Thursday, December 4, 2014

Birder's Paradise Final Phase: Exhibition

The final phase of the Birder's Paradise involved us returning to our 3 main sites to round up the findings and research with an exhibition and various activities and new works in each place.
The exhibition phase on the Spode Factory coincided with an exhibition which we had been invited to contribute to: The Journey's Pathways and Track Plans Exhibition.
It was really fortuitous allowing the work made within the Bider's Paradise Project to reach a much wider audience, and feedback from the visitors to the show was amazingly positive.
We were able to exhibit works from all 3 of our main sites in the show, plus the mobile bird hide was on display throughout the duration of the 3 week exhibition.
 The elements of the show included a map showing our 3 main sites, a moss garden, created from  mosses washed from the Spode Factory Roofs by the rain.
 Andy exhibited his soil drill, made to take soil and ground samples on the sites,
 And a drawing made with the samples.
 I created three photographic collages (one for each site) which incorporated photographs of the 3 sites and a Penguin Book of Birds.
We also created a video, of footage from the 3 sites with a sound piece, based on activity which took place during our time on the sites. One of the real benefits of this project to us as practitioners was that it afforded us time to do some research, this included book based research as well as site exploration, and one book which became very important to us was a book of Staffordshire Birds from the late 1800s which catalogued the birds to be found in the county. It was a fascinating book, which became a real point of comparison for us.
 On one occasion we found ourselves going through the entire book, to see which birds on the list we had seen during our bird watching site visits. I read out the birds on the list, and Andy said Yes if we had seen it, in which case I would read about the sitings from the 1800s and the notes from keen birders, but if we hadn't seen it Andy woud say no, and we would move on.
 An interesting point for us was in relation to the goldfinch, a bird that is abundant in the city these days, the book described the declining numbers at the end of the 1800s and attributed the low numbers to the extreme industrialisation that was going on at the time - leading to a lot of green space being developed, and a decline in the goldfinches natural habitat. Post-industrial stoke is the perfect place for the goldfinch, who enjoy brush plants; things like teasles, which enjoy brownfield sites will grow plentifully, and are one of the goldfinches favourite foods.

In addition to the exhibition, I lead an urban nature tour on the Spode Site. Participants heard about my practice, via an exploration of the plants and flowers growing around the site.
 On the tour I had picked out 10 of Spode's wildflowers, and used each one as a prompt for my art works. At the end of the tour we made a list of plants to be found on the site, with the participants using the wildflower guides to identify some of the other plants that I had not pointed out, exploring the site themselves, and finding a new way to explore urban space.
Our return to Westport Lake was very eventful. The visit was timed to coincide with the school half term, which worked well, as we met lots of families enjoying a walk by the lake.
Our research and explorations at Westport Lake had uncovered the enormous problem they have there with bread being given to the birds, and the bread broom in the lake causing blue algae mentioned in my last post. In response to this we had commissioned sculptor Mally Mallinson to create 'Panem Anser' for us - 'The Bread Bird.'
Bread Bird was on display during the day - and drew a lot of attention. We explained that this was the last remaining Bread Bird in the species, but that the Bread Bird had now gone extinct, as a result of Bread Bird's terrible diet of solely bread - leading it to suffer from Angel Wing, a wing deforming condition caused by a vitamin e deficiency. It was a great tool for speaking to people about the problem of feeding birds bread, and we also gave out a lot of corn as an alternative.
 We had a lot of visits from keen bird watchers, nature lovers, and those just interested in what we were doing. One chap brought his bird watching diary to show us.
We were really pleased to also have a visit from a very keen bird watcher, Phil Charles - who brought his amazing monocular, which was more like a telescope. He visits the Lake regularly and is really keen to share his enthusiasm for birds with others.
 Phil set up the monocular by the lake so that visitors to the Bird Hide could also have a look at a wonderful and rare sight - a great spotted woodpecker that is seen at the lake daily.
Through my binoculars all you could see of the woodpecker was this:
But through Phil's you could see very clearly. Although it was very hard to get a good shot through the lens!
It certainly helped to bring a crowd, and Phil told us about his video works - documenting Staffordshire Birds.
Here is a wonderful video Phil made of another woodpecker.
It was great to meet Phil, another force for nature. Phil was pleased to hear that we have a great vantage point at the back of AirSpace Gallery of the Peregrine Falcoms that nest and rear young each spring and summer - and has arranged to come and visit the Bird Yarden, and make a video of the falcons.
We saw a good number of birds at the lake, but by far the most exciting was the woodpecker!
Our final Birder's Paradise event day was in Hanley Park.
We had discovered the amazing tree audit that was undertaken in the park last year - something that Tom Pine the parks liaison officer was keen to see used. We decided to select 10 of the most amazing trees in the nature reserve area of the park, and create a tree trail.
We contacted an arboretum who have tree plaques on all of their trees, and they agreed to make 10 tree plaques for us, and then we created a brochure.
First thing in the morning we went and installed the tree trail plaques on the ten chosen trees.
 These included Japanese Maple, River Birch and Himalayan Cedar.
Then we got the Bird Hide set up for the day.
For our final event we had an extra birder with us - my sister Kerri Francis was there to help us speak to the public about nature in Hanley Park, and to tell them about the tree trail. People thought it was a great idea, and we hope the guide will be used for a while to come. Printed versions are available from staff in the park, or a downloadable version can be printed from here: Tree Guide.
In total, during the Birder's Paradise project we spoke to around 176 people, and 162 took part in workshops and activities (not including the visitors to the Journey's Exhibition.)
For now the Birder's Paradise Bird Hide is hibernating, but we are thinking about what could happen next with the project and with the Bird Hide. 
As a result of us spending more time in the park, we were able to develop the relationship with The Friends of Hanley Park, and are very pleased to be leading on a project to adopt an area if the nature reserve and work with Let's Make Jam, a modern W.I. group, and workers from Sainsbury's to develop a bee friendly garden.
Here we are on a site visit to discuss plants and a design. We have secured £500 funding from the 1,000 Lives Community Champions Fund, to put towards a workshop and plants to help the project, and are now looking for other funding that can supplement the project. Watch this space...
Birders Paradise would like to say an enormous THANK YOU to Appetite for believing in our project, and funding it to happen through The Kitchen Artists Support Programme.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Birder's Paradise Middle Phase

After Phase One of the Birder's Site visits, came our return phase, where we went back to our 3 main sites and delivered workshops and activities, which would provide opportunities to talk to the public about the sites.
In Hanley Park, a visit from Tom Pine, parks liaison officer was interesting for us, as Tom brought the tree audit he had promised for us to explore. This was a fascinating document and beautiful map, which traced every tree in the park. The audit shows what an amazing collection of trees the park contains - something which we felt needed some attention.
We used the tree audit to identify a wonderful selection of trees, and decided that we would create a tree trail for our final visit to the park.
One of the trees we selected was the beautiful Himalayan Cedar, which has a startling array of cones at this time of year.
We also had lots of other visitors, including college students, the park keeper, and some other interested members of the public.
Carole Ware, Chair of The Friends of Hanley Park stopped by to discuss the idea of a bee friendly garden that we hope to work together on for the future. In the afternoon we were pleased to receive a visit from some of the 'Men In Sheds' group. This is a group of older men who get together regularly in the park to work on shared activities, sometimes gardening, sometimes games or art. They came along and made some bug hotels with us, and explored the caravan, and did a little bit of bird watching. 
At Westport Lake we did our sweetcorn for bread swap.
In fact, it didn't work the way that we had expected, as the people who were feeding bread to the birds tended to avoid us. But we spoke to a lot of people about the problem of feeding bread to birds, and gave out a lot of corn. And quite a few children did us some lovely examples of bread birds to use within our designs.
 They all seemed to be quite bloated.
It was great to spend another day by the lake talking to people about their experiences of birdlife there. 
We were really pleased that Helen Meharg, one of the countryside officers, was able to come and visit us, and see the Birdhide at work.
We were happy to be able to add a few more birds to our list, and though we didn't see them this time ourselves, we were told of sightings of a woodpecker and a kingfisher that very day! Hopefully we will see them ourselves next time.
We returned to the Spode factory as well, with an idea of spending the day in the Spode Rose Garden, auditing the birds there, but also doing some much needed gardening. Unfortunately, on arrival we were told that we couldn't access the garden, due to an asbestos problem in the adjacent building, so we had to set up next to the car park instead.
But our extra visit, to Hanley as part of the Appetite Big Feast weekend was more successful. We set up outside the Potteries Museum and spent time talking to the public about urban birds, and making bug hotels.
We enjoyed hearing the stories of that people wanted to share with us. Some were touching, some interesting and some were even quite gruesome!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Saturday Market Project

I am working on a lovely commission for the wonderful 'Saturday Market Project.' They are an amazing company celebrating, making, good design and products. What they say 'We explore ways to draw new audiences into the making process, led by a belief in experimentation, collaboration, skill-sharing and good design.'
I have been asked to work on a flower pressing kit, which is all about helping people to explore and appreciate Urban Nature. This is so far up my street at the moment, I had hoped to make some new work with the Brownfield Ikebana ideas, and this feels like it is going in the right direction. I have been able to combine a few of the things I have been thinking and working with over the past few years.
My approach has been to consider some of the exploring kits and site excavations I have been doing recently, with the research into the Victorian Language of Flowers. I have looked at a variety of flowers that can be found growing abundantly in cities, but which also have meanings within the Language of Flowers. These have been selected, and then a relevant instruction put together for users of the SMP kit.
I had created 21 plant instructions, which the SMP chose 12 of. I then created drawing to accompany the texts.
Here are some of the drawings and plants that didn't make it.
1.     Ragwort  – I am humble but proud ‘The humble ragwort quietly nods its head in the breeze: it has many kin – is there one that you recognise?’
1.       Coltsfoot – justice shall be done you ‘The law enforcers do their best to keep man in check in the city – but nature on the other hand has its unruly way. Coltsfoot, where found pervades – what else is cocking a snook at the enforcers?’
1.       Thistle – misanthropy ‘The city and nature are at war, locate the plant that shows the most resistance to man’s need to build.’
The Kit is coming along, and will launch at London Design Festival, where I will be leading a tour of Urban Nature Sites, and we will use the field guide to look for clues and uncover secrets in the city.
Details are available here:
The workshop/tour will be on Saturday 20th September from 2.30 - 5pm in Shoreditch.
The guide was really beautifully made by SMP - hand cut paper and hand stitched.
The urban nature tour I did in Shoreditch was really well received. It was quite a funny thing to arrive in Shoreditch in the morning and scope out the area in order to plan a tour for the afternoon! I am more used to leading tours in familiar places.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Birder's Paradise: Stoke-on-Trent

Birder's Paradise: Stoke-on-Trent is now underway. The project which myself and Andrew Branscombe have been working on for some time is now launched, and is going really well.
We had a few hiccups along the way, not least having the mobile bird hide quarantined for a number of months half way through the renovation!

The renovation of the caravan is now complete, and our research and development phase is also complete: we have made our visits and connections, and are now about to begin the public workshop phase of the project, which we are really looking for ward to.
Here is an update on what has happened so far:
We started with our bird hide design - based in an RSPB bird sanctuary, we put together our proposal, which was commissioned by the Appetite Kitchen Programme.
The caravan was like any ordinary family caravan, and needed to be entirely stripped out of all the usual furnishings, windows and other features.
We commissioned GoldPeg and Malarky to do a wonderful paint job on the caravan.
They used our design, and the colours for the paint job were all sourced from the physical environment on one of our planned urban exploration sites: the Spode Factory Site.
Once the paint job was complete the refit of the interior took place. Andy boarded out the caravan with osb and created the recognisable viewing slots, and benches.
We have been collecting books relating to urban nature and birding for some time, for the resource/library area within the bird hide. This is for visitors to the bird hide to use in order to identify species of bird and other creatures on the sites we visit.
Our first outing for Birder's Paradise Stoke was actually outside of the Appetite commission, and an extra visit on top of our main sites for investigation - but it was a really good test of the project, and how the public might respond and work with us.
It was a public workshop for Stoke Pride Festival in Northwood Park.
Whenever we are birders, we have a sort of uniform, to let people know who we are.
We are learning that the intrigue of a transformed caravan immediately acts as a disarming device for talking to the public. But also, everyone has a story about birds and nature in their lives that they want to share with us.
For the Pride event we built a semi-permanent mini beasts hotel, using materials found in the park, plus a few old pallets.
We also worked with the public to help them to make mini-mini beast hotels for them to take home.
People told us about where the beast hotels would be going. 
The next few outings for the caravan have been our exploratory stage: where myself and Andy go to the sites and spend time looking, exploring, identifying species and talking to people who are using the sites.
For each site, we have met with the people who work at or manage the sites. We hope to discover the issues and concerns they may have in providing a home for nature on their site, and hope that in some small way we can work with some of their concerns when it comes to our approach for Birder's Paradise.
At Westport Lake we have been working with Helen Meharg, a countryside officer for the council. She talked to us about the work they are doing on the site, and revealed that one of the major problems is that people dump a lot of white bread in the lake.
This has lead to what is described as an enormous bread bloom under the water in the lake - also contributing to a major algae problem, and in addition, is causing Angel Wing in the geese - a condition which is caused by an unhealthy diet, poor in the vitamin e the birds need, which leads to a splaying out of the wing, and an inability to fly. 
Spending time at the lake we saw many people with bags and bags of bread - despite signs asking people not to feed the birds bread. We are planning our public workshop phase which raises awareness about this particular issue.
First, we will invite people to draw a bread bird: there will be a description to explain: Due to the poor diet of white bread (which lacks the vitamin e needed) Bread Bird is heavy, can't fly or float and is quite bloated, and suffers from indigestion. From the drawings of bread bird, we will choose one to be made into a sculpture for the public exhibition phase. In addition, I hope to show people how to make an origami cup.
The cups will then be filled with corn.
and then I will swap the corn for the bread that people have brought with them, to feed the birds with some of the food stuff that they need.
We have also been in Hanley Park, we met the 'Men in Sheds' group - for Older men with some form of mental health support needs or dementia. They do a lot of work in the park, painting, wildlife support etc. as well as meeting twice a week to socialise in the park. We hope to be able to run a relaxed workshop with them, making mini beast hotels, which it was suggested was something they were hoping to do.
In addition - we have begun to discuss the development of a project with the Friends of Hanley Park, as they have been working to develop a wild/nature trail area in the park for some time, and have been looking for support on that. We are also talking with the W.I. group 'Let's Make Jam' and Sainsburys, as they wish to create a bee friendly garden with us, so the two things fit perfectly. So our work in Hanley Park will be to explore the idea of and design a bee friendly garden.
Our final site is the Spode Factory site, early explorations have made me think I am really keen to look closely at the plants and mosses growing on the site. I have an idea to create a moss garden, from mosses and lichens gathered from the site, but we will see.
The other thing I hope to do is a series of images from the sites which celebrate the people that champion and look after these sites: the series is called Force of Nature and one of those is John Pierce from Westport Lake.
John is a water bailiff, and has been a member of the RSPB since the 50s. He has seen many changes in how we relate to nature - he told us about his early days as a birder - that one of the things everyone did was to collect eggs from nests. When John was about 17 conservationists started to talk about the damage that egg collecting was doing to bird life in the UK, and after that John started to campaign to tell others about it. John has been campaigning and being a champion for wildlife ever since. Lately John has been trying to educate people about the problem of white bread. He told us about one couple who visit the lake daily to feed the birds - he managed to persuade them not to feed white bread anymore - now they feed the birds with brown...he says there is more to be done. John visits the Lake at 6am daily, rain or shine, he learnt to swim here. John brings down corn for the birds, and also feeds other mammals in the area - he says they have 5 foxes, 2 badgers and 9 mink living in the area.