Choosing a tool
Our first task was to choose a observational tool (film, audio, camera, bag…) I chose a pencil and paper and tried to find unusual uses for them: a viewfinder, a model of what I thought the market might be like, a bag.
Our field trip began in a church with a talk by Dutch artist Yeb Weirsma during which she shared an astonishing range of resources and ideas on the topic of observation, including a gem of a film, the Girl Chewing Gum, which emphasised the power of the observer to shape narrative.
We had a stunning intermezzo outside the home of Sam Lee who sang Goodbye My Darling, the video of which was recorded in part at Ridley Road market. The song is about transportation to Australia and US. Sam accompanied himself on a Sruthi (taken by British to India, adapted, brought back to England, used by Gypsies with Indian origins who created the song). The last section of the song was done using ‘overtone’ in which the harmonics internal to all voices are exposed. A rich rhythmic, growling, humming sound; overlaid by a light clear tune; both in different patterns. The whole experience included an element of observer/observed as we watched/listened to him singing about the lives of others.
We then moved the market, where we experimented individually with various observational strategies (still and moving, detached and engaged) and tools. With my paper I tried to model the relative heights of the buildings, capture the movements and postures of the people and equipment that moved through the market, sounds, dialogue, stacks of similar items and building profiles.
Other members of my hub used a disposable camera, a video camera, and an audio recorder to capture the market.
Analysis, contextualisation, narrative
Back at the studio, our task was to pool and experiment with our findings in small groups to try to establish a narrative. We experimented with grouping photos by theme, and attaching overheard audio snippets to images.
Looking back at the sounds, images and experiences we had collected we were drawn to the fact that many people in the market, and in London, have moved here from elsewhere.
This lead us to explore sociological ideas of individuality, community and urbanism.
Our attention focused on the fact that moving to the city can make you anonymous, part of the landscape, and your daily interactions can become shallower. We explored that theme in three stages.
When we leave, we feel excited but nervous. We captured this in sound by combining (with his permission) Sam Lee’s spontaneous live rendition of ‘Goodbye My Darling’ with multi-lingual versions of the phrase ‘I’m excited to move to the city, but nervous because I don’t know anyone’.
When we arrive we feel anonymous and lonely, but determined. We captured this in a set of stamps and postcards.
If we want to settle, we need to become better connected. We experimented with ways of improving urban interactions. We realised we cannot control communications between others. We can only improve our own communications and encourage others to do the same. So we created and tested a set of ‘social currencies’ which might be used to deepen social relations (for example, stickers which can be personalised and added to tips).
Bec’s currency was the most successful, including an element of interactivity: perforations allow it to be divided in two at the end of a meeting, forming messages that are indecipherable unless and until the two halves are reunited, a physical reminder of interdependence.
Each element of this final narrative was published on site at Ridley Road. We also produced a document summarising the development of our project and distributed it onsite and online.
All of the responses to the project brief, together with critical reviews of those projects, can be found on the course blog.