My first day assisting - Sunday 1st April - started at 11.30. The venue was Edible Eastside, a new not-for-profit venture in Birmingham's post-industrial Eastside district, which provides urban space for horticultural use. They call it a "concrete garden". Separate raised beds are available for hire, for the cultivation of whatever produce the hirer may wish to grow, in the heart of an urban centre.
This was the project's opening day and provided the setting for a weeklong durational performance by Eloise Fornieles. 'The Message' comprised mounds of chalk evoking an undulating landscape. On top of the mound stood a wooden crate. Fornieles walked the circle around the mound for 8 hours a day over 7 days, covering 115 miles in the process. Her audience were invited to write a message of hope or fear on a piece of paper, pass it to her and then she would read, then fold and post into a hole in the crate. She did this for a week until the crate was full of messages. At the end of the festival the crate full of messages will be set on fire and as it burns a sculpture housed within the crate will be revealed.
The next event was Graeme Miller's "Track", held in the normally empty "non-space" under Birmingham's spaghetti junction. The space was fantastic, situated alongside a canal, amongst a series of gargantuan monolithic stilits propping up several overhead motorways. The space was normally devoid of human presence, yet this day it was transformed into a specific place housing "the world's slowest most contemplative rollercoaster. Over 100 people trekked to the location on the city's outskits, especially for this singular experience.
This moveable participatory installation throws landscape through 90° and sets it in motion. Face-up and camera-style, participants are moved by their individual ‘grip’ on a slow, smooth journey along a 100 metre length of dolly track and invited to gaze upwards. They undergo a solitary, immersive experience as the landscape is transformed around them. Each "ride" lasted for approximately 15 minutes over its 100 metre course. Track took place over two days in the dramatic underbelly of the city’s Gravelly Hill Interchange. Opened in 1972 and known popularly as Spaghetti Junction, the structure plaits together five different levels of road on 559 columns up to 80 feet high and has become intrinsically associated with Birmingham. Track reveals a bewildering visual and sonic perspective from the landscape below where a ground-level system of local roads, railways, canals, rivers and pipelines make their own intersections.
The final event of the day for me was, Uninvited Guests in association with Lewis Gibson - "Make Better Please"
"Bring us the troubles of the world, this city’s crises and the hope in your hearts. Uninvited Guests are in town. We call on the people to gather with us, to read the day’s newspapers together, to speak and to listen. We will give voice to the concerns of the hour! We will question the powers that be! We will make things better! We will make things better!"
This was a mix of participatory and theatre arts, as small groups of people sat around drinking tea and reading and discussing the week's news, before being allowed the forum to talk about their discussions, moderated by two performers who encouraged the discussions into opinions. The accumulated material formed the heart of the culminative performance.
Each of the events presented their own possibilities and problems for documentation. Shooting conditions were dramatically different in each case - The first event saw bright sunshine which meant trying to control exposures to cover subject and still get detail in the bright background was problematic. The last event was held indoors, in more gloomy artificial light, with the evening's sunshine streaming in through the windows, again providing problems for exposure.
- at the Make Better Please performance we were told that during its prolonged silences, the sound of the shutter would be unwelcome, so we were confined to picture making only during times of noise. There is always a fine line to be trodden by the documenter of performance works in trying to be as invisible as possible, so as not to disrupt the performers and the audience experience.
- we were also told we would not be able to use flash for similar reasons, meaning high iso settings which necessarily affects and restricts the picture making possibilities and eventual look of the pictures.
- we were not allowed within the confines of the performance. We had to shoot from the edges, meaning the use of zoom lenses.
Throughout all the events, I had to bear in mind the purpose of the picture making, i.e. to cover the events as fully as possible and to portray as much of the feel and experience as possible, so as to give a full representation for the viewers to Fierce's blog and for any future use.
This meant taking pictures to:
- create an overview of the performance
- to show audience participation
- to highlight the performer and the work
- to show setting
- to show detail