Tipping Point

Angela Mhlanga reflects on her Nest Residency.

Have you ever thought about the concept of ‘throwing away’? Neither had I, until I had a very interesting Google chat with Dominic of Ludic Rooms (a company based right here in Coventry). The gist of the conversation came from this concept of ‘throwing away’? What does this even mean? Where does all this stuff go? Stuff just moving from one to place to another. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, ‘all things on earth only exist in different stages of becoming garbage’. I pondered this on one of my now regular walks along Coventry’s Canal path. I had not long discovered the small minority in the city who ‘magnet fish’ in the murky waters. What on earth is that, you may ask? I indeed had the same question. The man made canal, built for the purpose of transporting/exchanging goods from county to county and once functioning as an additional life line to the city, has now become somewhat of a dumping ground of antiques and lost treasures but for the most part, a passing place of plastic and takeaway boxes. This bothers, but the silver lining is Coventry’s up and coming rise and it’ll be interesting to witness the Canal’s placement in all these developments.

Having these interesting and dynamic conversations with Dominic about Coventry’s relationship with water formed a unique focal point to explore – as for the most part Coventry is pretty much land locked.

On a not so particular day, I walked out of my front door and realized that I just about walked every direction out from my front door. I then remembered the entry to the canal – bridge number five to be specific. Off I went and set off for a new adventure. It was around about midday that I realized everybody and their mother was outside using their government issued hour – so it was not so much of the solitary walk I’d envisioned, but on that given day that’s exactly what I needed. Like a radio frequency all the bars within me had gone from red then slowly orange/yellow and just like that, green. The spring in my step restored as I gazed upon the boats, whistling with birds, dodging fast paced cyclists in balletic pirouettes as if living some sort of alternate musical reality.

The feeling didn’t last too long as I approached the long and dimly lit tunnel towards Gallagher – did I mention it was long? The solitude I’d initially hoped for somehow became very apparent. Then I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and kept moving. I began to think back about how I discovered the Canal, it was about two years after we’d moved to the city. It’s an easy miss but there’s a life force of its own that runs underneath the city. Back then the waters were clean-ish (well there wasn’t as much rubbish everywhere). Though this first walk was initially relaxing but the rubbish was always drifting in the corner of my mind.

A few months later, my sister and I took a walk in the opposite direction on a sunny day. The clear blue sky reflecting in the man-made waters, ducks in a row flowing in a steady stream and somehow coinciding with the piles of takeaway boxes, plastic bottles, foil paper and blue off licence bags.

One object in particular called out to me the most and I thought it’d be really interesting to explore the Canal for my Talking Birds residency. Particularly the scattered blue bags from off licence shops and Coventry market that have somehow found their way to waters. Blue in association with water usually represents serenity but the murky waters of the Canal were anything but, as the blue drifting around posed a looming threat for all the natural creatures trying to cohabit with the trash in this space.

Walking along and also noticing the reflections and shadows cast in the water inspired me to further explore the Canal’s essence.

Though scenic for the most part and providing a sense of ease and solace with a gentle movement of current, every so often that is disturbed by litter. Beer bottles, takeaway boxes and strikingly blue off- licence plastic bags (which I found particularly interesting as blue is Coventry’s color and often associated with water.) I explored this further – particularly in how the nature of the canal has adapted to this.

The materials used to create the puppet were a blue off licence bags with a plastic water bottle (magnet) fished from the water to create the bodice, synched in with the cuff of a Culture Coventry uniform.

I then painted a background of hues on foil paper that feature a silhouetted crowd representative of the people of Coventry.

To add to the final layer of the piece- I used a blue marker to draw some of what Coventry is best known for, for example-: the statue of Frank Whittle, the logo for Coventry FC, Lady Godiva’s statue and an Outline of the Coventry Cathedral.

It was crucial to use materials that would cope with being submerged and not affected by the water- much like the litter found in the Canal.

Final projections

Filmed with a highlighted plastic bottle lens cap to create a filtered effect whilst in a way symbolically filtering Canal waters and revealing the beauty of the city. I hope to further explore this project with the help of the amazing Talking Birds company with the first flight residency and collaborating with Ludic Rooms. My aim is to help clean the canal, magnet fish and create sculptures from what I find in the water and rebuild the art trail. Time to to unclog our cities vessel and clean up the Canal!

“There is just wonder right in front of us, and we don’t spend enough time thinking about it.” — Michael Pollan

My artistic practice heavily involves the exploration of shadows, reflections and silhouettes. I’ve always been draw to these elements because that is the only way we can physically view ourselves. On a bright sunny day your shadowed figure mirrors your movements in synchronicity and is always right behind you. When you look at yourself in the mirror it is merely a reflection of you but somehow we’ve become accustomed to how we view ourselves this way.

As Coventry is formed of different energies, cultures and communities – I began to view the city more like a body and how the canal is a vessel. I began to value its importance and need for it. Spending a lot time around the canal has made me become consciously aware of its unconscious clogging. The level of plastic is suffocating to the environment. To detail my process: I knew I was searching for a solution and there were all these pieces of the puzzle hovering in the air, waiting to be put together. The canal is forgotten. The Art trail is abandoned. Almost as if the pieces of it were drowned in the water.

On a now regular walk along the canal path- I took my scooper and reusable bag and began my first round of magnet fishing. I picked up a lot of treasure – a blue off license bag, a plastic water bottle, foil paper, cling film and many other items but these in particular are the ones I decided to use.

Initially I had aimed to show reflections of the canal on iconic structures in Coventry (and I still might) in hopes of commenting on how, as ‘the body’ of Coventry, we view the city. I then came up with the idea of drawing iconic landmarks and statues of Coventry on cling film as I’d seen a lot of its scrunched presence surrounding the waters. I took a liking to the transparency of it but when I tested the sketches in the water, I realized that it was mainly the base of my tub that was bringing out these images. The practicality of it became unfeasible at this stage because one wouldn’t be able to see the projected images.

It was around about this time the foil paper stuck out to me, I began to think about how this would provide a perfect foreshadowing to the sketches of cling film. I thought about just having the sketches on foil paper and decided against it as the floating, threatening motion of the plastic in water differed from any other material I had found.

What can we do to make the city more ‘green’? In Coventry’s case, it’s more like, what can we do to make the city more ‘blue’? Blue like the sky or water. Blue represents clarity, stability and tranquility. In a city full of wheels and fast motion, the canal represents a break away for its residents or a moment of pause for the locals.

The lens I created from blue and pink highlighters and the bottom of a water bottle helped create the filter used in the final projection. The video itself metaphorically symbolizes the filtration of the waters whilst the sculpture, sketches and foil papered backgrounds represent the sources of materials that can be used to recreate the art trail.

When I first started this projected I’d hoped to run a lot of the tests by the canal but the sun set way late as it was still summertime then. My only other choice was to test these images in my tub – which in a sense follows suit with the man-made essence of the canal. Granted I didn’t have to adjust myself as I would have, testing outdoors but I rather enjoyed the solitary experience of forming my findings of what I had discovered from Coventry’s vessel.

For more detail about Angela’s work, visit her blog.

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