Monday, December 11, 2006

A day in December…

From my last week of cycling to my last postings there was a considerable time…
I went from the rolling motion of being on my bike, to the sluggish motion of dragging my feet. The reason – quite simply – I didn’t want to draw to a close this Phase of liverpoolwastelands. To write up my expedition accounts was an admission of the end of this particular journey.

I have had a fantastic 7-weeks
The cycling
Being on my knees poking around in undergrowth
Standing quietly – looking, listening, and nosing the air
Drawing, and capturing images
Chance encounters with ordinary and extraordinary people

No day was dull or without unexpected happenings – whether that was spotting a rare species like the Peregrine Falcon, meeting someone like Jim with all his photographs of a bygone city life, or a more regular occurrence like seeing a flower blooming beyond it’s expected season.

During my time in Liverpool –16 days of cycling around the city
104 Brownfield sites have been evaluated
And I have had
113 chance conversations along the
82 miles covered
This doesn’t mean that there is a Brownfield, on average, every 0.8 of a mile. It’s actually much more than that. Some streets double up the mileage – for example – Edge Lane, Sefton Street, and others… streets I have cycled down, and then back up – so even though my milometer showed for example, 7 miles in a day, in reality a 3.5 mile stretch was explored.

Through a process led art practice I have tagged and flagged up sites. I could leave it at that - call it ‘job done’ and move on to another project.
But I don’t want to, and hopefully my blog illustrates why.

A reader, Stu, posted a comment on 08/12/06, an article from
The Guardian, Wednesday December 6, 2006
It is reports on planning laws in relation to Brownfield sites including gardens – the urban ecosystems “we cannot afford to lose” – well worth a read…
In the article…
“Kirsten Gogan, communications officer of the Town and Country Planning Association, argues that much so-called brownfield land is in reality green space that is environmentally important. "We are saying there should be an audit of all green spaces in towns in terms of their value, and private gardens should be a part of that," she says. "The whole concept of brownfield or greenfield is not that old, and needn't be set in stone.”

On my last day in the Outhouse, Kath asked
“Is there anything we can do to save the wildlife? I really hope you can manage to do something, especially with sites like the ones in Garston”

5 sites in particular stand out in my mind – crying out for continued work…

3 due to the surrounding community or social implications
1. Cressington Heath – the local nature reserve, reserved for the privileged new community of the Redrow homes
2. Banks Lane, Garston – a true hidden garden amidst primary schools and a defined community (selected by L.C.C. as a potential local nature reserve…)
3. Laurel Rd, off Edge Lane – a Brownfield that has been used by the local children as a playground, and by the adult community as a cut through - for over 20 years

And 2 due to the wildlife habitat; the flora and the fauna
1. The Garden Festival Site
2. The disused airfield

Alone, I can’t really do anything, my voice is far too quite, and my skills limited.
A team of people from Liverpool and beyond, from different backgrounds, and with different areas of expertise, including some of the people I have met along my expedition, could make a difference to some of these sites: a Cross/Trans/Interdisciplinary socially engaging project.

From this point onwards, liverpoolwastelands.blogspot will evolve into something else – possibly a record of meetings, potential partners, funding applications, and likely rejections – in short, the realities and grind of trying to take liverpoolwastelands into a next phase….

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Cold and overcast

A one-day guided tour organised by the Liverpool International Biennial – Art in the Public Realm as commissioned by Liverpool International Biennial 2006.
Tagged onto the back of The 2nd Annual National Public Art Conference, for a modest fee of £5.00, delegates, and even non-delegates, could attend the tour. No need to gatecrash this event as I consider £5.00 to be very reasonable. And indeed it was good value - comprehensive, articulate, and enlightening. And for added value - we all received a limited edition of the artist’s book ‘Log Book Ballast’ by Hans Schabus.
Only a small handful of delegates took advantage of this day’s event, but 3 freelance Public Art Project Managers, and 4 freelance artists turned up – not one of who felt they could afford to attend the conference! And 2 want to gatecrash the next event with me.

After lunch, I opted out of the 2nd part of the tour – to see ‘Another Place’ by Antony Gormley on Formby beach.
I still had one more task to complete before I could draw to a close liverpoolwastelands Phase 1… back at the Outhouse.
Before I headed off to Woolton, I nipped into the ‘Museum Man’ near the A Foundation, to experience “GIFT”, a participatory exhibit by Penny Whitehead and Daniel Simkins, fellow Independent artists.

Back at the Outhouse I needed to rearrange the installation, and add new drawings, and collect Carol’s stray golf balls from under their tree hiding place …
During my titivating I noticed a lady stood outside, looking in at me.
I beckoned her inside.
“I’ve always wanted to come in here. My name is Kath, Kath with a “K”. What is it you’re doing?”
She assumed that I was Claire Oboussier the co-creator of the Outhouse.
I explained who I was, and the installation – traces of my journey…
One major difference between talking to people on the city streets, and to the folk that wander past the Outhouse, is that those who wander along the tree lined way appear more relaxed and seem to have the time to engage in lengthier conversations.
I showed Kath the picket fenced Liverpool O.S. map adorned with the little red dots marking all the sites I had evaluated. She was curious about every aspect of liverpoolwastelands, and most concerned about Cressington Heath and the Redrow development; concerned, but not surprised… She talked about her mistrust of the Council, how worried she was about the rapid changes within Liverpool, and how powerless she felt.

In my 7 weeks of speaking to Liverpudlians I have repeatedly heard the word ‘corruption’ in reference to the Council – and seen hand gestures too – hand turned upright and the thumb rubbing the fingers – ‘money’. Kath used the word ‘corruption’ and made the hand gesture too.
As she left the Outhouse, her parting words were…
“Is there anything we can do to save the wildlife? I really hope you can manage to do something, especially with sites like the ones in Garston – good luck”

On every visit to the Outhouse, time has literally flown by. This day was no exception – after my long talk with Kath, I found myself racing against the drawing in of the light light – and I was loosing.

The last thing I did was to ceremoniously remove the cone from my bike and place it in the centre of the Outhouse.

My Independents Biennial ‘open’ cone was now a ‘closed’ sign.

Dark skies with occasional sunshine

The last day of cycling in this Independents Biennial.
Unlike all my other days, I set out on this journey knowing I only had a couple of miles to cycle and a few sites to evaluate – the ones I had intended to do on my return journey back up Edge Lane yesterday.

My first site is the last site from yesterday – opposite the Littlewoods building and next to a petrol station. It was all but dark when I evaluated this site and I wanted to double check the size and vegetative cover, which I had estimated at around an acre with more than 30% Silver Birch tree cover. What I had assumed was earth covering turned out to be mucky and broken concrete, and I could see more edible plant species, although, a second evaluating didn’t make any difference to the overall coding of a Yellow Tag.

Although the old fencing is breached in many places, making the site ‘accessible’ to the curious, I didn’t feel the urge to crawl through and inspect further – this decision was largely governed by a time factor… The 2nd Annual National Public Art Conference, “City in Transition” was in Liverpool, and I wanted to go. Like many other freelance artists and project managers, I found the conference fee prohibitive, at a staggering £175.00 + VAT for the day. Personally outraged by the exclusive nature of this event – that appeared to be excluding a vital element of public art practice – the artist - my plan was to gatecrash, loudly and proudly. Originally the plan was to gatecrash the entire conference – but there’s no benefit to be gained by cutting short a conversation with someone like “Jim the Stud” - hence – on conference day – I find myself back on the bike.

The second site, edged with a red sandstone wall draped in ivies, adjoined the first. Three R.S.J. girders stand vertical-ish at what would have been an entrance or driveway, allowing full foot access into the site. Fixing my bike to an R.S.J. I step inside. What I experienced on the other side of the barrier – within the Brownfield – was now becoming familiar. This maligned and disregarded space, like so many Brownfields was a magnet for tipping. There were torn bin liners, their contents part in and part strewn across the ground. Scattered all about me was household and building debris. Scorched ground, charred remnants, and beer cans were suggestive of what could be construed as anti social behaviour. This image is why we consider such spaces to be wastelands. And stood amongst such crap it is no wonder that our senses become more acute – a basic instinct when we feel at risk or apprehensive. Desecration of a wildlife habitat, at whatever successional stage, annihilates tranquillity. But for me, the overwhelming sensual experience I had as I entered this site, was the change in soundscape. Step inside, and the sound of traffic becomes muffled by the tree canopy. The canopies are filled with passerine birds. Sound does the opposite of heat – it falls. The bird’s songs were falling from the trees and filling the space. The juxtaposition of litter overlaid with birdsong is discordant. And whilst Brownfields present the opportunity to experience nature in an urban environment, the experience is often tainted.
Slightly smaller than the first site, but with greater tree cover this site was also tagged a Yellow. A single fence separates one site from the other. A fence may prevent human and large mammal access, but for the majority of wildlife fencing is not a boundary. Out of curiosity, I evaluated the sites as one wildlife site, which changed the coding from a Yellow to a Red
Just as a reminder...
The evaluation has 5 colour codes for ‘value of experiencing nature’. Using an evaluation sheet I am able to allocate a mark from 1 – 5. There are 9 categories allowing a minimum score of 9 and a maximum of 45. Each site’s totalled marks translate into a colour code.
White 9 to 15
Blue 15.5 to 22
Yellow 22.5 to 30
Red 30.5 to 38
Green 38.5 to 45

And the colours give an indication of the make up of the site. As a rule of thumb:

is usually a single plot, unwelcoming, littered, inaccessible, and with little or no vegetation
is usually a multiple plot, unwelcoming, littered, inaccessible, and with tall herb cover
is usually up to 1 acre, accessible by foot only, biodiverse, but heavily littered
is usually over 1 acre, biodiverse, with structural and/or land features, and accessible
is usually over 3 acres, biodiverse, with structural and/or land features, accessible, no litter

But this is not always the case, for example:
A fictitious, but feasible site could be; an area over 3 acres, recently raised to the ground creating an uneven rubble surface with areas where water can gather, no trees or shrubs, but nitrogen fixing plants, and no litter. Such a site would score a 27 - a Yellow site, but its description is not as outlined above.
So there are the odd sites that don’t ‘match’ their colour coded expected characteristics.

I wanted to know what these two sites backed onto. As I had been too apprehensive and too time pressured to go deep into the sites, I opted to cycle around the back, turning off Edge Lane onto Laurel Road, and then into Holly Road, which runs parallel to Edge Lane. I could see no back way into the sites from Holly Road, but what I did discover was a primary school that backs onto both sites.
The proximity of schools to Brownfield sites is significant as it means that there is a nearby community that, under the right circumstances, could have access to wildlife on their doorstep.
This short diversion also took me past another of liverpool'swastelands – on Laurel Road, directly opposite Holly Road. From my viewpoint this site looked to be completely fenced off with no access points. I parked my bike up at a gap in the wall that had been barricaded with an insulated sheet of metal. I puzzled for a moment at the distinct desire line cutting right across the site to the far side, beyond which I could see rows of terraced houses. It was only a moment of puzzlement – because from the direction of the houses came a man walking a dog, and making a bee line, along the desire line, right towards me. I moved my bike out of the way so that he could climb over the metal sheet and get onto Laurel Road. As he walked away, I looked over the sheet and noticed a full tree trunk lying on the ground - one part of it worn and shiny - a well-used step. I take out my camera to take an image of the site, and manage to capture a woman in the picture – walking the same line. As she steps over the metal barrier she speaks to me…
“Not taking my picture are you?”
I explain to her what I am doing and my interest in the site, and I ask her why she has walked across it. Her answer is straightforward, but none the less – odd, considering the metal obstacle.
She has children at the primary school and each day she takes them across the site, from her home, one of the terraced houses, to the school. She and other parents choose to walk across this site because it is quicker and safer than walking along the busy Edge Lane – and of course this route will become even more desirable once Edge Lane is a dual carriageway with fast moving traffic.
Her children play on this site too, as did her other two when they were young (now in their 20’s). She used to walk them across this site to school too. And she can remember the day the metal obstacle appeared - around 15 years ago.
This site is well used by the local community and interestingly there is very little litter. There is a large circular area of burnt grass and charred remains – a definite bonfire site - I want to believe that it marks a community event.

2 more sites along Edge Lane and my cycling expedition, the liverpoolwastelands Phase 1 adventure was done.
Feeling a little bit blue, I hurriedly I sped off to gatecrash the conference – which I did successfully – but not as loudly as I had hoped for. I wanted to speak out in the plenary session – to ask delegates to put up their hands if they were artists or freelance arts managers. I wanted to know just how many people attending The 2nd Annual National Public Art Conference had to pay for their ticket, travel expenses, and loose a day’s wages in attending. I wanted to make a point about the cost of the conference, and how charging such an amount automatically excludes many freelance practitioners. This has always been one of my bug-bares, and this was the day that I was going to shout about it.
I listened to the last two presentations: Reg Haslam, Regeneration Blackpool, and Dan Dubowitz, artist and Cultural Master Planner. A tiny amount of time was allocated to ask questions of the speakers - I asked a question, and, as is customary at such events, introduced myself “freelance artist currently working on a process led public art project within the Independents Biennial.” I should have said “freelance artist and gatecrasher” because this conference scrapped its plenary session, and my upstart moment was quashed.

5 sites evaluated
2 White
2 Yellow
1 Blue

Friday, December 08, 2006

Blue sky and clouds
Autumnal yellow trees

Driving into Liverpool along the M62, at the end of the motorway, following the signs for Tourist Attractions and the Albert Dock you ‘S’ bend onto Edge Lane Drive – immediately greeted by rows of Liverpool’s iconic purple wheelie bins lined up outside semi detached properties. And then you hit the road works of the “Big Dig”, “The Edge Lane Project: a radical and comprehensive regeneration scheme that will transform Edge Lane and the surrounding area and create a high quality 21st century gateway to Liverpool city centre.” www.edgelane.com.
I park my van up in the retail park – a closed down Carpet World, a closed down shiny stainless steel clad American Diner, and a Blockbusters – that’s open.
I went into the Blockbusters and explained to the store manager, Tony, that I was cycling the area as part of the Liverpool Independents Biennial and would it be OK to leave my van outside the shop for a few hours. He, like so many others I have spoken to, had never heard of the Liverpool Biennial, but I got the Ok to park.
Next to Carpet [empty] World is a Brownfield, on the corner of Edge Lane Drive and Mill Lane –
Up to my usual activity of head lent against an 8ft high security fence, trying to get a measure of the interior space - I’m interrupted by…
“Ey gerl – what’s that cone on ya bike?”
2 young men – sharing a spliff.
“Oh, it’s… um…I’m doing a project cycling around Liverpool, and the cone… um…”
Sometimes I feel like such a plonker when I attempt to explain the cone…
I start again
Oh, that’s to do with the Liverpool Independents Biennial – have you heard of it?
“Oh, it’s a really big art show all over the city and I’m an artist in the Biennial and I’m looking at places like this (point to site) to check out the wildlife on them”
They look at the derelict site and then look back at me – heads slightly tilted.
(These young men were proper Scouse, and I will do my best…)
“Av ya seen the foxes? Round ere there’s loads ov em”
“I took a load out with me pellet gun and last night – should un a said that should I - bet ya like foxes, ay gerl?”
We chatted a bit about the Edge Lane development. One mentioned that he lives down Mill Lane, but because the traffic congestion is so bad, he now parks over the other side of Edge Lane Drive and walks the rest of his way home because he can’t stand just sitting there in the traffic.
I ask them what they think of the Development Plan, and what’s been going on with Mrs. Pascoe -
“Oh er – can’t stand er – she was throwing stuff at our kid the other day”
Not what I expected to hear – but might not be the same Mrs. Pascoe, the pensioner that hit the national news last week with her efforts to halt the demolition of the Victorian Houses further down Edge Lane.
Then one of them blurts out…
“What’s that blue thing in ya mouth?”
At which point I realize that I had, until this point, been in conversation with a blue tag held firmly between my teeth – Clint Eastwood cheroot style…
Taking the tag out of my mouth …“Ah, it’s a blue tag for the site – this site got evaluated as a Blue which means that it’s got quite a lot of different wildlife in there.”
Again, they look blankly through the fencing at the debris covered Tarmac erupting in places with tall herb vegetation and saplings.
It takes a while to wave farewells to these two very cheery, very chatty, very Scouse lads.
As we walk our separate ways, they keep calling back to me – about football, who do I support, and something about Rooney being fat and out of it.
And then a final
“Yeh – but gerl, what is that cone on yer bike?”

On the opposite side of the Edge Lane Drive, a Brownfield with a “Land Acquired” sign outlining the new development that will soon be. And an advertising hoarding with an advert that brought a smile to my face – This Brownfield, tagged a Blue, has had it’s chips!
In less than 1 mile I evaluated 7 sites as I cycled towards the city. On the opposite side of the road, another 2 that I wanted to evaluate on my way back up Edge Lane Drive. That makes 9 sites in a linear mile – the most densely clustered of all the Brownfields I have mapped.

Bombing downhill towards the Littlewoods Building in the single lane contra flow system I am forced to swerve between the bollards into the closed-off lane by an inconsiderate lorry driver thundering past me. Had I not done so I would have been road squash! I decided to break the highway law and continue my cycle route on the wrong side of the bollards. The single lane of traffic as defined by Highway Maintenance is not wide enough for a 4+ wheeled fossil-fueled vehicle and a bicycle. No provision what so ever has been made for the cyclist!
When I can no longer cycle in the closed-off lane, I continue along the freshly laid pavement, past workers scowling at me as they sweep the sand mortar between the slabs. I know I am breaking the law – offence code 170 subject to a £30.00 fine - but what’s the alternative? An accident involving a cyclist would only make the traffic jam worse!

Ah, the magnificent Littlewoods Building – no longer amidst a Brownfield site, but a part of a major development site. I stop to take some photos of this amazing architectural landmark next to the Botanic Gardens with the fragrance of its freshly mown grass filling the air.

You can read more about this development, and have your say about this building if you go to

That done, I cycle (still on the path) to the Wavertree Park entrance at the corner of Botanic Road. This marks the beginning of the stretch of condemned Victorian houses, properties that are at the centre of recent Edge Lane Project controversy. Two weeks ago, local resident Mrs. Pascoe hit the national newspapers with her brave attempt to stop the demolition of these once splendid residences.

Many have been compulsory purchased and house after house is boarded up and ready to be raised to the ground. As you stand and look at these buildings it is hard to comprehend the fate that awaits them. I can’t comment on the interiors, but externally, most still have the original features – cast ironwork and inlayed decorative brickwork – period features that cost a fortune in today’s market. Some of the properties overlook the walled Botanic Garden of Wavertree Park, a registered English Heritage Grade II listed Park. Professor Tony Bradshaw, a highly acclaimed botanist and citizen of Liverpool, regards the Botanic Gardens in Edge Lane as 'an overlooked jewel within Liverpool, and a piece of garden history unmatched elsewhere in Britain' (The Wavertree Society Newsletter 146).
This stretch of the city surely had all the trappings to be a conservation area?
But instead has been allowed to fall into a slash and burn site.

There’s a strong case for the demolition of these buildings and a strong case against. I know what I’d like to see, but I’m an observer and a recorder, and an outsider. Edge Lane NEEDS regenerating – it’s an eye-saw to the extent that it’s depressing –
It is the primary artery route into the city, and it has looked run down and neglected for as long as I can remember – at least 18 years.

As I slowly cycle by past splendour, I clock a woman with a clipboard. I make my way to her as she frenetically canvasses for signatures.
“Is your petition to stop the demolition?” I ask
“NO!!! WE want these rat infested places to be knocked down. They’re building a dual carriageway and luxury apartments and that bloody Pascoe woman is trying to stop it. She’s not even from here. We’ve got to live with these. I own a house just down there and I want to live somewhere nice.”
She stops 2 blokes –
“Sign this – it’s to get those places knocked down”
Without hesitation they sign.
“Yeh, we want rid”
Then a woman pushing a pram…
“I’ll sign – I’m sick of the bloody rats, I caught one yesterday trying to get up mw drainpipe. I was outside hanging me washing. It’s those rat infested places that’s the problem they need to come down”
The lady with the clipboard had no time to speak to me – not if I wasn’t going to sign. Franticly she ran down the street hollering after a man stood at the traffic lights…

And I’m left wondering about the impact the dual carriageway will have on her, and the lady with the pram, and all the others that live on the north side of the carriageway. A four lane highway with a tree lined boulevard in the central reservation will physically divide a community, separating the north side from the south side, and cut those on the north side off from the “jewel within Liverpool… unmatched elsewhere in Britain”

There are two sides to every coin….
The Edge Lane regeneration scheme is causing a great deal of anger and unrest – to say the least.
One local M.P. Jane Kennedy (Labour) has described what is happening as "social cleansing".
The voices of people like Jane Kennedy and Mrs Pascoe have had an impact – and the demolition of the Victorian properties has been interrupted under the Human Rights Act.
“Prescott's 'social cleansing' faces court challenge”

So, there’s a bit of a battle about to begin on Edge Lane.

Liverpool Council’s neglect of this area in the past by has created a problem inherited by the current Council officers. As a consequence they are in a bit of a pickle – damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The compound effects of a history of neglect and the pressure of 2008 'City of Culture', appears to have resulted in hasty decision making, and a lack of meaningful community consultation – evidenced in a petition to save the Victorian houses and a counter petition to demolish them.

“Q. Why does Liverpool Land Development Company think that houses need to be knocked down to regenerate the area?
Liverpool Land Development Company appreciates that many houses in the Edge Lane West area are much loved family homes and that it will be a difficult time for the families who need to move as a result of the changes. However, many of the properties in this area have suffered decades of neglect. The plans for the regeneration of the Kensington area have evolved as a result of extensive consultation and engagement with the local community who have worked tirelessly to devise solutions to the problems which the area currently faces. The current proposals to demolish properties are part of wider, long term plans devised by the community to restructure their area while at the same time retaining and building upon the strong sense of community that exists. Along with demolitions and new house building many existing properties in the area are to be retained and refurbished.” http://www.edgelane.com/faqs/faqs.asp

If you want to know more – just google 'Edge Lane' and enter the labyrinth of debates….
And if you are curious to know how the new Edge Lane will look, …
http://www.edgelane.com/flythrough/flythrough.asp for the fly through aerial perspective of the new improved edge lane

The speed of regeneration within certain areas of this city is frightening. The regeneration ‘speak’ is laced with lots of ‘spin’ and when you read about the projects underway, planned, or nearing completion, it all sounds great.
But in just 7 weeks of cycling around Liverpool, I feel compelled to report that it appears to be very much politically and economically led, with little true regard for anything else.
Garston, Edge Lane, Cressington Heath, the disused airfield, and the Baltic Triangle are just a few examples.

Since I began liverpoolwastelands I have read more regeneration and planning papers than I care to recall. They all make claims about the social and environmental benefits, and the word ‘consultation’ seems to appear in virtually every paragraph.
But sadly, the more I read, and the more I meet and talk to people, the more I am finding it increasingly difficult to marry the words written about each scheme to the actual places – the social and the ecological landscapes. There appears to be nothing organic about this renaissance. Not from where I am sat on my bicycle seat in the city streets.

I want to offer up an anecdote.
A friend of mine has an apartment in Manchester, an Urban Splash converted mill. Over the road, a dual carriageway, are tower bocks; council flats. One summer evening a group of teenage girls were standing on the corner of his apartment block, talking in Mancunian speak – they were from the flats across the way. He was sat on his balcony and heard a neighbour shout down to them..
“Oy, you lot, clear off”
One of the young girls answered back
“We have a Right to be here, We Live Here.”

Regeneration schemes bring together different people from different backgrounds, and these different folks, occupying the same common space need to learn how to live as neighbours. Regeneration schemes don’t create a cohesive society – it’s people that do that – if they care to.
And wildlife has no voice. It gets ‘taken out” unless people speak out for it. And rats thrive where there is food; human waste, our kitchen scraps and discarded fast food bits. That’s why outside the fast food chains of the retail parks along Edge Lane I saw many a rattrap. Liverpool, like any other city will be teeming with rats and carrion birds. Shiny buildings and luxury apartments wont ‘out’ them.
And in the wastelands – the Brownfields were people don’t tread, there will be more songbirds.

I move on from Edge Lane heading towards the city centre passing a couple more small Brownfield sites along the way.
I pass Archbishop Blanch High School. And then I spy a couple of uniform clad girls drinking tea from a flask as they sit underneath an apple tree on a patch of overgrown wasteland. An opportunity too good to miss – I pedal over to them to enquire why they are sat there, in the cold, drinking tea…
‘It’s a good place to sit – it’s quiet and it’s green”
‘We come here a lot, we like it”
As they are leaving, I park my bike up. Just as I am about to take a photo, the door of what I assumed was a derelict property, opens, and a small aged man appears – angry faced – “what are you doing in my garden?”
There is no way you would stand where I was stood and think you were in someone’s garden. I was shocked – and totally caught of my guard. And then I felt ashamed. I had mistaken this mans home for a Brownfield site – an easy mistake – but, a shameful one none the less.
I apologised profusely. I told him why I was there and what I was doing. His first response was to tell me that the kids from the high school hang out there all the time – “smoking”
Then he told me about the apple trees that were never planted – “they just grew from apple cores – do you know how difficult it is to grow apple trees from apple cores? Well these ones grew from thrown down cores - not planted - just thrown down. I’ve got pear trees too.” Eagerly he took me on a tour of his garden. He wanted to show me all the things that he hadn’t planted, and the wonders of his wilderness.
Before long I realised that I was stood having a conversation with a remarkable individual. This man had stayed put whilst the rest of his street was demolished – back in 1964!
His house had stood here as a solitarily landmark of a past community, for 43 years. About 40ft of the old cobbled street remains intact outside of his front door. This man is a mine of information about the very local history. He told me about the old convent, demolished to make way for the Royal Liverpool University Hospital. He told me about the Blood Bank Unit that was built in 1974. He can remember all the fuss about the Unit’s solar panels – bringing in an expert in to install them – but no one ever knowing how to make them work.
He talked about street parades and daily life. He then asked me to wait. He went inside his cracking abode and re-emerged with a brown folder stuffed full of photographs. He had lived and worked on this street all his life; and had the documentation to prove it! He also had all the past electoral roles – the names of everyone who had lived on this disappeared street
I asked him what his job was
He used to be a car mechanic before he retired, and worked from the house. The ground floor was the Garage. He pointed at a rusting scrap behind the chain-link fencing – “that’s a Wahisit” I made it, and when I drove it people would point and say "wha is it?”
I tell him my name, and asked him his
“They call me ‘Jim the Stud’ – but you can call me Jim”
We shake hands.
As I left Jim the day had turned to dusk.
I manically cycled up Edge Lane – and it is up hill!
I was desperate to fit in one more site.
I knew there were at least 3 I had left for my return journey up Edge Lane – but I hadn't counted on meeting a gem like Jim.
I squeezed in one more evaluation – a Yellow site – but then had to call it a day.
It was indeed dark.
Back at Blockbusters I pop in to tell Tony about the day’s encounters – I hand him a tagged tag, which, he tells me, he will pin on the staff notice board.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Struck down by a cold of great magnitude, snotty nosed and breathless, I considered it wise not to cycle the streets of Liverpool, but take a few days off and switch my attention to other matters. Instead of ‘the other matters’, I found myself pontificating over something one of the Newcastle art students had said…
“Yes, but what is it you are doing? I don’t understand what you do – it’s not like painting…”

Perhaps their question has more to do with…
“Why is this art?” or “Is it art?”
The answer to these questions is in the realms of academic theory – not my blogspot ramblings.
But not wishing to be totally evasive on the subject of ‘art’… I thought I should tap out some thoughts on the subject…
I re-present landscapes within a creative framework, as I see and experience them. I am representing what I see. My representation might not be in a traditional medium – painting, sculpture, etc, but non-the-less, I am challenging ideas of aesthetics and ways of seeing (At this pint I could reference John Bergers Book “Ways of Seeing”, but shan’t).
In liverpoolwastelands? I am engaged in a creative process that could be described as Performative Happening, or process-based artwork. It also has other names like slow activism, socially engaging, and new genre public art. Arising from arts practice that was pushing boundaries and challenging Fine Art as defined by hierarchical institutions, the critical debate began in the United States well over a decade ago. In 1995 American artist Suzanne Lacy edited and co authored “Mapping The Terrain – New Genre Public Art”, in which radically different working methods of artists were debated within the context of art history and (the then current) [public] art criticism. In Chapter 1, Mary Jane Jacobs critiques process-based work far more eloquently than I care to on this blogspot. When Jacobs writes “the roots of these changes can be found in artists’ practices of the last 25 years…”(p52), add a year for the writing and publishing, and another 11 to bring us into 2006, plus the 25, and you get a conservative estimate of a 37 year history of arts practice that is process based, of the every day, part of the environment, and outside of the establishment. In the last Chapter, Suzanne Lacy writes, “what artists do and what they “ought” to do constitutes a territory for public debate in which we seek a broadening paradigm for the meaning of art in our times” (p171). For those of you who are interested and would like to know more – please do read the book. In fact, re reading the book whilst in my ‘sick bed’, it struck me that it could have been newly published; ‘process as product’ is still debated, and in Public Art often under accepted in the U.K.
For years I have earned my crust as a public artist and have to say, business is far more lucrative when I make a product – the majority of commissioners literally like to see what they are paying for. And a shifting practice from object based to process based perturbs some people. If what an artist does doesn’t fit the perception of what art is then perhaps it is something else…?
During the past 12 months, M.A. Fine Art lectures and post-graduate and undergraduate students studying art have proposed the following about my work:
All begin with “So are you…
…more of a social worker?
…an ecologist?”
…a conservationist?”
…a social activist?”
And the answer is No to all of the above – I am in fact an artist interested in All the above…
And this way of working’s got a history of 37 years – it’s is nothing new, which is a crying shame as I would love to be a pioneer, a true pusher of boundaries and shifter of paradigms…
There are many artists practicing process-based, socially engaging etc. etc. artwork. Often this type of work takes place in ‘hard to reach’ communities or non-predictable places - like wastelands. Because an end product is not the focus of the work, there is not always something concrete to exhibit. Artists I have spoken with who work in this way often discuss how best to record, and/or show their process artwork. But the problem is; if you start to think about ‘exhibition’ or public art product, you can easily compromise the process. So you don’t often see this type of work in galleries – and therefore it tends to remain low profile work.
I find out about artists working in this way through searching the web, reading art journals and books, and going to artist’s talks and conferences.
Two artists in the Independents Biennial who work in this way spring to mind – Nina Edge and Jean Grant. And there are likely to be others…

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Brilliant sunshine, blue sky, and not a cloud in sight – a glorious autumnal day

In a corner of the city centre known as the Baltic Triangle is one of the UK’s largest exhibition spaces, the A Foundation. Launched during this year’s Biennial, it’s opening exhibition included work by Goshka Macuga, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, Grizedale Arts and the Bloomberg New Contemporaries.


Outside the A Foundation is where I gracefully began my day… by falling backwards over, and landing on top of my bike… legs akimbo, and my cone crooked I worked against gravity to return both wheels and feet to the tarmac. As I approach verticality…
“Are you Kerry?”
Finally I get to meet the Creative Facilitator for the Independents Biennial, John Brady.
And for the record, the first photo of my bike and me next to a near-by White tag Brownfield – cheers John.
But I can only offer you yet another pic of my bike without me.

I make my way to a rendezvous – Fine Art students from Newcastle University visiting the Biennial. Huddled on a street corner next to a fenced Brownfield we talk about my project.
We were stood in front of a Brownfield totally covered with plant life including: clovers, mare’s tail, small Budlea bushes, dandelions, brambles, willow herb, and other tall herbs.
Could they tell me why they think spaces like this tend to be amongst our least cherished and least valued of urban habitats?
I asked them to imagine this square corner plot without the 8 ft high security fencing around it.
How does it look to them?

I can’t recall their responses in a verbatim fashion – so I’m paraphrasing

“The space has no order, it is chaotic, and spaces in chaos attract litter”
“I come from a design background, and there is no design in that space”
“I think it’s to do with social behaviour – more specifically, rooted to how we tend our gardens. It is antisocial to let your garden become overgrown with plants that we call weeds, plants that can disperse their seeds into your neighbour’s garden. So we try to keep our gardens under control. So these un-gardened spaces could be viewed as out of control, and therefore anti-social”
“But I think the space is attractive, it’s just about perception”
“If you were to remove the fence and call that space Public Art, I think more people would appreciate it”

I wish I could have spent more time with the students, but they had a hectic schedule – lots of art to see – and we were stood in shadow, and it was too bloody cold to linger.
I hope they can find some time to post their comments… I’m pretty sure what they have to say will make for interesting reading.

The Baltic Triangle…
11 Brownfields
2 completely boarded off. Having already been in one compromising position today – I didn’t fancy getting into another – so therefore I didn’t evaluate them.
Nestled together in and area which is not even a grid square in you’re A-Z…
The Baltic Triangle is an eclectic mix of architecture, people, and use. Formidable brick warehouses, modern industrial units, impressive Georgian town houses (opposite a post-modern city park), small residential houses, social and private, (opposite a derelict recreation ground), luxury new build apartments, one with a very private walled courtyard – which, I was told, by a chap up a ladder fixing a camera to the external wall, was paved with granite slabs and had a few pots containing shrubs – and all sheltered from the rain by a canopy.
"What exactly is the canopy?" I asked
“Is an architect’s vision – architects have visions you know…”
He went on…
“It’s supposed to reflect the history of the area – its nautical…is that the right word?”
Good question…
Now this particular block of apartments overlooks an electricity sub station – and I do feel this particular sub station is worth a mention because it has been landscape designed… a striking stripy gravel design with sunken lighting …
But sadly, even when someone does introduce order – and you can’t get much more orderly than parallel lines - idiots still dump their crap.

Continuing with the eclectic mix… a Swedish Church, a Catholic primary school, a classic Victorian pub – the Baltic Fleece, a McDonalds, and an amazing art venue.

Walking from the city centre through China Town, you enter the Baltic Triangle via the refurbished Great George Square.


A large open space of lawn, gravel pathways, bespoke seating, and lighting. Granite slabs around the edges of the lawn area are carved with text. One section reads...
“people – what are we? We wish our lives away until we can wish no more – we wonder what life is – life is a gift and if we wish it away then we shall not get anything from it – you and I have a gift – we should use it well”

A few yards from Great George Square, away from the views of Georgian houses and apartments, and opposite the neatly kept family homes, is a derelict space. Formerly a recreation area, it is now a Brownfield site. The once pink 5-aside soccer surface looks grubby with a green film growing over it, and the goal posts are broken. Unkempt, the vegetation around the edges has become overgrown, and intermingled with litter. Stood at the opening in the fence I watched and listened to the black birds and blue tits as they darted around in front of me. I was about to enter the site to investigate what else lay within when I guy on a bike approached me.
“Don’t leave your bike there love” As the words came out of his mouth I became transfixed by his one and only tooth, bottom jaw, right in the middle. He was rugged looking, I guess in his thirties, but difficult to tell.
“If you leave your bike there they’ll av it”
He pointed at two young men on the corner of Great George Square
“They told me, even if you leave it chained up they’ll av it. Don’t leave it. They’ll av the chain off and you wont see it again. They want your bike”
“Really? Is it that bad around here?” I asked
“Oh yeh”
I thanked him, and he cycled off.
So around here is both “that bad” and “that good”.
Having been kindly warned, I didn’t venture onto the abandoned recreation ground, but non-the-less, from where I was standing, I could see that this space had a greater value for experiencing nature than Great George Square has. And to be able to appreciate the sights, the sounds, and the scents of this city wildlife habitat, all it seemed to need was cleaning-up, some lighting, some seats, and NO fence.
I cycled off past the two young guys who had been joined by the tooth man, and nodded at them politely.

At each of the 11 brownfield sites, attempts have been made to keep people out, all had an 8ft high barriers around.
At 2 of the sites the barriers have been breeched, the recreation ground, and a site next to McDonalds.
Of the 9 sites I could actually look into, 8 were brimming with wild flora and grasses. 2 were litter free and looked positively park like.

My cycling day ended where it began – back at the A Foundation.
That evening a journalist told me that the A Foundation’s location was a strategic decision – to stretch the city limits into the far corner of the Baltic Triangle.
Nice thought… but it’s not the attraction of art that will stretch the city limits but investment from the private sector. Art will enhance the cultural credibility.
Watch the Triangle…
It’s a prime location –
Of my many miles of dock road travels this are is noticeably different. Easy walking distance to the heart of the city centre, the Albert Dock, both Cathedrals, and the soon to be Paradise shopping complex.
A Liverpool based artist and colleague told me she had tried (in vane) to buy one of the warehouses. Her vision was to create an artist live-work space. But the developers got the lot (double entendre)
Check out Billion pound village for Baltic Triangle at


“Great! more trendy apartments way out of local people’s price range. No doubt gated off to keep undesirables out. Seems the regeneration of Liverpool is very selective benefiting the few. I am starting to feel the 08 Culture bid is becoming a poison chalice.”
Not about the Baltic Triangle, but a poignant comment regarding regeneration in the city by Lance Rock posted on


Cycling around Liverpool evaluating Brownfield sites, it is difficult to extract the ecological without becoming acutely aware of the sociological.
From Garston to Canada Docks, it appears that Brownfield wildlife is endangered – not unexpected as Brownfields are transient spaces, but scarily it appears that people communities are under threat of being bulldozed out too.

Regeneration is looking like a double-edged sword. Is the reality that Liverpool’s citizens are being squeezed out? I keep hearing the term ‘investment property’. I’m not entirely sure what it means – but it doesn’t sound very sociable or neighbourly…
And if people communities are being disrupted and transposed – what chance for the wildlife communities?


Brilliant sunshine, blue sky, not a cloud in sight, but bitterly cold.

It’s time to explore the city centre –
The city centre seems to be loosely defined by a series of connected roads that circumference a space containing the main shopping centre, the major museums and galleries, China Town, and what appears to be a business quarter – lots of people wearing suits. You instinctively feel when you have entered the ‘centre'; empirically it has a different atmosphere and different physicality.
A city’s centre is a place where all citizens belong. You don’t feel like you are entering someone’s territory. 6 weeks of cycling and this is the first time that I have felt I have given right to be in a place – although I still feel ‘out of place’. It’s the first day in 6 weeks that I’ve been surrounded by people. I’m sure I must stick out, with the bike and the cone and the clip board, yet no-one acknowledges me.
City centres are very people populated, vibrant, busy, bustling places. But there’s not much space for curiosity or idle conversations on the busy city streets. How we move around a city differs greatly from the way in which we move around other urban settings. We weave amongst one another, rarely making eye contact. We go into the city to shop, to work, to meet friends, to drink, to dine, etc.
I think we have many specific requirements of a city centre, and I don’t think experiencing wildlife is necessarily one of them. I’ve never gone into a city for this reason. The kind of nature I welcome in a city centre comes in the landscaped package of clean and relaxing city park, short grass, a few trees perhaps, and maybe a few flowers. A place to sit and eat sandwiches bought from an expensive deli, a moment of tranquillity to people watch whist sipping cappuccino. When I am in a city I want “Sex in the City” not “Nature Watch”. I am Carrie, not Oddie – usually…
I don’t think I’ve ever before gone into a city to do something other than a city centric ‘activity’. Entering the throngs to evaluate wildlife is a first.
(Having said that, I have been on one of David Hayley’s “Walk on the Wildside” events, walking the canal networks of Manchester’s city centre. But most of this network is subterranean, underused by people, and lacking that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ city aesthetic.)

So I didn’t much enjoy my city centre day out. I felt grubby, and wanted to disappear, a bit hard with a Day-Glo decorated Independents cone strapped to the pannier rack of a shiny framed but muddy-wheeled bike.
But, being the trooper that I am I persevered.
On a city centre street level, the most obvious wildlife species is humankind. So much so, that if pigeons weren’t so prolific, we would look like a monoculture swarming across the ‘urban jungle’. Liverpool City centre, like any other, is teaming with people. But in Liverpool, a higher than normal percentage of this species is clad in high visibility fluorescent yellow jackets. Building work seems to be everywhere. And high-rise cranes dominate the city centre skyline.