‘Ambulant Architectures’ at Sideways, Belgium

The Sideways Festival, running for a full month, August-September 2012, was an ‘interdisciplinary art festival “in the open” and “on the go”’. Largely devoted to art based on walking, it could not be accused of lacking integrity, as it made its way from Menen to Herzele to Brussels to Turnhout to Zutendaal, straggling across the Belgian map and stopping for mini-festivals on each of the five weekends. It was a stupendously ambitious project, impossible to deliver seamlessly with such a small team (led by Andy Vandevyvere). Yet they did deliver it, and despite one or two problems, they deserve to be congratulated.

I don’t have space to discuss all the other projects here, but they are worth discussing and some are documented on the festival site www.sideways2012.be

As for me, it must be admitted that my body was in shock. I walked 24 km the first day I arrived; 18 the next. On other days, walkers completed up to 36 km.  Interesting to watch as one’s brain turns towards survival: I must eat; I must sleep; I must rest. Creativity diminishes and so do manners. The mayor of one town meets us, but we rush forwards unseeing to cram our mouths with the peanuts on the table, exhausted after walking for hours. Only my sense of the ridiculous pulls me through, but this, too, entails a loss of manners.

We walk further than is good for us and eat strange, disorientating foods: pesto icecream; pickled radish; fried leek root; raw fennel. We spend time waiting for things and desperate for sleep. We are woken in our tents by the braying of Biegel the donkey who accompanies us, eye-ore-ing at the end of his semi-circular tether. I was only there a few days, but my experience was partly this sense of watching my endurance crumble, discovering the limits of my footsteps, my creativity and my kindness.

I was there with Wrights & Sites, to explore what we have called ‘Ambulant Architectures’. The idea was that the walker might become a form of architect, intervening in the built environment. The reality seemed to be a little different. The objects were not really architectures at all, but, as Elke Van Campenhout beautifully put it, the objects ‘grew out of the fantasy of architecture’.  We called them ‘Shapes’, ‘Plinth’, ‘Boat’ and ‘Beacons’. My object, or rather objects, for I took 5, were based on the idea of a beacon, an architecture that calls out across the landscape, to travelers or to others of its kind. I carried five, because I intended to leave four behind me. Enigmatic tangles of wire, they had no lights, bells or imposing forms – a fact which initially filled me with dismay when our designer showed them to me. It was something I came awkwardly to embrace.

The objects, then, were not exactly architectural interventions, but became lenses for seeing. They remembered lost industries. They remembered modernism. They had a natural affinity with certain other objects and materials: railway crossings; industrial machinery; reflective surfaces; yellow, red and black paintwork; numbers; rust; obelisks; street lights; glass; sundials; lanterns; roadsigns; barbed wire; cairns; slide projectors; ghosts.

On my first day of exploration we begin in an old mining site and I find many places that my lantern illuminates, but I don’t leave one behind… waiting, I think, for a hill, or for the day to pass. These mines began in the early 20th century, displacing the farms and heather, the artists’ picturesque and the farmer’s graft. Immigrants served them through the 20th century, as locals avoided the danger and darkness. The mosque that we pass is probably testament to this.

As we continue, it becomes clear that there are no hills. We circumvent the slag heap. We walk through miles of suburbia, where traces of industry are fewer and the landscape lacks metaphorical, as well as actual beacons. These neighbourhoods are characterized by kitsch garden ornaments and designs.  We are baffled by the lack of people on the street. The houses are still and silent. Someone suggests that children don’t play outside any more.

Tiredness gradually overcomes me, and the camp site becomes the beacon. I place my ‘beacon’ twined in its useless sundial.

On my second day, we pass huge heaps of rubble, detritus of demolished housing, making way, presumably, for the suburban fortresses we pass on the route again today. They have little homogeneity of design, with modernist box placed next to shuttered castle and each with pillar-boxes that do their own thing on the front lawns. Many of these houses are forbidding, with ugly dogs barking behind gates.

Here, in the dump, the houses they replaced have come to die, in tangles of wire and heaps of broken tiles. The backdrop is the vast IKEA warehouse, promising its ubiquitous good taste and speedy delivery to bring comfort to those new but chilly Belgian villas. Here, my second ‘beacon’ dangles from the razor wire.

Later, another mine, preserved as an arts complex. The headframes have become sculptures. My next ‘beacon’ sits on the end of one headframe. The contrast in scale makes it almost invisible. So after industry, art appears, though I feel a little dubious about art’s role in the new economy suggested in the catalogue for the C-Mine exhibition ‘Machine’. It sounds like a re-hash of the early years of the 20th century, and we know how that turned out. This is an invigorating site, if not an entirely convincing one. Inside, an exhibition by Lara Mennes contains photographs of Belgian architecture, presented with a dreamy tenderness.

On Saturday we have the Symposium in Zutendaal, where we sit at a table in a tent and welcome walking symposium participants to join our conversation. Fierce, confused and going somewhere, we have too little time but it’s a useful exchange. Later, as we party around the fabulous Lekkermakery, the mobile bar, I leave the last ‘beacon’ in the fire. After all, a beacon should have light.

From industry, to ruins, to kitsch, to art, to fire. Sundial, razor wire, mine shaft, fire. My last ‘beacon’ will come home. The ‘beacons’ invite connections and perhaps this is about homes all along.

Peter Ankh, who leads the donkey, says there is a need to re-map the world, now that we’ve been to Mars. Monique Besten stitches white designs into the lining of her jacket. My ‘beacons’ are like stitches in the lining of the landscape, almost invisible, as delicate as a trail of shadows. If what we are doing means anything, it might be that it seems easier to see world shining if you walk longer than pleasurable with a wire sculpture in your hands, in step with a donkey.

Despite the tiredness and the blisters, we are dancing. I feel grateful to the team, who so generously treat us as if we were as young and energetic as they are. And so, in the early hours, I get to dance to the Clash without irony, and maybe even without nostalgia. What a privilege.

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Countryside: It’s the new track and field

Wrights and Sites, in collaboration with the Devon countryside, present a day long performance on 27th July:

The Countryside: It’s the real track and field.

North Devon residents will be recreating and updating photographic scenes by James Ravilious in a series of tableaux across the district.

Corn will sprout in the fields in a depiction of ‘plenty’.

Lambs will enact realistic death scenes in slaughterhouses.

Televisions will be switched on and  off in a symphony of channel-hopping in living rooms from Dawlish to Barnstaple. 

Children will present a pageant of rolling down sand-dunes, jumping from bridges and falling off bikes.

Commuters and tractors will slowly process along the A303.

Strawberries will be exhibited on trestles in lay-bys.

Bunting will be over-used.

Rain will fall (and fall).

Bees will conduct a dance (with musical accompaniment) over the gardens of Teignbridge.

Seagulls will stage scenes of horror as they terrorise picnickers over the beaches of South Devon.

There will be a pilgrimage along the south west coast path.

We will become nostalgic.
We will build wind farms.
We will make a simulacrum of London and weep over it.

‘All over Britain farmers, trees, slugs, foxes, slaughterhouse workers, ramblers, tuberculosis mycobacteria, silage silos, green algae in duckponds and vicars on bicycles will join in a familiar and much-loved script to perform a day in the countryside. On a stage measuring 18.6 million hectares, in a production with a budget of over £20 million, muck will be spread and crops will be modified. As well as much-loved storylines of birth, death and rutting, we invite the people of the UK’s cities to join us for the day, to participate in a special track event: ‘The One Mile An Hour Stroll’; starting and finishing lines will be chosen by the participants. (No animals will be harmed in the making of this production – well quite a few, actually). ‘ Mytho Geography

(Early model/scenario, courtesy of Mythogeography) ‘In the performance a white man will arrive by car on the massive 18.6 million hectare stage, and rush from his vehicle to the nearest building, against a backdrop of synchronised wind farms, riotous behaviour of pollen-inebriated bees, flooding, loneliness, clotted cream teas, accidents, milking routines, mass mastication, the removal of hedges and the putting back in on hedges, and the setting aside of differences.’ Mythogeography

Wonders of Weston Launch

The Wonders of Weston programme of artworks for Weston-super-Mare was launched on October 29th 2010.

Wrights & Sites’s contribution is Everything you need to build a town is here, a series of 41 signs distributed widely throughout Weston, with a keystone at the Quarry.

For a map and for much more information about the project as a whole, a video of Wrights & Sites speaking and lots of info about the other artworks, go to www.wondersofweston.org

Wrights & Sites commission for Weston-Super-Mare

Wrights & Sites have now completed a major commission to create public art work for Weston-Super-Mare. Entitled Everything you need to build a town is here, the commission is from Situations and Field Arts projects and is funded by CABE as part of its ‘Sea Change’ programme.

It is part of ‘Wonders of Weston’, a programme of six public art works by Ruth Claxton, Tim Etchells, Lara Favoretto, Tania Kovats, Raumlabor Berlin and ourselves.

We have created a series of textual signs to be placed at various sites through the town of Weston, working with designers Polimekanos. These signs draw attention to the architectural layers or ‘strata’ that make up the town and suggest small actions that invite the passer by to consider their own contribution to and engagement with that architecture.

The website can be found at http://www.wondersofweston.org/artists/


Wrights & Sites update Sept 09

As our project on ‘constructed situations’ or ‘fragile architectures’ has found shape, Wrights & Sites has been completing manifestos, proposals and practical experiments towards a book, provisionally titled ‘Leaving the Building’.

On Sept 2nd, we visited the Polytek building in Exeter, an old warehouse that formerly manufactured a wide range of plastic goods and is now used by the Charity Bookcycle for storing their stock of used books.

The space is currently hosting a joint exhibition between Central St Martins and Form 82, Exeter (running till 13th September Thurs-Sun 12-6 or by appointment). See www.thelazysusan.net

Our own experimentation was more provisional and ad hoc, around the back of the building, not in full view and not intended to remain. We built makeshift structures, collections, auditoria, offices out of plastics, old books and broken breezeblocks.


Wrights & Sites – update, January 2009

Wrights & Sites are currently investigating the idea of the ‘constructed situation’, or, alternatively, forms of physical and architectural intervention that might act to provoke new behaviours, debates or experiences. The project currently seeks to define itself more precisely. Ideas now being explored include the creation of a laboratory/hub; the investigation of transportable objects; the uses of planning applications; the eventual compilation of a publication towards this new set of activities.

Since New Year, the company has been working to transform a garage in Danes Road to create a project ‘hub’.

On January 29th, the company was filmed by La Grosse Boule Productions and on behalf of the network Canal Plus (the French equivalent of HBO) for a documentary called Alternative Tourism, to be broadcast as part of Jeudi Investigation (the French 60 Minutes).

About Wrights & Sites

Wrights & Sites was established in 1997 by Cathy Turner, Stephen Hodge, Phil Smith and Simon Persighetti. The four core members work as a group of artist/researchers with a special relationship to site, city/landscape and walking. Recent work includes Mis-Guided: Elsewhere in Fribourg, Belluard Bollwerk International Festival, Fribourg, Switzerland, 2008.

The Belluard Bollwerk International (BBI), Wrights & Sites and the Pour-cent culturel Migros presented a programme of new “mis-guided” work by international artists that aimed to disrupt the established habits and frameworks that regulate the city, revealing the unexpected, the “elsewheres” of Fribourg.

The work was realised as a part of the BBI festival 2008 and included work by Wrights & Sites, Nicolas Galeazzi, Alex Hanna, Christian Hasucha, Blaise Roulin and Yoann Chassot, Rajni Shah and Robert Walker.


For more information, please see www.mis-guide.com