Exhaustion & Exuberance

Exhaustion & Exuberance

At the beginning of September the Institute were invited to take part in a one day event at Eastside Projects in Birmingham as part of their Extra Special People associate program. The title of the event drew it's name from an essay by Jan Verwoert. The stated aim of the event was to...

"...bring innovative artists and groups to Eastside Projects with the invitation to share knowledge and exchange ideas about notions of success and survival. When precarious living has become the norm, the day aims to initiate conversation and debate that mines the past and present, for possible solutions and resilient models for art production and dissemination in the 21st century." - taken from weareastside.com

Our invitation was not to come and speak or present existing work but to respond to the issues being discussed throughout the day however we saw fit and to reflect on the theme's of Vowoerts text within our current cultural, political, social climate within the gallery. We decided to use this opportunity to test out an idea we have been discussing for some time that seemed pertinent to the themes of the day. Namely to try and construct an authentic urban bivouac.

a bivouac structure found in Rufford Park forest recently

A bivouac is an adhoc, temporary survival shelter made out of available materials in ones surrounding environment. we thought it would be interesting to try and think about the contemporary notion of survival and what we consider essential for our survival both physically, and, in relation to the theme of the event, professionally.

We started the day with a walk around Digbeth to scavenge source materials from the area surrounding Eastsite Projects. Although a gamble as to whether we would be able to find sufficient material to build our structure we found this urban foraging an interesting part of the day, ratjer tjam expromg urban space as a consumer or with a particular destination you are forced to view your surroundings for their potential to be something else. Asking yourself what is private property and what is a building material?

We also found structural inspiration in the form of this platform at the top of a fire escape. We thought that shelter, a place to hide from the world, is very useful but just as essential to your professional environment is a sense of connection with a wider environment and a bit of perspective on your position within it.

We managed to locate a substantial amount of building materials in the short scavenging time we had given ourselves and returned to the gallery to work out how we would build a structure from what we had found and the few basic materials and tools we had brought with us which included a couple of lengths of rope, a few emergency foil blankets, panel pins, a hammer, a saw, and a knife. As we were at a disadvantage to rural bivouac builders in not being able to dig up the floor or cut into trees we opted for a corner which included a pillar and a nearby wall we could use as support for the structure. We experimented with a number of designs including a center column design before opting for a classic triangular tent design which we held together using rope and the crook's in the branches we had found.

We then clad this skeletal structure with emergency blankets which we had brought with us. We felt these, although not scavenged, would be a suitable material for an urban bivouac, as not only are they light weight, portable and water proof they also provided additional shelter that would be essential for an itinerant arts professional as they created a Faraday Cage inside the structure which cut off all wireless signals such as mobile phone and wireless internet connections. It also, unexpectedly, acted as a one way window, as you could see out through the blankets at the world around you, but no one could see in.

The final results were a very adhoc structure that created a very distinctive divide between personal and professional or public life. In the car on the way home we reflected on the Voewort text, which we had hardly had time to think of during the day of construction, and realised that the structure we had built offered us a useful way of thinking about the text in a practical sense. Although we aren't going to go out and start living in bivouacs, at least not full time we have thought again about the way we organise our own working space and the things it encourages us to do and how this impacts on the way we work. Perhaps sometimes a studio isn't the best place to be when developing work as this is also the same space we sit in when checking emails, drinking tea, and writing blog posts. Perhaps a space that cuts us off from our digital profiles is more useful when attempting to concentrate.

With this in mind we went on a walk last weekend with no particular destination but as a means of both exploring our surroundings as we had in Birmingham but also giving ourselves the space without unhelpful distractions in which to talk about the projects we are developing. It proved really useful and not as frustrating as we might have expected to not have the internet of answers at our fingertips. It prevented discussion from getting bogged down in details.

The Urban Bivouac project is something that continues to interest us and I am sure will be one that will re-emerge in the not too distant future. However we will need to develop it further before it will stand on it's own four branches.

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