Archive for the ‘Sarah Butler’ Category

I’ll Meet You On The Bridge

August 5, 2010


My role as an In Between writer was to respond to the three other writing residencies both creatively and critically. It’s been a fascinating journey, which started with the idea that writers can play a real role as thinkers, provocateurs, and questioners, and a desire  to find more creative ways to talk about participatory projects – their impact and their issues.

I ended up writing two pieces, both called I’ll Meet You On The Bridge, which you can download from here:

I’ll Meet You On The Bridge_A Story

I’ll Meet You On The Bridge_A Sort Of Essay

The story is my attempt to find a creative fictional response to the rich conversation and debate that surrounded Aoife’s, Yemisi’s and Joe’s residencies. The ‘sort of essay’ is a thinking piece where I’ve used texts from all four of the In Between writers (myself included) to help structure and articulate the key themes and issues that arose throughout the project.

Please download the texts, have a read, and let me know what you think.


The Lure of the Local

April 2, 2010

I’ve just started reading The Lure Of The Local by Lucy Lippard, subtitled Senses of Place in a Multicentred Society. She writes very interestingly about place, landscape and belonging, and mirrors my own thinking about place as something integrally connected with the people who live and operate within it: “A layered location replete with human histories and memories, place has width as well as depth. It is about connections, what surrounds it, what formed it, what happened there, and what will happen there.”

Another thing that relates to In Between’s interest in the role of story is a quote she cites from William Least Heat-Moon. He writes: to American Indians “stories are the communal snaggings of generations, the nets that keep people from free-falling towards pointlessness …. Indians widely believe that the past belongs to everyone, but only the proper storyteller can open it”

Finally, something that really intrigued me about the book, and that relates back to an earlier post I wrote about the idea of books as spatial entities (and that the layout influences the reading and the meaning), is the layout of the pages. There is a solid line, about a sixth of the way down the page. Above the line is a personal narrative about the author’s relationship to a place in Maine that has a particular meaning to her (in 3 columns). Below that is the ‘critical’, ‘academic’ text (in 2 columns). So the two texts exist simultaneously on the same page; except they can’t be read simultaneously. I found myself ignoring the top narrative and focusing on the ‘main’ narrative, then going back to the beginning of the chapter to re-read the ‘second’ narrative. I’m interested to see how the two narratives will ‘speak to’ each other throughout the book.

Mind The Steps!

December 18, 2009

I’m reading One-Way Street by Walter Benjamin. I’m not quite sure what I make of it yet, but I’m intrigued. It’s a series of fragments which talk about a range of things from German politics to the writing process. Each fragment has a title which doesn’t have an obvious relationship to the text beneath, and yet does speak to it in some way. The titles (I think) are pieces of found text from the city: FILLING STATION; MEXICAN EMBASSY; HAIRDRESSER FOR FUSSY WOMEN etc.

There are a couple of bits I wanted to share. The first is a short piece titled MIND THE STEPS! that reads: “Work on a good piece of writing processd on three levels: a musical one, where it is composed, and architectural one, where it is constructed, and finally a textile one where it is woven.” I met Stella Duffy last week and she was talking about this idea of storytelling as weaving. The link between text and textiles is one that’s always intrigued me, and I just loved this bringing together of music, architecture and textiles.

The second piece is earlier on, called CHINESE GOODS. It starts: “No one, nowadays, should stick rigidly to what he or she ‘can’ do. Strength lies in improvisation. The blows that count are all landed with the left.” Which I love, because I feel a lot of what I do is improvisation – working it out as I go along, getting out of my comfort zone.

Later on in this section he writes about the “the force exerted by the country lane” differing according to whether you walk along it (and see how “at every turn it summons up distances, views, clearings and outlooks”) or fly over it (and see it as “simply the unfolding plane”). Interestingly he compares this to the difference between reading and copying out a text, and argues that only by copying it out do we really experience the text; the reader “never gets to know the new prospects of his inner being that the text, that lane through the ever-denser internal jungle, opens up”. Interesting… and I guess to some extent what I’m doing by blogging about the reading I’m doing for this project – by typing out key passages, maybe I’m trying to really get to the bottom of them…

If You Dance

December 18, 2009

If you dance, then we don’t need to talk. It’s easier to understand the movement of feet: left, right, forwards, back, than the jangle of words that trip up my tongue, and stumble against my ear. I can listen to you hoot and I know what you mean. I can watch you smile, and I know what you mean. If you dance, then I can understand.

Spaces between – and joining things up

December 1, 2009

I’ve just finished reading Art and Architecture: a Place Between by Jane Rendell, and wanted to blog about 2 things I found particularly interesting.

The first is Rendell’s ideas about prepositions. She quotes Luce Irigaray who proposes the term ‘I Love to you’ rather than ‘I Love You’ – the preposition ‘to’ creating a ‘space’ in between ‘I’ and ‘you’ and, as Rendell says, suggesting “a new social order of relations between two, where both the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ are related as subjects, rather than as subject and object.”

This got me thinking about the relationship between our writers and their communities, and whether the texts they are creating might act as ‘prepositions’, as spaces in between the writer and the community that open up the opportunity for change, conversation and understanding.

The second thing is for Joe, who’s exploring the idea of walking and writing. Rendell talks about Janet Cardiff’s work (creating bespoke audio walks that allow people to explore and connect to a city in a new way). Rendell discusses how walking can act like narrative does, joining spaces together in a particular sequence and thus creating meaning. She says: “Through the act of walking new connections are made and remade, physically and conceptually, over time and through space. Public concerns and private fantasies, past events and future imaginings, are brought into the here and now, into a relationship that is both sequential and simultaneous. Walking is a way of at once discovering and transforming the city; it is an activity that takes place through the heart and mind as much as through the feet.”



In Between

December 1, 2009

I stand on a bridge made out of paper, stretched between landscapes of words that look the same, but sound different. Home. City. Market. Estate.


I do not know where the middle is; I am not sure if it matters. I do know that if I keep on walking, keep on dancing, from where the bridge starts to where the bridge finishes, and then back again, and then back again, and then back, again, again, again, then something will happen. Maybe the start will become the finish. Maybe it won’t matter anymore.


Estate. Market. City. Home. Different sound but, same the look that words of landscapes between stretched, paper of out made bridge a on stand I.

Emerging Themes

November 19, 2009

Some of our drawings, thinking about the landscapes of our residencies so far

We had a great team meeting on Monday. It was exciting to hear what Aoife, Yem and Joe have been up to, and where everyone is in their thinking about the project. Some really interesting themes are starting to emerge for me:

  • Networks and maps – how projects like this involve creating complex networks of people and information. I’m interested in how we might map these and how the contacts that the writers are making can be passed on to, and maximised by, All Change.
  • Aoife spoke about the challenges of working with a group who have very limited English and the techniques she has used to engage with the women’s stories. This got us talking about translation more broadly – how we translate between different kinds of English as well as between different languages. We started to think about how my role might be one of a translator – between the three projects and the ‘wider’ world.
  • We talked about community, and how that might relate to family and to the city.
  • All of the writers are working in busy ‘noisy’ environments. They are forging relationships and creating work whilst at the same time having to respect their community’s other needs and agendas (work, dancing classes, pool). This links to a residency I did earlier this year on the Central line ( where I was engaging with staff whilst they were working. It’s tough and it takes time. Which got me thinking about the issues inherent in project based funding, which measure out and monetises time before the project starts. How do we create residencies that allow us enough time to engage as meaningfully as we aspire to?
  • Which got us onto the idea of value. How do we ‘sell’ our ideas to the communities we work with? What are their value systems and how do they fit with ours? How do we make strong arguments for the value of art? For the role of the artist in society?
  • Yem talked about ‘a process of interaction and collection’. The concept of collection is interesting to me. In a way I see these 3 residencies as part of a collection, and perhaps my role is as a curator, finding the connections between them, creating a sense of a wider context.
  • Yem is also looking at the idea of story, how it’s structured, how we create it, how we use it to explore big questions in our lives. I’m excited about this, as it chimes with my own interest in the role of story in society.

So much to think about!

Glimpses of future possibilities

October 9, 2009

This is going to be my last post for a month. I’m off to Hawthornden Castle to work on my novel. There’s no internet connection, and I’m interested in how I’ll cope in a world cut off from google! I wanted to write a few more thoughts/comments on Jane Rendell’s Art and Architecture: A Place Between, which I’m really enjoying.

So, 4 things that struck me:

Fishing For Stars, my commission for the Canal Club

Fishing For Stars, my commission for the Canal Club

1. Rendell talks about the issue of time in relation to writing (and reading), and about “allowing the slowness of listening, reading and walking to interrupt the more public and instantaneous moment of looking.” This is an issue I came up against on a recent project, Canal Club, where PublicWorks commissioned me to write a new piece animating a section of the Leeds-Liverpool canal. The biggest problem was getting people to spend the time in the space (a temporary, water-borne structure) reading the piece in order to then respond to it. I’ve blogged about it in more detail on Shaping Places, and there’s an interesting response on the site (you have to sign up to enter, but it only takes a minute).

2. Rendell looks at pieces which either ‘reinsert’ something (eg.marginalised voices) into a place/context and in doing so disrupt that context in order to reveal or question a particular issue. She talks about text quite a lot here, about how marginalised voices, and material traces that have been “written out of history”, then come to replace “existing histories of sites with alternative understandings, transforming present realities and so providing glimpses of future possibilities.”

3. Rendell talks about Mario Petrucci’s Poetry Places project at the Imperial War Museum. His poems were placed next to huge machines of war and Rendell talks about the “atmosphere of disquiet” produced by these tiny texts next to these huge objects. She says: “In reading the poem as well as looking at the exhibit, we are caught up, not only in the visual and tactile properties of an object but also in a narrative space.” I’m really interested in this idea of reading as a spatial practice, as something which involves our physical body as well as our mind, as something affected by the environment in which we read a text.

4. And finally, I was really taken by Rendell’s discussion of a text by Walter Benjamin (which I haven’t read, but want to get hold of) called ‘One Way Street’. He uses the idea of montage, writing 60 sections which play on the juxtaposition between their subtitles (text taken from the city – signs, packages etc.) and the following prose. The subtitles aren’t obviously related to the text underneath “but rather the relation of apparently unconnected thoughts and sentences borrowed from the city itself suggests alternative ways of reading and interpretations that might otherwise be overlooked.” It made me think of Yemisi’s residency in Barking last year ( where he created a collection of texts which work like a montage of ‘real’ and imagined stories. I think there’s something in this that might influence whatever it is that I will write as my response to Yemisi, Joe and Aoife’s residencies as part of In Between. Watch this space!!

A Place Between – some reading

September 29, 2009

Art and Archiecture: A Place BetweenI’ve been reading Art and Architecture: A Place Between, by Jane Rendell, who’s a really interesting professor, based at the Barlett (Faculty of the Built Environment, UCL). She comes from an architecture/public art/ art writing background, and is interested in writing’s relationship to art, place and architecture.

Rendell talks about ‘critical theory’ as work that “provides a chance not only to reflect on existing conditions but also to imagine something different – to transform rather than describe.”  She goes on to describe various art interventions and pieces which set up a critique (of a place, a social situation or norm, etc) and in doing so start to offer suggestions for new ways of doing things. I am very taken with this notion, that through critique we can transform rather than just talk about what other people are doing.

The introduction charts the history of spatial theory since the 60s and highlights a point in the early 90s when “identity and place became central to discussions of space”. I think this connection between identity and space will be a very relevant one for the In Between project.

I’m wary of making this post too long, but I wanted to quote one piece (and then tell you about an arts piece that really appealed to me).

Roni Horn’s Another Water is a book of images of the surface of water, interspersed with technical accounts of deaths on the Thames, and footnotes which are descriptions in the 1st person by Horn. The project was part of a series of commissions for the River Thames. Talking about it, Rendell says: “Like the Internet, books are public sites accessible to diverse audiences, but not usually regarded as ‘physical’ locations. However, it is important to recognise that these kinds of sites have specific formal limits and material qualities, for example the size and layout of words on a page, and that ‘surfing the net’ as well as reading a book. Horn’s work points towards how different texts, from the empirical account constructed through careful and systematic research to the more poetic reverie, can, by drawing attention to the spatial ways in which we read images and words, main texts and footnotes, produce critical spaces through the act of reading, asking us to question the relation of fact to fiction in the writing of a cultural history of a place.”
I haven’t quite processed this yet, but I’m interested in the connection between text and space, and the idea of reading as a spatial activity.

Finally, a lovely piece by Adam Chodzko called Better Scenery (2000) (you can have a look here). Chodzko installed 2 signs, one in the car park of the 02 shopping centre on Finchley Road, the other in the Arizona desert. Each sign described how to get to the other sign. Both sets of directions ended with the text: “Situated here, in this place, is a sign which describes the location of this sign you have just finished reading.” Rendell uses it to discuss a critique of the idea of ‘off-site’ gallery work, but the thing that grabbed me, was the choice of language and detail used to describe the journey to each sign: “At this point stop and face due east (visible on the horizon are the Roden Crater and the glow of pink rocks in the Painted Desert)” and how this sets up a relationship between two distant spaces and brings one space into the other.

My First Visit to Whitecross Street Market

September 21, 2009

I visited Whitecross Street market with Joe this morning. It was a lot quieter than it gets on a Thursday and a Friday, but that meant we got to chat to a couple of stall holders without getting in their way too much.

A couple of things that have struck me:

  • There seems to be a very strong community in the market – people know each other, and make the effort to do so. They’ve recently set up a market association so that they can deal with the council etc. as a group.
  • Stall holders have responded very positively to Joe and to his suggestions that they write poems to accompany their images. The two we saw said they’re still thinking about theirs, both said they were planning to enlist their wife’s help! It will be really interesting to see whether they do write something.
  • I think some of this good will comes from the recognition or hope that this project will in some way raise the profile of the market and their stalls and therefore increase business.
  • Whitecross Market has changed dramatically in the last few years, it would be interesting to know how people perceive its future, and how much power they feel they have to influence that .

I love Joe’s idea of creating a ‘prompt sheet’ every week as an unintimidating way to facilitate involvement. I think these things have a ‘drip drip’ effect and look forward to seeing how things build up over the next couple of months. After my recent residency on the Central line ,which aimed to engage with London Underground staff, I totally appreciate the problems that arise when you’re trying to negotiate people’s work schedules.

I also like the way that Joe is creating spaces for stall holders to author their own pieces about themselves. He wants them to have ownership and authorship of those pieces, rather than interviewing people and writing something for them. At the same time he is opening up a space for himself to write his own work, exploring the market as its own entity, drawing on its atmosphere and nature, and also looking at writing a fiction exploring that space, which doesn’t feel tied down to ‘representing’ real people.

‘Markets are fickle things’ one stall holder said to us. ‘They can be here one day and gone the next’ – this sense of impermanence, of a temporary space, really intrigues me.

I am still trying to work out the best way for me to explore the impact of Joe’s work, without falling into a world of questionnaires! I am planning to return to the market in November, on a busy day, and talk to some of the customers about their perceptions of the place and the stall holders. I’m also going to try to set up some interviews with one or two of the stall holders Joe will be working with over the next month or so, to get an idea of their experience of the project. I’m looking forward to exploring more, and eating some of that delicious smelling food!