Jun 06

Today I was part of a really exciting and productive meeting with members of the Mid Wales team. This is the first time that I have met with everyone involved in the Borth/Tal-y-bont case study at the same time and it was really interesting to hear everyone's hopes and aims for the Hydrocitizenship project.

We met at Siop Cynfelyn, a community-run enterprise that has been set up in the Cletwr Services at Tre'r Ddôl, between Aberystwyth and Machynlleth. The cafe serves great cakes and the shop is stocked with a range of unusual goods - lot's of organic treats!!

One of the main points of discussion was around how to go about creating a local identity for our hydrocitizenship case study area. This task is complicated by the need to reflect the bilingual nature of the community in and around Borth and Tal-y-bont. Any title needs to reflect the Welsh language whilst also being accessible to the English speaking community. Thinking caps on!

Also of importance when thinking about how to create a specific identity for our case study are the boundaries of the area in question. In the first instance the focus has been upon Borth - which lies on the coastline south of the Dyfi Estuary - and Tal-y-bont - which is situated in a gorge at the intersection between two rivers, Afon Leri and Afon Ceulan. However, its difficult not to get drawn upstream towards other slightly more rural communities.

We're meeting again at the beginning of July when hopefully we will have some answers.

Oct 19
I recently wrote a review for Culture Colony Quarterly about Jony Easterby's For the Birds. This large scale outdoor event took place in woodland and wet grassland at Ynys-hir Nature Reserve in the Dyfi Biosphere. Easterby's avian inspired work is particularly interesting within the context of Hydrocitizenship, particularly when thinking about the more than human.

After disembarking a crowded coach from Aberystwyth, I joined almost two hundred warmly dressed spectators in the chilly moonlit car park at the entrance to Ynys-hir Nature Reserve, in the centre of the UNESCO designated Dyfi Biosphere. Moving slowly on foot we spread out along a narrow track lit by a string of a thousand LEDs that guided our nighttime journey through wet grassland, salt marsh and sessile oak woodland.

A team of individuals in dark clothing, who remained largely hidden in the shadows, sensitively facilitated our passage through the landscape. In this respect, Jony Easterby’s For the Birds was an example of how to orchestrate the movement of a large audience over difficult terrain at night with minimal distraction and interference. The path was also marked by trees that glowed eerily green and red and lo and hi-fi installations of mechanical objects, audio, light and video that led me to pause, move, inspect and reflect.

For the Birds Image:  Becky Payne

For the Birds Image: Becky Payne

Borrowing its title and inspiration from minimalist composer John Cage, For the Birds was produced in collaboration with RSPB Ynys-hir and Aberystwyth Arts Centre. This National Theatre Wales and Arts Council Wales supported event was framed as a collaborative pilot project that posed two questions. The first, ‘What important messages do they [birds] offer in creating a home that affirms all life for a sustainable future? And what inspiration and strength can we draw?’ Easterby’s collaborators in this practical investigation included artists with established reputations for making site-specific and audio artworks, including Esther Tew, Dark Spark and Kathy Hinde.

For the Birds drew attention to width and depth in this dark landscape by using light, sound and movement to direct our attention to the very close – on the ground and in the nearby trees – and the very distant – as sounds and lights flashed and echoed across this part of the biosphere. Inspired by the physical form, movements and songs of birds, various installations populated the sides of the muddy three-kilometre track. Light displays illuminated the trees and tall grass, bringing them out of the shadows, making flat black objects three dimensional and drawing us into relation with this ever changing terrain.

Projected images of birds in flight flickered among the leaves of a tree and an array of mechanical objects and small electronic speakers tweeted bird-like sounds, encouraging us to listen to the landscape in new ways. Cage’s influence could be seen and heard in mechanical musical installations that included the exposed innards of a piano plucked by the ghostly winged shadows that flitted between the wires, a display in which sound was produced by rotating bird feathers that stroked long vertical bass strings sending reverberations through the ground, and mechanically interpreted musical scores generated from photographic images of birds captured in the act of formation flying.

For the Birds Image: Becky Payne

For the Birds Image: Becky Payne

This collaborative experiment had aspirations towards a more sustainable art-making practice. However, I did wonder what the birds, and indeed other creatures that inhabit the reserve, thought of the flashing lights, audio interventions and many hundreds of spectators passing through terrain normally occupied by nocturnal creatures. At times I imagined that some of the calls that I could hear were from the real avian inhabitants in concert with mechanical and electronic representations. As I ventured deeper into the reserve I began to wonder whether there were any real birds there at all. In this respect, my experience of the event became about the absence of the creatures to which the work’s title refers. Shadows of birds ghosted the landscape in anticipation of a bleak future in which a human lack of respect for non-humans and the environment threatens the existence of many species. There was something almost taxidermic about the mechanical representations. I was invited to view skeletal remains through a telescopic lens, a grim prediction for the future amidst an enchanting Alice in Wonderland journey that at times bordered on the awesome, beautiful, terrifying, sublime.

In many ways, the work didn’t provide answers to the questions posed above, but rather opened up a space in which I was encouraged to reflect upon my relationship to the natural world, its representation and our collective responsibility for it and the birds for whom it is home. While I eagerly await the follow up to this pilot project, I am drawn to return to Ynys-hir, to visit in the daytime and to explore the ways in which my memory of the event leads me to look at, and listen out for, the birds in new ways.

Originally published in Culture Colony Quarterly Online

Dec 12
In this video interview Fred McVittie talks about relation and participation.  

"I hate participating in anything really....I don't like participatory theatre ... if somebody asks me to do something I look away and make sure I don't get involved. I don't enjoy doing that. I like to maintain the boundaries that an audience kind of has a right to ... At the same time I enjoy the idea of a participatory practice - following Ranciere - which allows for a different kind of reflection."

Ranciere's Emancipated Spectator provides a way of thinking about participation as something that doesn't necessarily require the spectator to be immersed physically within the action. Spectators are cognitively active regardless, and attempts to get spectators to participate can have outcomes that contradict the artist's participatory intentions. Along with Nicolas Bourriaud's Relational Aesthetics, Grant Kester's Conversation Pieces and Claire Bishop's Participations and The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents, Ranciere's essay is one of the key texts in discussions about participatory art practices. 

This interview is interesting because in it Fred describes his own dialogic/participatory arts practice entitled The Conference Report. His video based practice takes the social network Youtube as the primary site of it enquiry. Some of his comments provide interesting ways of thinking about Hydrocitizens. "Ephemerality is safe...."

Jan 30
Tom Payne is a performance maker, facilitator, researcher and digital consultant. He works at Aberystwyth University with an artist led team on an AHRC funded research project entitled Towards Hydrocitizenship. This work seeks to engage communities around the UK in creative conversations about water and related issues by using participatory arts and humanities research methods. In support of this project he has created Hydrocitizens, an online community where others engaged in similar activities can exchange, debate and share practice. 

Tom Payne
Larch Log Fire - April 2013

He lives with his young family at Ty'n yr Helyg Barn. The barn is situated on an organic vegetable farm, near Llanrhystud in rural mid Wales. In 2013 he worked with community groups and other collaborators in order to transform part of the barn into a performance space. Ty'n yr Helyg Theatre is the site for an ongoing relational performance making practice that invites others to explore questions of ecology, environment and sustainability through collaborative handmade acts and the staging of ceremonial and ritual events.

Tom Payne wassail bowl
Wassail Bowl - January 2013

His recent practice based PhD research project explored site-specific and participatory practices. Specifically with reference to the launch year of National Theatre Wales and practices of location. In addition to his collaborative handmade practice he has also developed a solo practice of located spectatorship. This practice involves returning to the sites of performance in order to explore past events through memory and the traces that remain in the landscape. 

The Persians - August 2010

He has taught in Further and Higher Education since 2001 and specialises in performance, media and digital design.

Connect with Tom
Email: tsp06@aber.ac.uk

Feb 05
It's day one of the Yorkshire Hydrocitizenship meeting. I've just woken up at the Victoria Mills apartments in Shipley. The flat that I am staying in is very modern and comfortable. It's situated on the ground floor of an enormous development close to the site of a mill opened by Sir Titus Salt in 1853. Salt's mill is a world heritage site. My apartment is very Ikea. I found this article in the Telegraph online in which the developers talk about their own vision and the relationship between Victoria Mills and Salt's legacy.

Photoraph: Victoria Mills, Shipley (Chris Allen) / CC BY-SA 2.0

You can get a feel for the development by looking at this slide show here.

Last night I traveled by car with Sara Penrhyn Jones and Shelagh Hourahane from Aberystwyth. The route planner said that the journey should take three and a half hours, it took five. We are are hoping to find a quicker route home, suggestions welcome! Later on we met up with Iain Biggs, Antony Lyons and Owain Jones in the Victoria Mills Lounge Bar. It was good to be able to continue conversations in person that have started on this community.

This morning we are heading to Yorkshire Water Plc. You can find the programme for our meeting by vising the main Hydrocitizenship website. Click on this link to see the agenda.

I will be posting blogs on Hydrocitizens throughout the two days. We will also be using one of the groups on this community to keep a record of our conversations. Team members might want to take a look at this page. CLICK. Eventually we plan to populate the meeting page on the main Hydrocitizenship website with documentation and links which we hope will be helpful to ourselves and others later on.


Feb 06
It's day two of the big Hydrocitizenship team meeting in Shipley Yorkshire. Yesterday we went to the site of Yorkshire Water at Esholt. Today we are going to learn about Victoria Mills and then after lunch we will be going on a boat trip on the canal. 


We are trying to gather together notes from the various sessions so if you would like to see them, or are keen to share your own thoughts - whether you are at the meetings or not -  then visit the Shipley Team Meeting Group on Hydrocitizens and explore the forum tabs that have been set up there. 

We will be adding to these tabs today.

With today's sessions in mind I would like to draw attention to a few threads you may wish to familiarise yourselves with. Some of the discussions that are scheduled for today have already been taking place online. So please do have a look and respond to them by following these links. 

Visit the case study integration group. This has been set up by Michael, Andrew and Maggie. If you have thoughts on integration, then this is the place to record them. 

Photograph: Sara Penrhyn Jones

In this image you can see Sara's tweets from yesterday's meeting being retweeted by AHRC Connect. If you would like to share events on twitter please include #hydroshipley and direct your tweets towards @hydrocitiens and @ahrcconnect


Feb 07
In this video Jacob Gough talks about working as a production manager and technician with 'Freedom Theatre' in Jenin refugee camp on the northern West Bank.


This video was first broadcast as part of the 'Relation and Participation' symposium held at Aberystwyth Arts Centre May 2011


All hydrocitizens members can keep their own blog. You can share your research process and practice and anything else that you think might be of interest to other community members.

All blog entries appear together chronologically as part of the Hydrocitizens blog. If you would like to view just your own entries, or those of another community member, then you can access these on member profile pages under the blog tab.

Adding tags (words that capture the main subject or theme of your post) will help people to find your blog more easily.

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