Luminopolis A site - specific intervention by Sarah Fortes Mayer.
It all started when I saw Andy McKeown’s work at The Flaxmill in Shrewsbury. I was astounded by the light projection and wondered how on earth he had achieved such an amazing show of projected light. The media at this time was all about the lack of care in care homes around the country, giving facts and figures about the ageing population in Britain and what would be needed in the future for the provision of us all.
This started a germ of an idea. Being the age I am, luckily very fit and healthy I wondered if I could take images of the general public of a certain age to project somehow “so that the invisible becomes visible,” like the philosopher Jacques Ranciére said in his book, Politics Aesthetics and Discontents, “How we read art becomes political.” I contacted Andy and I went to see him in Shrewsbury telling him of my plan and asking if he thought the idea was viable. The answer was YES. And that he would help by loaning me all the equipment necessary to make it happen and he and his team would be present on the night.
I was in shock as I now realized that Luminopolis was going to happen so I had better get going and decide on my methodology and outline my process for achieving my target of taking three hundred plus images of people of those who worked in Brindley Place or those who came for social reasons, and I needed a boat. Who was it who said “ it is the people you know in this life”.. Tony and Earl own Sherborn Wharf, friends who I thought might rent me a boat for the night. Jericho is the canal boat 72 feet long holding 30 passengers, ideal for my venture. February what would the weather be like? Considering the amount of wind and rain that has fallen in the last few months. I could just hope for a dry evening. Please not lashing rain, snow or ice. If the canal freezes the boat cannot move so the end of Luminopolis.
Back to the photographs, it took some courage to accost total strangers around the canal. My gambit was simple “ I am an MA Fine Art student at Birmingham City University, I have to take 300 hundred photographs may I take a photo of you, please?” The response was good and in those brief moments I tried to catch something an essence of the person. Unconsciously who knows how I selected the people I guess it was all to do with not being rejected so there must have been a filter there that I did not consciously activate. What would Freud say? I took a number of shots very quickly as I did not want to detain anyone. Thanked them and we parted company. A brief encounter a fragment of time/life gone.
I found before each photographic session I had to gear myself up to venture forth into the unknown. Nobody was nasty everyone amazingly generous, others wishing me well with my studies.
I kept coming back to a fundamental question why the canal? Birmingham canal has such an industrial history bringing in raw materials for goods to be manufactured and then exported world - wide. Birmingham is not my birthplace, but, is home I have lived here for over 40 years and it is like an old shoe, comfortable, warm and familiar. I love moving water it is transient never the same always altering and changing due to the weather the light and the movement of any craft or birds tootling up and down. I remember Broad Street when Bingley Hall was in existence and I used to take my children to see the circus, a most moth eaten event. I watched with pride as the new plans unfolded for the International convention Centre and Symphony Hall and on its completion I attended many conferences there. Even eating breakfast on Symphony Hall stage with two hundred other people. All of this before I started to learn about Fine Art and became a student again.
Just a few facts about the canal from Birmingham City Council: Gas Street Basin is the heart of Britain’s canal network. In days gone by it was the hub of a thriving canal transport network and would have been alive with the sound of cargoes as diverse as chocolate crumb, coal and glass being loaded and unloaded. Historically. Gas Street Basin was the meeting point of the Birmingham and Worcester Canal and the Birmingham Canal Main Line. For the first 30 years a solid bar – The Worcester Bar- separated the two canals so that the Birmingham Canal Navigations would not loose water to the Worcester & Birmingham. Cargoes had to be laboriously transshipped between boats on either side. The bar still exists to day, with boats moored to both sides of it, but a narrow opening allows boats to navigate from one side to the other. As for the name, its explanation is simple. Gas Street was the first street in the city to have gas.
While I have been working and researching Luminopolis I have come across many quotations that I would like to share with you:
“Waste your money and you’re only out of money, but waste your time and you have lost part of your life.” Michael Le Boeuf
“People talk of killing time, while time quietly kills us.” Dion Boucicault
All the world's a stage,And all the men and women merely players,They have their exits and entrances,And one man in his time plays many parts,His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchelAnd shining morning face, creeping like snailUnwillingly to school. And then the lover,Sighing like furnace, with a woeful balladMade to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,Seeking the bubble reputationEven in the cannon's mouth. And then the justiceIn fair round belly, with good capon lin'd,With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,Full of wise saws, and modern instances,And so he plays his part. The sixth age shiftsInto the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side,His youthful hose well sav'd, a world too wide,For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,Turning again towards childish treble, pipesAnd whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,That ends this strange eventful history,Is second childishness and mere oblivion,Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Jacques in Act II Scene VII.
Ten million people over the age of 65 a 6th of the population, number likely to double over the next few decades. Lynne Segal, Out of Time, P. 2.
“Photographs an ethics of seeing hold the whole world in our heads as an anthology of images to collect photographs is to collect the world.” Susan Sontag, On Photography.
“Photography is commonly known as an instrument for seeing things, Ibid p 93
“You find the structure of the world in photographs.” Henri Bresson. Ibid P. 100.
“Beauty has been revealed by photographs as existing everywhere.” Weston, Ibid, P. 102. “Images are mediations between the world and human beings.” Vilém Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of Photography P. 9
Once uploaded online, an image can appear anywhere there is a networked device and it can do so simultaneously across the entire globe. The digital networked image, it could be said, moves along two-rather than one-temporal axes. IT moves along the axis of chronological time in which the image maintains connection with an event in the past, and it also moves along another axis on which the instantaneity of its dissemination takes precedence. Here an image is not an archive of past events but a force that shapes the present.
Daniel Rubenstein and Andy Fisher, On The Verge of Photography: Imaging beyond representation. Introduction P. 10.
“As I have said often enough, any source of opinion in old age requires a platform of economic security and wellbeing, one that in the forseable future will never be the preserve of all in old age, even less so as cut-backs in care facilities and threats to pension rights continue to undermine its possibility. Meanwhile, and more chillingly, the main way in which longevity is increasingly culturally registered, when it is not being airbrushed away as some enduring spirit of youthfulness, is coupled with disability. In a survey of the representation of old age in cinema in the twenty-first century, but especially that of old women, Sally Chivers argues that older people must be presented as disabled to be legible at all as ‘old’: ‘in the public imagination, disability exists separately from old age, but old age does not ever escape the stigma and restraints imposed upon disability.’ Looking at a number of recent films , including Iris (2001), A Song for Martin (2001), and Away from Her (2006), Chivers suggests that in all of them the cognitively disabled body comes to represent ‘ normative ageing’.’ We can now add The Iron Lady (2011) to this list, in which Meryl Streep represented the old age of Margaret Thatcher. Thus there is a very fine line to tread, and one I find hard to tread even at the close of this book, in trying to acknowledge the actual vicissitudes of old age while also affirming its dignity and, at times, grace or even joyfulness.” An extract from Out of Time by Lynn Segal.
I hope you enjoy Luminopolis and think and reflect on its meaning. I have tried to leave it to your imagination and please take from it what you will. I have enjoyed pulling all the strands together and have many people to thank.
My heartfelt thanks go to:
Andy McKeown and his team
Alice Fortes Mayer
Arts Council England
Everyone who allowed me to photograph them