Walk 8: Sightseeing

On the first day of December and the last workshop of the series, we set out to circle the island.


We were a group of writers, media researchers, advertising execs, teachers, engineers, crossword writers, arts programmers and poets.  Setting out, we were relieved and nervous that we were working with people that all spoke such different strains of a common language. We chatted and introduced ourselves and pointed and nodded and made notes about what we thought we had seen, but when we got back to Spike Island we realised we’d all taken a very different walk. Different moments had spoken to us, out there bobbing along the harbour.

Some saw the arguing lovers, others the steam cranes. Litter. Canoes. Weather. The Dry Dock. Our feet. Overheard conversations. A lost glove. The waves. God’s Garden (No Dogs Please).

god's gardenOthers plotted out our movements as if we were walking through mappable space.  Others took readings of our excavations, seeing how far we could dig through the tarmac.


Popping into MShed, we were able to walk around the world of Google maps for a few moments, only to head back outside and find ourselves checking our route on our phones and looking at print outs of maps and aerial photographs from Bristol City Council’s archives to keep ourselves hovering between planes.

We talked about the function of the walk, about the conversations between us.  And we talked about the writing being a translation of ‘a moment’.  And how this project might be better understood as a chain of translations of all the shared and private moments we moved through in the first hour of the workshop.

Now the project has come to an end, I have started to think about the closing of ‘the moment’, both as a pocket of time or experience and as an action of turning, moving around an axis, whether that movement takes place between looking at a map and trying to overlay that aerial outline onto your horizontal pathway through outbuildings and caravan parks in a tangle of a city or whether that means moving from one language to another, turning one thing into another, one line of sight into two.

cut up

After warming ourselves back up with coffee and mince pies (eagerly welcoming the first of the festive month!), we set about flattening these ‘moments’, writing them out and through each other.  We initially wrote alone and then shared and rewrote, some in partnership. Some participants started to cut and paste new texts using previous participants’ work and all of us decided to structure our pieces around the perspex sightseeing guide (pictured above) which variously declares:






Then, the thrilling task of miniaturising the poems on plastic to compose a collection of pocketable sightseeing guides to disperse across the city.  Here are some of the final pieces:


you are here steps god's garden boatholespalimpsestbooklet

Walk 7

19492012This is the Cumberland Basin, where the Floating Harbour is held apart from the tidal waters of the New Cut.  Directly above is 2012, from the air.  2012′s mud and traffic.  Almost the same as 2013, except when we were walking the island last week the tide was out and the Floating Harbour was hosting an intervarsity rowing event and we were viewing it at an angle perpendicular, looking across the flexing waters.  As one of our participants was only two months old, we walked and stopped and drank some tea and ate some chocolate and watched the rowers for a while and returned to Spike Island to write in the warmth of the cafe.  Outside, the water turned.  And time passed.

And we, writing.

And not writing.

There isn’t anything to show for it yet – but this is the way of collaboration.  Sometimes, it takes longer; sometimes it might grow into something else; sometimes this moment we are turning around now might be lost later on.  And it’s best not to plan the ending before it has arrived.

Collaboration is an action performed by more than one on more than one actor’s terms.  It needs dual attention.  It can be an embarrassing airing of a process we normally roll through privately or intuitively or with complete freedom.  Collaboration asks for different levels of care and the requirements for clarity and communication can ask questions of your own work, later on.

Sometimes this process can be halting and full of difficulties.  Sometimes it doesn’t work, but in this process and its failure is something else.  Something curdled, split.

But don’t throw this away.  Let it fester a bit.  Come back to it from time to time.  Even this can be useful.

But when it breaks, when things slow and the tide turns and things get claggy—let it.  The other artist is thinking too.  And living and sleeping and working and caring and paying and breaking.  It is not a case of walking at the pace of the slowest, but moving in time with them from the beginning.  Even if you’re walking in opposite directions, keep pace.

These thoughts were prompted by reading SJ Fowler’s interview on collaboration with The Learned Pig from last week:

For me it is entirely about the process. I do not feel comfortable in any situated objectivity when it comes to the end results, and more than that, quite fundamentally, I’m seeking out these collaborations because of what the process provides me. Which is a mediation of sociality through the creative act, a wholly communal engagement with a normally private process.

Yes.  That’s it, right there.  This interview comes after the recent publication of Fowler’s book, Enemies, which in turn is the product of an innovative, multidisciplinary project in which Fowler has worked with over 150 artists and writers from across the UK.  It is recommended.  Ferociously.

Further into the interview, Fowler wonders about geography’s role in his vast project.  His comments have been particularly useful to my thinking about this project (being regional, being not-London, being site-specific and specifically a channel of water and a slip of land in south-west Bristol).  Speaking on London, Fowler claims that the incredible cost of living, the pressure of work and the “little aperture” of time leftover for art means artists living and working in the capital “work rapidly, roughly, and often. They are freer in collaboration” while outside of London “the energy is lower because it can be [...] and by consequence [regional artists in collaboration] are less prolific, less self-effacing and less adept at collaborating.”  By his own admission, this is “horrific” generalisation.  Of course it is.  But it does prompt a discussion on the frameworks of collaboration, the expectations of partnership and the ‘contract’ between collaborators.  How is, for instance, “adeptness” in collaboration different to or affected by participation and engagement and access to employment?  Fowler’s statement suggests collaborative success is affected positively by the agility and concentration of the activity, and to some extent the stress on time that forcibly distances the maker from the work.

But are we confusing matters by talking about geography?  Those that live outside of London are many and regions outside of London are manifold.  There are countless reasons for the aperture to snap shut, even outside of London.  Enough time / enough money / enough work /enough strength / enough clarity / enough clout / too many commitments / too much ego / too much authority are not mappable things.  Not entirely.

But most importantly, when the aperture is not open, we wait.  That’s OK.  The work can stand it.