other print matter we are going to need.

We put some posters up in the window to start to build a bit of interest.

We made some signs and put on our disguises, and then made our way to the High Street to give out flyers. We intend to do this every couple of Wednesdays in the lead up to the first Interrogation (8th September) in order to get people used to seeing us. We had an interesting and very varied response, this went from surprise, vague interest, all the way through to disgust. Some people wanted to ask what we were doing, while others stood and stared, and when we approached either smiled and took the flyer, or hurried away.

We are due back in West Bromwich tomorrow for another visit, and it will be interesting to see if the response this time is any more positive.

The programme this year is going to be a little different; for example, I am going to be concentrating more on the evaluation side of things - engaging the public in debate on how they feel about artists working in public space in this way, and trying to measure how successful projects like this are in bridging gaps (physical gaps in spaces created by the regeneration process, gaps in infrastructure and gaps in the public's mind).

We also have some really exciting invited specialist artists who have been invited onto the programme to work with the Agent Artists. Their role will be to aid the Agent Artists on their mission day - giving an insight into their own practice (via a short presentation at the beginning of the day) and then helping the Agent Artists to develop their ideas, and carry them out within the public space.

Each Mission day has a different Specialist Artist, and they will also be there on the conference day to give a presentation too.

Mission One is Action Research and we have artist Michael Pinsky working with us.

Mission Two is Participation and we have artist Ania Bas working with us.

Mission Three is Site Specific and this time we have artist Rich White with us.

Mission Four is Intervention and we have Juneau Projects working with us.

We are really excited about having these fantastic artists on board, and feel sure that their input, and also the quality of the Agent Artists that we have on board are going to make Interrogation: West Bromwich a roaring success.

Interrogation Conference: Artists Bridging Gaps.

If you would like to book a place at the conference then please email: