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.

Home: people, objects, rituals and delineations of space

[Sinead Brady reflects on her remote Nest Residency]

From my home in the UK, I recently collaborated with Berlin based theatre maker Caroline Galvis and Dublin based theatre maker Katie O’Byrne in a ‘Hatching’ Remote Nest Residency to explore the theme of home.
Caro, Katie and I met while studying an MA in Barcelona. We found a common interest in reshaping and reframing our collective history and formed international Rule of Three Collective to create theatre that celebrates togetherness.

Before the pandemic, whilst Katie and I were visiting Caro in Berlin, we began questioning what home means to us. Since then we have had lots of time to think about our surroundings in lockdown in three different cities.
Whilst working from home, we have each been adapting to physical and political changes on a private, local and global level. This has led us to pay more attention to our own rituals and routines and question our delineations of space: What do we consider home? Why does home exist within these parameters? What is our relationship to our home, the planet?
Having started previous creative processes by writing together, we decided that this time we wanted to try to begin from a visual perspective.

At the start of the residency we had an incredibly stimulating mentoring session with Janet from Talking Birds, which helped us consider how to approach the process visually. We were inspired to draw floor plans of our houses and maps of our local areas with places which were important to us. We took each other on virtual tours of our homes and neighbourhoods. Along our routes, alternating who would lead the way, we found similarities but also many differences.

We then began to explore our ‘home rituals’ through movement and were interrupted by all of the unpredictable things that can happen when working from home such as wardrobe doors flying open when jumping on old, creaky floorboards and little neighbours determined to finish their beginner’s level recorder practice.

We ended up paying a lot of attention to the sounds in and around our houses, comparing the different bird song we wake up to… do seagulls fighting outside your bedroom window count as bird song?
Another theme which emerged in our mentoring session was the idea of building and destroying a home or the contents of a home. Experimenting with this idea fascinated us – it was tricky to explore from a distance, but it is something we plan to look at when we are physically together.

The Remote Nest Residency helped us carve out space and time and provided us with the support to come together to experiment and create. The fact that we were given no specific deadline or end product goal was invaluable and really encouraged us to keep on exploring, sharing thoughts and working in ways we would not have felt as free to do otherwise.
The residency has enabled us to reconnect and refocus. We have found new ways of working together at a distance, which will have a great impact on our creative process when we are able to be physically together again.

**If you are an artist based in or near Coventry and you have an idea you’d like to explore, please consider applying to our Nest Residency Programme.**

GUEST BLOG: Contemporary visual artist Andy Sargent reflects on his month-long Nest Residency with Talking Birds.

Nest Residency No 1 by Andy Sargent – Contemporary visual artist.

As I write this, I am looking back on four weeks of a residency organised by the wonderful Talking Birds which ended on the 22nd March 2019, that took place at Eaton House in Coventry. The studio space was provided by Coventry Artspace, up on floor 11, which is I think, the highest place I have ever created work!

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I wanted to use this opportunity to further my ideas on a series of works called “Hidden monster”, which deals with the subject of sudden (and permanent) injury, the impact it has on one’s life, how one deals with having to adjust to it, other peoples perceptions of it, and so on. It deals with the isolation, pain, depression, vulnerability, and struggle that comes with disability. I use the motif of the “Hidden monster”, and through this character I can describe the issues I have faced, and still do, as I have first hand personal experience.

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This residency allowed me to expand my ideas, and as I don’t have a personal purpose built studio space, I jumped at the chance to take up this opportunity. Even though I struggle daily with mobility issues, I made sure that I could get into the residency as much as possible, to get full use of the studio space provided. From day one, I started creating lots of charcoal drawings, mapping out and moulding images that could be used for three dimensional and two dimensional works. These ideas then filtered into paintings on either board or canvas, small sculptures, and also two large banners or wall hangings. All these works dealt with a multitude of subjects to do with this over-arching subject of being “the monster”. Some of the work dealt with “who is the monster?”. I had been called a monster after my injury, however I see ignorance and hatred towards the disabled as far more monstrous, than someone who has found him/herself on what has been described to me in the past as “the scrapheap of society”. I cannot, nor could I, speak for all disabled people, however these works represent a collection of outpourings on a subject often swept under the proverbial carpet!

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During this residency, Talking Birds were busy contacting various people and organisations they saw as being interested in seeing this work and meeting me. I got to discuss the work, the issues depicted in it and life as an artist with physical limitations. Many ideas were discussed, ways and places to show the work, reactions to seeing this work, how the work could be presented in other forms etc. Certainly, from being an artist who lives on the outskirts of Nuneaton, away from the cultural centres in this country, the residency with Talking Birds provided me with a way to raise my profile, and be noticed by more people, getting the message out that my work exists. One aspect of becoming permanently injured in my case, is that you lose your career/job, and earning money becomes a major issue. So not only does physically getting out to meet people pose a huge problem, but you often can’t afford to go anywhere after you’ve paid your essential bills! So a major part of this residency was meeting other very creative people, and feeling, albeit temporarily, part of an artistic community.

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So, on reflection, this Nest Residency has been a fabulous four weeks in which to get work created, meet great folks, plan further ideas and opportunities. I would certainly recommend to any other artists who consider themselves disabled to apply for a Nest Residency. You never know what it may lead to!

(A huge thank you to Phillipa Cross, Janet Vaughan and Derek Nisbet from Taking Birds, and Mindy Chillery at Coventry Artspace for making this residency happen. Also many thanks to all the artists, arts organisations, and arts professionals who came to see my work during my residency)

Andy Sargent.

[Photo gallery pics by Talking Birds, Photos in the text by Andy Sargent]

 

The Nest Residencies are a key part of Talking Birds‘ Artistic Programme for 2018-22, funded as part of the company’s membership of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio, and aimed at D/deaf or disabled and/or Midlands-based artists. For information on how to apply for a Nest Residency, visit Talking Birds’ website.