Avian Avenue is a interactive story about an ordinary terraced house in Stoke that passers by can stop to play.
Projection mapped onto the side of a boarded up house, its an invitation to reimagine the past and future of these silent shells that are held in limbo across inner city landscapes of many of our UK cities.
The project is a commission from The Kitchen at Appetite and will begin with several months of engaged research in communities across the towns as we gather photos, film archives, and memories of ‘who used to be the people next door’. But here historical documentary goes off the rails. Avian Avenue is an exercise in mixing the mundane with the fantastical as the final interactive animations that will be projected onto the house feature surreal and playful twists, an opportunity to rewrite endings and literally, play with our streets.
Richard Sennet writes in the Fall of Public Man that “To lose the ability to play is to lose the sense that worldly conditions are plastic” To find ways to make our shared spaces playful is to accord the conditions for possibility and inspire more ideas that start with ‘What if we were all to…’ A sentence that belies a spark of belief in our own positive impact on our environments. It’s a sense of empowerment that for good reason you can easily lose in cities where our actions in the public are tightly controlled and the artwork which we are surrounded with is the result of marketing experts designs on our wallets rather than our walls.
What are the permissive spaces? The default has become restriction. An internalised sense that one is only allowed to take up a certain amount of space. And how much space is that anyway? Is it anti-social to sing walking down the street for example? Last year we built an interactive sound sculpture invisibly concealed between the bricks of a railway tunnel. The aim of the project was to encourage singing, not an X-factor performance from young divas, but whole hearted unselfconscious belting that releases endorphins and gives people, who wouldn’t otherwise, an opportunity to express themselves in a public space. Unsurprisingly most people are too shy to sing in the street – but in the Singing Tunnel all sounds relayed instantaneously through the surrounding speakers another sound that was harmony with the original. The overall affect is that a huge choir chimes in chorus with your song, ergo you always sounded great – and you also took up a bit more space.
Cultivating our public identity is partly how we can cultivate our civic identity. Avian Avenue is more of an engaged exercise in civic play than the Singing Tunnel – using stories, some emotive, of streets that people have known and loved – changed now for ever. But at the core the interaction is as playful and appealing. People standing in front of the animated projection on the house will be able to ‘explore’ the rooms by getting the animated bird avatar to fly through the house by gesticulating wildly with their arms. Its a simple interface and an invitation to move, jump and play. As always with interventions the success of its legacy stems from the conversations that come out of with, amongst the people in the community or those who travel to take part in the event. Many of the locals we spoke to in neighbourhoods that were in part boarded-up told us that they avoided looking at the vacant houses, because they were ‘eye-sores’ or just there was ‘nothing to see’. When people speak about public art rarely do they mean are in residential areas, residential streets are not what we think of as public space. Its more usual to see pop up art projects in a park or the main square of a city. But our street is the first circle of space we step into beyond our private havens and they can reflect us more directly as we members of a neighbourhood. Its seems particularly disempowering that we walk through our streets with our eyes lowered avoiding the view. To counteract this we are really going for it with the visuals for Avian Avenue – making the design as delicate and beautiful as possible, to convert an eye-sore into an opportunity, a void into a blank canvas for imagination. Worthy of a ‘stand and stare’ moment that brings out the entire street. Although, of course, it is only a projection and at the end of the night the lights are switched off. What we hope will remain is not the art but the encounters that the art was able to create.