This City’s Centre
A digital triptych for Exeter. Inspired by interviews with city centre residents about the view from their window.
A Public Realm, Cross art form and Social practice project.
It’s the scope and ambition of this project, the technical adventurousness, the collaborative and participatory ethos embedded in its very being that make it such a success. And just as the digital aspect is intrinsic to its narrative and structure, so is the sense of hope – the potential for change, for us to build the city we want, to be who we want to be.
This City’s Centre was a 9 month long project based on interviews with 40 city centre residents about the views from their windows, developed into three digital artworks: 1. Window, a two channel video installation shown at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, 2. Linger, an interactive map to use in Exeter city centre and 3. Here, Now, a performance held in an empty, city centre office space with live webcam streaming from the homes of community participants.
Devised and realised with Exeter based associate artists, college students and participating publics, this dispersed, digital portrait of Exeter used a range of social and participatory art practice, to gently probe the meeting points of public and private space in our city centre. Throughout each part of the project we experienced and shared life in This City’s Centre from new and surprising angles – from the privacy of other people’s homes – through other people’s eyes. Inviting us all to think more deeply about how daily life in this … and any British provincial city, can shape us, provoke us, define us.
Talking with the city - project development
An intelligent way of working with participation across the city, and the way participants have been encompassed by the Blind Ditch team is a model of good practice that I won't forget in a hurry.
We had read Anna Minton’s writing on increasing privatisation in British cities in which she quotes – the more people you know that live within a 10 minute walk of your home, the safer you feel. Our idea was to use art making processes to try and make the city centre of Exeter feel like more of a neighbourhood. Developing out of our previous experience of devising with live video, sound and networked media, we wanted to use digital technology as part of this process, that we hoped would generate conscious, generous and creative connections between people and the places they live – including ourselves as artist residents.
Devising and producing This City’s Centre was an intensive process that involved street interviews and actions, public meetings and discussions, documentary making and guerilla film screenings, devising, rehearsal and work-in-progress sharings in empty shops, visiting 39 Exeter residents in their home, a museum launch, a group map reading event and a live performance. We prototyped and tested a new streaming platform, ran performance making workshops at Exeter College (collaborating with 4 dedicated and talented performing arts students), recorded the cleaning team at Princesshay shopping centre on their morning rounds… and sculpted a lot of cardboard consumer waste.
As strange as it sounds it was a great way to think about my role within the city and how it affects her citizens. I certainly became aware of some ideas that I hadn’t realised before. I also felt a sense of being in the city and through the interview, a greater affinity with than I had.
Our first actions involved gathering volunteers for the video installation.
“Does your view belong in a museum? We are looking for views from terraced houses, student flats, basement apartments, Georgian mansions, homes on hills, next to the bypass, looking over the quay, from behind the football stadium, next to the mosque. Whether you’ve lived in Exeter all your life, or for a few months, we’d love to hear from you.”
The criteria for participation was living within 10 minutes walk of Cathedral Green, a space which seemed to be identified in our research as both the medieval and contemporary centre of the city. It has a contested and invisible history as the former common burial ground and the site of 5th November mass bonfire performances and insurrection. It is currently one of the only spaces in the city centre where people can pause for a while without needing to engage in consumer activity. This initial parameter for participation was quite difficult to set, as Phil Smith pointed out in his introductory text in the 3. Here, Now performance, Exeter could be described as a centreless city and as such is truly post-modern. Also what and where the ‘centre’ and the ‘heart’ of Exeter was, was the question we were asking as a driver for the whole project.
Our original quota for participating city centre residents was 20, but due to an enthusiastic response from fliering, on street recruitment and the 5 Minutes Dreaming intervention, we ended up working with almost double the number.
The interview materials gathered by Volkhardt Müller were distilled by Volkhardt and composer John Drever into a 120 minute installation 1. Window showing at RAMM (Royal Albert Memorial Museum) 23 July – 22 September 2013. The installation shared 3 minutes of of each view… condensed from a 30-45 minute interview. This was accompanied by Private Views and Public Art, a discussion between videographer Volkhardt Müller and Cultural Geographer John Wylie (University of Exeter) held at RAMM, 13 Sept 2013.
By hearing the voices of your neighbours, of people who have walked the same stretch of pavement over and again, just like you, and having their ideas, opinions and thoughts flow into your ears as you contemplate the exact same view that inspired those thoughts, you just might – as I did – feel increasingly connected to the people around you.
Exeter Insider on 2. Linger
With the interactive map 2. Linger, we wanted to make an experience that involved being physically inside the views collected by the project; to offer a more visceral understanding of the views that could be seen from a mediated distance in the museum. We re-combined the interview sound files with invitations to make your own small actions and provocations on the street sites of the city centre window views for both the passersby to engage with, and also as a kind of gift to the people who had participated. These instructions and media files encouraged micro performances that might periodically happen in front of their windows, interrupting the daily flow of Exeter life in unusual ways.
3. Here, Now
genre busting… technically impressive… a thrilling and stimulating experience that continues to provoke contemplation long after the performance has ended.
From our initial call out for installation participants, 7 brave residents volunteered to work with us to make the live performance event. With widely varying experience of technology and video work they were extraordinarily generous with their time, thoughts, and their private domestic space, contributing a really wonderful energy and raft of ideas to the event. We worked together over a 5 month period meeting in person and rehearsing over skype.
We had a weeks residency in the former Oggy Oggy pasty shop in the Guildhall shopping centre in June which formalised some of our structures and approaches and tested audience interactions, texts and choreographies.
I appreciated the sensitivity and complexity of this project and performance, which managed both to represent a city and to acknowledge the limitations of that representation. It made no assumptions about who city dwellers might be and it prompted us to think about the city as we know it and also to consider the possible cities that are all Exeter but as yet unknown to us. It was highly skilled in its execution, bringing together a great production and performance team.
Professor Cathy Turner, University of Exeter
Our final performance event ran over 5 days in St Stephen’s House, Princesshay, the home of the Princesshay management team who gernerously supported us with space, time and resources and were endlessly patient with the increase in unusual noise and traffic in their daily work space. This site specific digital performance used specially designed streaming technologies to connect views of city centre streets from five Exeter homes, with the audience in the city centre venue. Local band The Big V accompanied the live action which mixed spoken word, movement and audience interaction ‘to create a genuinely affecting performance event’ (Exeunt).
This City’s Centre 3. Here, Now took place 17 – 21 September 7pm, in the empty 3rd floor offices of St Stephen’s House, in Princesshay shopping centre, Exeter.
Devised by Blind Ditch members Paula Crutchlow (director), John Drever (sound designer), Volkhardt Müller (scenography & videography), Cat Radford (producer) from an original idea by Volkhardt Müller.
The work was manifested in collaboration with associate artists and contributors: Stavros Didakis, Carla Hayes, Lee Hodges, Lizzie Humber, Tom Matthews, Jane Mason, Natalie McGrath, Philibert Patricot, Jonnie Rowden, David Salas, Phil Smith, Katie Villa, Tony Walker, John Wylie. With many thanks to The Big V, Exeter College Students: Lauren Berry, Leah Burt, Hannah Curwen, Benjamin Commins, and the 40 Exeter residents who shared their views with us.
Funded by Arts Council England, Exeter City Council and Arts & Culture at University of Exeter.
Supported by RAMM, Exeter Phoenix, Unexpected Exeter, Exeter College, I-DAT at University of Plymouth, Guildhall Shopping Centre, Princesshay.
- February 2013 Project launched with a crowd sourced image collection of window views curated in terms of their relation to the distance from Exeter city centre.
- 6pm, 21 March – Public meeting Exeter Phoenix. Find out how to get more involved in This City’s Centre.
- Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd March 2013 5 Minutes Dreaming… a mobile bay window street intervention researching city centre views as part of NOSE
- Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd March 2013 Guerilla screenings – Video edits of a selection of window views were simultaneously screened at the Bikeshed Theatre, The Living Room (Polsloe Rd), Hanger 124 and Off the Hook in Fore St, Exeter Community Centre as part of NOSE
- 1pm, Thursday 6 June 2013 Performance fragments and live views at the Bikedshed Theatre1pm, Thursday 6 June 2013 as part of IGNITE
- 23 July – 22 Sept 2013 Part 1. Window. Video installation at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum.
- 21 Aug 2013 Part 2. Linger. Public map action in Exeter city centre to launch the interactive city walk.
- Screenings 10 Aug weekly until mid September 2013. Micro-documentaries hit the streets/online. A collaboration with David Salas as part of Exeter Phoenix Film Bursary programme.
- 13 September 2013 Private Views and Public Art. A public talk at RAMM about the making of the 1. Window installation with Volkhardt Müller and Professor John Wylie.
- 17-21 September 2013 Part 3. Here, Now. Digital performance in a third floor office space in St Stephen’s House Princesshay as part of UNEXPECTED, Exeter City Council’s Festival of Outdoor Arts.
- 12th & 13th December 2013 Digital Documentaries screening as part of Two Short Nights at Exeter Phoenix.
- 31st January 2015 i-audiences symposium – a presentation on This City’s Centre by Paula Crutchlow as part of a discussion on the effect of communication technologies on the experiences and expectations of theatre audiences. University College Falmouth, Penyrn Campus, 9.30am-1pm