It’s autumn, and there’s a chill and a busyness in the air. Not that the summer wasn’t busy – it was incredibly so – but there’s a definite sense of activity and transformation afoot. Caleb Parkin and I recently presented our performance #smartcitydampdatacitizenspectaculecture as part of Bristol Biennial. The festival seems to be getting bigger and better every year, with a really interesting international programme and a dedicated commitment to engaging communities and sites around Bristol with unusual and experimental work.
Our spectaculecture was me and Caleb’s artistic response to the Bristol Approach to Citizen Sensing, on which we’ve been lead artists since January 2016. This project sought to find new ways of citizens coming together to design and use sensing technologies to affect social change. In this instance, it was damp in private rented accommodation, and a group of residents, technologists, data scientists, activists and designers have designed and prototyped a system that tenants can use to gather data that can be used against problem landlords or to inform the City Council around housing policy. Caleb and I were given the opportunity to use the At-Bristol planetarium (as part of an initiative called the Data Dome, to develop and present experimental content) to present an artistic response. Of course we jumped at the idea.
The performance was an incredible collage of lecture, video poetry and performance, in what was a kind of portrait of, or perhaps a 360º live essay on, the city of Bristol. We incorporated archival research with filmed footage of launderettes, parks, the Council Chamber and our yard at home. We wove together meditations on civic, domestic and commercial space, with theoretical texts by Debord, Bakhtin, Massey and Perec. And then we tried to play a chaotic game of volleyball across the audience with lots of light up accessories, and I gave everybody a banana. Proper photos and videos to follow, as soon as we get them!
In other interdisciplinary news, I’ve spent quite a lot of this year working on a few projects with researchers at Southampton University. One of these was Protein Pressures, an AHRC Connected Communities project led by Hubbub, an environmental communications charity in London, and Emma Roe, a lecturer in Geography at the University of Southampton. Emma and I worked together on Foodscapes in 2013 and 2014, developing participatory and arts-based research activities to explore issues around food (in)security and an idea of ‘becoming ecological citizen’. You can read more about that in Emma Roe and Michael Buser’s article for Cultural Geographies here. Protein Pressures was a development of this project, and centred around some community food workshops in Hackney, and some public events at Somerset House as part of the Utopia season. It was a really interesting collaboration and bore some valuable outcomes, including deeper knowledge about people’s food practices (especially in relation to animal- and plant-based protein) and the ways in which they consider connects between these and environmental factors (such as climate change and food insecurity). Hubbub have produced an initial report and recipe book linked to the project, which you can see here. Emma and I anticipate on writing something up for an academic context in the new year.
I’ve also been working part time as a Research Fellow in Geography and Environment at Southampton for the past six months, on a couple of projects related to antimicrobial resistance. My role has been involved contributing creative and participatory methods into research projects operating across disciplines – with colleagues from geography, nursing, microbiology, engineering, environmental science and law. Although obviously challenging at times, it’s been deeply inspiring and rewarding, and is an exciting new departure to be taking in life. I’m just entering into a phase of public engagement with a two projects – one around AMR and hand hygiene in hospitals, and another about bathroom cleaning practices and AMR in waste water. Watch this space!