DisplacementActivities: The Traverse. Leeds Light Night, 2017

Duration: 3.5 hours (19;30-23:00)

Date: 6th October, 2017 

 

Serpent Circle in Tetley Carpark, photo by Sue Miller.

The Traverse marks the resumption of an approach that began with DisplacementActivities: Leeds Light Night in 2011 (archive will emerge). Here is the route for the 2017 iteration:

Border Control: K.P. Culver processing visas, photo by Harlan Whittingham

The Traverse began outside The Henry Moore Institute with Border Control administered by K.P. Culver. This intervention deliberately obstructed the flow of the participants requiring them to be scrutinised regarding their credentials and determine whether or not they were legal. In due course, people were handed their visas which would have to be checked and stamped at various checkpoints enroute. Once inside the Institute, I was able to provide a Displaced Induction outlining the general plan, concept and associated

The Gillick Serpent, photo by Simon Bradley.
Traversers congregating around Takamatsu’s ‘String Black/String (Black No.1), 1962, photo by Tim Waters.

ideas in order to (dis)orientate the group. From this moment on, Time would Be Visible At All Times, in bright red digital digits. There followed Homage to the Gillick involving the whole group processing single-file past The Gillick Serpent, a sketch of the fabled beast that the baby Eve had to wrestle with before she could aspire to shame. Filing past the image, the attendees were invited to Touch the Gillick in the form of a 1967 penny coin—Queen’s head designed by Mary Gillick herself—from my personal collection. I then transformed into my role as Official Tour Guide for the Henry Moore Institute at precisely 8:00pm guiding visitors around the Jiro Takamatsu: Temperature of Sculpture exhibition. The official spiel was confounded by an imposter text in the shape of a catalogue concerning an exhibition by Laurent Pariente that took place at the Institute in 1996. Strangely enough, the displaced text fitted perfectly with the content of the current exhibition. ‘In the image of an image of an image… temporality is indistinguishable from the layering of images in the image of painting, it is present in its entirety in the chronology of representation… what is outside the frame is not outside the the field of representation’, uncanny in its association with Takamatsu’s shadow work and, manifested perfectly in ‘Shadow’ 1965–6, a sketch involving frames repeated within frames, resembling a scene from one of Yasujiro Ozu’s masterfully composed cinematic works.  After the official guided tour was complete, I returned to my unofficial capacity and introduced the group to The Serpent, several lengths of climbing rope combined with lights, skulls and various fetishes—essential equipment for making the first Traverse of Leeds Light Night ever attempted in World History. With each Traverser holding on tight we exited the Institute.

Discarded climbing rope, no longer reliable enough to hang off mountains with. The Serpent wakens for The Traverse, photo by Simon Bradley.

The first encounter was with Josef Beuys’s tree and basalt rock directly outside the Institute. This piece from7,000 Oaks (1982) arrived in Leeds in 1998. It was remarkable that hardly anyone knew this sculpture was here at all, yet it has been there in plain view for almost 20 years. We traversed through the thronging crowds to Upper Basinghall Street. Cutting a route behind the backs of banks and expensive restaurants we made our way down the dingy street through rubbish and aircon drones considering potential places to sleep the night…doorways, cardboard boxes, inside skips.

Behind the Nat West Bank we encountered a startling street performance of Visible Empty delivered by Nicole Murmann standing on a precarious ledge (see below).

Nicole Murmann, photo by K. P. Culver

Proceeding just around the corner into the grounds of an easily overlooked gem in the shape of the Unitarian Mill Hill Chapel, …we paused when we came across a war memorial whose legend was intoned by Chris Blanchard: Is it nothing to you all ye that pass by? Passing by swiftly, we came to the main railway bridges and took a sharp left along Parallel Lines towards the notorious South East Passage (usually packed with revellers) where we had heard tales of previous Traversers never returning. We were regaled by several passersby, since we constituted something of a spectacle ourselves, a memorable, if dubious, taunt being: ‘That’s a bit gay, isn’t it?’. The trundling trains rumbled on above us. We girded our loins and tightened our grip as we entered the confines of the fabled passage but it wasn’t nearly as hazardous as we had been told. After completing the first ever successful traverse of the South East Passage, we emerged unscathed and with a full complement of Traversers.

The next stretch was an audiowalk. The Bonfirebird Suite in which I had combined two binaural recordings, one Birdwoods had appeared in the original 2011 Displacement in Holbeck (displacing bird sounds from Judy Woods, near Bradford) was combined with Bonfire Night recorded in Holbeck itself in 2015. Headphones and being outdoors are recommended for binaural recordings such as this.    

Bonfirebird Suite (2017), by Simon Bradley

Walking along in single-file concentrating on the audio piece while grasping our fetishised Serpent made us even more conspicuous in a less frequented part of town, perhaps even more so with Time being Visible at All Times as we processed solemnly. Perhaps it is therefore less surprising that a group of pedestrians asked if they could join us, ‘we’re Catholics too’, they proffered. They seemed sincere—as did the paparazzi who greeted us around the corner with their sprouting lenses. A bizarre interlude it has to be said. Next we came across Border Control again and had to be processed before entering the artists’ collective studios of Serf. Ascending a rickety fire escape to the attic studiospace of Serf we were confronted by a locked door. I knocked. It was opened suddenly and with great force. After interrogation by a fearsome guard in the form of Izzi Wade we were admitted into the gloomy studio strewn with the residue and detritus of a previous intervention. Using our torches we proceeded tentatively. Harlan Whittingham‘s Revolting Serfs, a post-apocalyptic dystopian scenario, had been and gone leaving ominous traces of artwork displaced and our increasingly manic guide began tearing down transcripts from the walls and hurling them at us. There was nothing for it but to flee.

The Pocket Museum of Displacements is done. Okinawan sand within the Cley Hill chalk circle, photo by Kathryn Adelaide Wilson.

We knew had to cross water somehow. Luckily a bridge was near at hand and we made our way towards it. Before we could cross water, however, another Border Control intervention impeded our progress.Eventually we assembled beneath the ‘Duet Plaque’ marking an online interaction between cities throughout UK and India devised by Leeds-based Invisible Flock. It was here that I introduced the Traversers to my Pocket Museum of Displacements, an ongoing artwork that explores my own struggles with memory, place, mythology, art, politics and an obsession with stone collecting. I will be doing an article on this in due course. Catch the next performance of it at Tim Waters’ Terminalia: Beating the Bounds event here. We were then at liberty to cross the water unhindered and we headed to the enormous expanse of The Tetley Carpark. Here it was time to lay down the Serpent, who had guided us all the way so far, and pause. The Serpent now formed an illuminated circle into which I invited the Traversers to step and listen to my recording of Hughbon Condor talking eloquently about a carnival costume he had made for the Leeds Carnival 2007, marking the Bicentenary of the Abolition of Slavery.    

Hughbon Condor ‘Man on Hasback Nar See Dat’, interviewed by Simon Bradley, 2007.

The current exhibition celebrating 50 years of the Leeds West Indian Carnival at The Tetley happened to have the costume Hughbon was referring to. Incidentally, Leeds West Indian Carnival claims to be ‘Europe’s longest running authentic Caribbean carnival parade – the first to feature all three essential elements of Caribbean Carnival, costumes, music and a masquerade procession’.  After listening to the account, we coiled the Serpent up in order to enter The Tetley. As it turned out, everyone was rather reluctant to lose touch with the Serpent, who had not only developed a character all its own but had bonded us as a group in a strange and beautiful way. We couldn’t enter The Tetley though. Not before getting through Border Control once last time.

Inside the final destination at last we were treated to a guided tour of the exhibition, including Hughbon Condor’s magnificent ‘Man on Hasback’ costume.

Hughbon Condor’s ‘Man on Hasback’ costume, 2007, photo by Sue Miller.

 

Harlan Whittingham, medium for Joseph Buckley, photo by Kathryn Adelaide Wilson.

Next was a strange encounter with the disembodied spirit of Joseph Buckley manifested through the medium of Harlan Whittingham. The New York-based artist had kindly agreed to enter into a displaced Q&A with the Traversers about his current show Brotherhood Tapestry. It was a jittery exchange that edged between several temporal, geographical and cultural zones revealing tantalising glimpses into the artist and his works.

For the final phase of the Traverse we entered The Tetley Boardroom, assembling around a huge mahogany table surrounded by portraits of the august fraternity that had been intimately associated with the good fortunes of the institution back in the times when it was a thriving beer company. That had all been displaced, and here we were, in a public arts venue encompassed by a vast carpark that had hitherto been a factory (demolished in 2012) employing hundreds of workers producing beer for the nation. The lights were dimmed, the illuminating Serpent found its place on the table next to the Time which had been Visible at All Times and the Traversers hushed in expectation of the finale. With specific reference to Serpents, the venerable Chris Blanchard treated us to a splendidly satanic Reading from Milton’s Paradise Lost (with a chorus of Pariented demons). Everyone’s visas (now fully stamped with traces of our journey) carried a piece of the Pariente text that had worked its way into the Takamatsu exhibition. These English and French fragments of varying lengths provided the material for the choruses which followed each time Chris raised the Serpent’s head. When the ritual came to a close, at precisely 10:30pm, the Traverse was declared complete and the Traversers descended to the bar for a well-earned drink.

Chris Blanchard concluding the event with a serpentine reading of Milton’s Paradise Lost, photo by Kathryn Adelaide Wilson.

 

This intervention was created in collaboration with: K.P. CulverThe Henry Moore InstituteNicole MurmannSerf, Izzi Wade,  The Tetley  Harlan Whittingham, Joseph Buckley, and Chris Blanchard. It was made possible with the help and cooperation of and  The event was unsanctioned by the Leeds Light Night Team (Leeds City Council), and unfunded.

 

Personal Thoughts and Reflections on the Traverse

For me, this was a welcome return to DisplacementActivities and I would like to extend a wholehearted thank you to all the artists and participants for their dedication and endurance. On the basis of the overwhelmingly positive response, there will certainly be more down the line… or Serpent. The following section will provide a little extra information about the Traverse together with a few personal reflections on several dimensions of displacement that were thrown up by the intervention.

The displacement of Obstruction into Inspiration. Initially, I sought to make the intervention an official Light Night event by applying through the proper channels. The fact that Project Space Leeds had been displaced to The Tetley since the first DisplacementActivities event (2011) provided the inspiration for a new starting place. The plan was to plot a route from The Tetley to the centre of Holbeck via Pyramid of Arts, and both of these institutions agreed to back the proposal. The Light Night Team responded that Holbeck was ‘outside the footprint’ of the forthcoming Light Night. This seemed a retrograde step considering how important connectivity between the Centre and Holbeck is as an ongoing social concern. The previous event had been widely praised as addressing precisely this issue. Rather than calling a halt, I decided to displace my original plan and produce an event that was firmly within ‘the footprint’. Here I thought instead of linking communities, I would link institutions. I wasn’t aware that any public interaction had taken place between The Tetley and The Henry Moore Institute hitherto, so I devised a route that would join the two together across exhibitions. The Henry Moore Institute agreed to the plan, along with The Tetley, and the artists’ collective Serf was also amenable, so I re-submitted my application based on a route including all three institutions. The Light Night Team responded that they didn’t think I would be able to manage the group of walkers through the ‘dense crowds’. Realising that there was no way to proceed via the orthodox route, I displaced the obstruction. The idea was to proceed with an unsanctioned event that had, in fact, been sanctioned by two of the city’s foremost arts institutions, together with a thriving collective of local artists (Serf). In order to cope with the ‘dense crowds’ I would use a climbing rope to hold the group together (The Serpent) and make the first ever Traverse of Leeds Light Night. The possibility of sparking off an unofficial fringe to the main event was welcomed in many quarters—even more so when it turned out there would be an ‘official fringe’.  The traversing method worked so well that the group not only maintained integrity throughout the ‘dense crowds’, but was reluctant to let go of the connecting Serpent upon reaching the final destination!

The displacement of Homed into Homeless. While I was doing the initial walking research for the route, I was struck by the amount of homeless people on the streets around Leeds Centre. I had also been present at a very powerful presentation on the subject by Brendan Bootland, Suzanne Elliot and Nick Hartley at the recent 4th World Congress of Psychogeography and felt that this issue should be drawn attention to at some point during the walk. By inviting the walkers to use their torches to seek out potential places where they might sleep the night I was acknowledging the kinds of choices Leeds’ homeless face for real every night, along with thousands of others throughout the UK. On nights such as Light Night they are often moved on with extra vigilance by the authorities so as not to spoil people’s fun. Although this acknowledgement was fleeting, I am now determined to focus fully on this painful dimension of displacement in future walks/events. To this end I have made a small but important step—far more needs to be done. It is encouraging to see where small, local interventions are being carried out to good effect by groups such as Activists for Love who are making real changes happen for homeless people throughout the country—recently in Hull, for instance. Street Link is doing a lot of good work and should be contacted if you want to help someone on the streets, particularly in cold weather when people are risking death: Tel: 0300 500 0914.

The displacement of Walls into Streets.  Firstly, institutions themselves had become part of the focus of the displacement since the issue of official/unofficial, insider/outsider art, and the general structure of the organisation of public art was contrasted with this unsanctioned grassroots initiative. The relationship  is complex, however, since major institutions (The Henry Moore Institute and The Tetley) played key roles in making the intervention possible, and they also help promote the work of local artists through employment and commissions. Boundaries are shifting all the time. 

On another level, serendipity played a major role. All the exhibitions happened to be perfectly poised to pose questions along similar axes. Jiro Takamatsu’s early avant-garde work had challenged the whole notion of buildings as the proper place for art, yet he was quickly inducted into the institutions of the time and assimilated into the mainstream. That his early ephemeral work should end up in a museum-level institution highlights the move from the street back into the institution. Also the Carnival epitomises quintessential street-level resistance and the mocking of conventional hierarchies, yet here it was as a static, fragmented collection within an institution. Also Revolting Serfs (at Serf) echoed this in its projected fragmentation of a post-apocalyptic UK where all the major artwork was locked away; even further the Brotherhood Tapestry was set against the blind acceptance of the authority of institutions and asymmetrical historical power structures. Alongside all this the symbol of the Serpent naturally arose from the exhibits themselves, Takamatsu’s string works and Mary Gillick’s baby Eve with Serpent in particular—passing over the potentially blasphemous implication that Adam and Eve were actually born—but also the murderous Conga-line of Buckley. These elements inspired the creation of the rope Serpent as resistance to the ‘dense crowds’ obstruction, kept our small band of Traversers together, and underscored the final reading of Paradise Lost. Themes of the outcast, the lowly, and the subversive potential of humour, in particular irony, abounded within this displacement.  

Psychic Armour for Black Northerners by Joseph Buckley, photo by Simon Bradley.

Links (in order of appearance):

K.P. Culver

The Henry Moore Institute

Nicole Murmann

Serf

Harlan Whittingham

The Tetley

Joseph Buckley

 

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