From the very beginning of this process the group had a strong idea about what sort of Site Specific performance we wanted to create, I believe this helped us in the process as we was driven in which way we wanted to take the process. The piece we create (The People Tree) was intended to be a community based project whereby we invited people from the community of Chichester to trade their memories for homemade cake in order to create a memory tree (based on Keri Smiths Wish Tree) this would be a piece of art which could resemble the community and bring a sense of community spirit back into the city.
Unfortunately the Chichester council could not allow us to perform our final piece where we had planned to (Market Cross, Chichester) as we was not allowed to obstruct the pathways in the centre of town, I feel this was a failure for the piece as it changed the dynamics slightly of the final performance as we had to move to the University of Chichester Campus instead. Although moving the piece was unfortunate it did bring some positives as well, it allowed us as a group to focus on a smaller community therefore being able to gain a wider perspective as there are less people to account for, meaning we would be able to reach a bigger percentage of that community. Furthermore the site we had chosen within the campus also offered us a tree already embedded into that space which would allow our aim of reconnecting with nature be a lot more prominent rather than the original idea of bringing a tree into a space.
The final performance of The people Tree has aspects of Site Generic, Site Responsive and Site Specific theatre. The performance was Site Specific as the performance was created through the history of Chichester as a market town as well as the atmosphere it presents “the real power of site specific work is that it somehow activates, or engages with, the narratives of the site in some kind of way” (Mclucas in Morgan, 1995, pg. 47). As we can see from this quote the narratives of the site is key for site specific work which is why we tapped into the historic nature of Chichester and brought that into the performance through the trading aspect of the performance. In addition to this, due to Chichester being a University town there is a divided between local members of the community and those of the University so by creating a performance to encompass all members of the community of Chichester. Both of these aspects, the trading past of Chichester and the inhabitants within it worked as stimulus and purpose for our final piece therefore the piece could not be moved to another location because of this.
Additionally the final piece had elements of a Site Responsive performance this is due to the vastness of the stimulus Chichester presented to us. Although we have used specific areas that are connected to Chichester the piece is a response to these elements. This is because the piece found the divisions within the community and tried to create a piece that brought them together but this stimulus can be found in other places or sites not only Chichester, which means that the piece could be moved and adapted for another city or site that is suffering from these divisions between local residents and university students.
In conclusion to the final performance being site specific, site responsive and site generic, the performance could be considered site generic or considered to have site generic elements because if we strip away the process which lead us to our performance we are left with gathering memories from people in a particular site. This task as a bare minimum could be considered as site generic as it could be taken anywhere to any site as memories are created from all places no matter the context of the site. Although stating in which ways The People Tree could be Site Responsive or Site Generic I believe that our performance was Site Specific, through the process every decision made toward the final piece was due to Chichester’s history, present and atmosphere, although the performance could be views in other ways the process of the piece and its delivery both contributed to create a Site Specific performance.
The response we got from the participants involved were all very positive, we exceed the level of participation we first assumed we would gain. We all together collected over 150 memories through the trade of our home made cakes plus around another 30 to 40 memories from people who just wanted to participate with the making of the people tree. A number of comments were made at the final stage of our performance when the tree was complete that it was “striking to look at, you can see it as your walking toward the tree, I think you should keep it up and allow people to add to it at will” (participant), another participant described the work as “a beautiful way to share our experiences” (participant).
If I was to move forward with this piece I would run it as a longer piece, although the piece was durational for the day I feel that it being for a longer period of time would allow us to involve more participants covering more of the community of the University, from there I would again attempt to take the piece to its original destination of the Market Cross within Chichester as then I would have collected memories from both sides of the division within Chichester and been able to collaborate them both, achieving the purpose of the piece to bring together the community of Chichester.
Due to us not being able to perform by the market cross we have decided to move our production to the university of Chichester campus. This being done our pieces focus still looks at the relationships within community and the communities’ relationship with the place they inhabit and its natural spaces.
The university has a history dating back to 1839, when a School for training 'Masters' was set up at what is now the Chichester campus, known as the Bishop Otter College. In 1873, the campus became a training institute for women teachers due to the activism of Louisa Hubbard after the Elementary Education Act 1870 created demand for school teachers. Men were later admitted to the college in the 1950s.A college at Bognor Regis was opened as an emergency teacher training institute immediately after the Second World War in 1946.During the 1970s Bishop Otter College was regarded as one of the most successful teacher training colleges in the country, During that period, the Principal of that establishment was Professor Gordon McGregor, who went on to be Principal of Ripon and York St John and latterly Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Leeds. In 1977 Bishop Otter College and the Bognor Regis College were merged to form the West Sussex Institute of Higher Education (WSIHE), with degrees being awarded by CNAA and later the University of Southampton. Between 1995 and 1999, it was known as Chichester Institute of Higher Education. It gained degree-awarding powers in 1999, becoming known as University College Chichester, and became recognised as a full university in October 2005.Well-known alumni include the actor Jason Merrells and the bestselling biographer Paula Byrne.
Due to the university lifestyle, university life generates its own community of students, we will be looking at this for our piece as we want this community to connect with each other by sharing their memories of this place, using a tree in a courtyard on campus we will perform our piece as created but with much more of a drive towards students. What they feel about University? What sticks out for them? Using the people tree to do this with our trading system put in place we hope to create a piece of live art through our findings, creating something for the community of the university by the community of the university.
Public Gift Productions is a new theatre company that is centred on creating site specific performances. We aim to collaborate with our public audiences to make a community lead, organic live art piece that is made by the people and for the people. We are committed to restoring life and spirit back into towns and cities by:
· Finding a sense of community in cities
· Re-claiming the space for the people
· Closing the generation gaps through commination and creation.
Our latest project was made for the city of Chichester. As residents of the city, we have a deep understanding of the way of life within the city; where the life is and where it has been lost. We noticed that there was a substantial gap between generations and social classes that left the city lacking in passion and compassion. As well as this, we felt that the natural spaces have been forgotten due to the strong pull that the commercial city centre has on the residents.
From this we have created a response. The People Tree is a durational performance that combines memory, interactive play and cake. Public Gift Production aims to bring communities together by creating visual art. A genuine join-in atmosphere encourages all people from all ages and walks of life to share memories, pictures, messages and views (past and present) of their own community. A trading system that the performers will initiate will ask the audience to swap memories, stories and unwanted items to put on our people tree for home-made cake. The piece revolves around conversation and the art of listening to connect with our audience and for our audience to connect with each other. Throughout the day more and more memories, stories and throw-aways would be collected until the result is a thriving people tree blossoming with life and spirit created by the people.
The people tree will be a memorable, physical and visual performance that explores traditional values of trading and community. The aim is to create an organic and heartfelt community space restoring what Chichester once had. The cities original values have been taken over by commercialism, despite it once being a famous market trading town that held the community together, therefore our efforts are in reclaiming the space. Roman Chichester was built on a grid pattern. The main streets formed a cross, which remains today as North, South, East and West Streets. It will be in the centre of this cross that we create the people tree. Years ago the centre of the town was the forum, a marketplace lined with shops and public buildings. For public gift productions the centre of town will still be the forum, and we will line it with atmosphere. We will bring back the old Chichester through cake trading, community building, art, singing and memory and conversation sharing. There were always weekly markets in Chichester from as long as we know, but from 1108 the bishop was given the right to hold a fair that dealt with homemade goods and trades on valuables such as wool and timber. The fair was held for 8 days each October. It was called the Sole fair named after the sole tree, which grew in field by Northgate. Our idea of the people tree has been inspired by all of these historic events, and our piece longs to create a memory based tree like the sole fair tree that once was the originator for fair gatherings and equality.
Author/illustrator turned guerilla artist Keri Smith served as one of our main inspirations for the piece. Her book The Guerilla Art kit helped us form our own ideas about how to create guerilla art that means something to us and is relevant to where we live. The works that she create doesn’t always have a particular political message, but what they have is a message straight from her, and portraying exactly what she wants to say about her environment. The Guerilla Art Kit was written to be a springboard for artists who want to re-claim the environment they live in disregarding where that environment is (be it in a city or in the countryside). It’s about leaving your mark, and making positive change in the way people view their daily surroundings. She says that by ‘leaving art and ideas in public places, you can affect someone's day, change their mood or their mind and maybe even change the world in the process.’
Stephen Lambert is a conceptual artist who works with our relationship to the world we live in. His pieces are responses to the people’s reaction to change, consumerism and politics, and this makes his work really interesting to us. Labert's piece, I Will Talk With Anyone…(2006) really shaped our work with its simplicity and honesty. Lambert set up a table amongst organisations tabling for political, religious and other causes and offered to “Talk with anyone about anything”. The audience got involved and the table was very popular, and for the people that didn’t have anything to say he had a list of questions such as “How about this weather?” and “How are things?” The way that he created a bond with his audience and the idea that just offering to listen and to converse with the public is a really beautiful gift and it really inspired us to do the same.
Our new performance The People Tree is looking at two main critical points, the first is that of the forgotten natural spaces around Chichester. When exploring Chichester as a whole we discovered that many rural areas are pushed into the background and backstreets and the commercialised consumer heaven is very much in the foreground of the city taking pride space in the city centre. Public gift productions are an organic company very much concerned with reconnecting the urbanised public with its natural surroundings. As a result of this we decided to place our new site specific performance within the city centre but our main visual and reference point is going to be a tree, this allows us to exhibit to the commercial streets what is being over looked as well as the tree being the centre of the piece symbolising that nature can be at the centre of this community, much like for example Guerilla Gardening.
The second critical aspect in which we have been looking into is the idea of community and how a piece of theatre or more precisely a piece of site specific theatre can somehow re-join and connect a community. The people tree is made by the people,which indicates it is already an interactive performance but it also shaped by the people’s ideas and stories of their city, or shall we say their Chichester. This performance caters for any age, from the very young with drawing activities to the older generations sharing stories and memories encompassing their ideas of Chichester, gaining a reconnection with the place they live. The aspect of community is at the centre of not only The People Tree project but for the entire company of Public Gift Productions. We as a company looked into the Welfare State International Theatre Company as their work similarly to us is community based, and is something to aspire to due to the grand scale in which they are able to produce such performances. Public Gift Production aim to use our combination of community togetherness and natural resources in order for a city (Chichester in this case) to reconnect with one another and to their natural surroundings.
Smith, K (2007). The Guerilla Art Kit. New York: Princeton Architectural Press
Kaprow, A (2003) Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life. California: University of California Press.
Thompson, N & Sholette, G eds. (2004)The Interventionists: Users’ Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life. Massachusetts: MIT Pres.
Lambert, S. I Will Talk With Anyone. Available: http://visitsteve.com/. Last accessed 23rd March 2012.
Welfare State International. Available: http://www.welfare-state.org/. Last accessed 25th March 2012
Stories From Space. Nature Reserves. Available: http://www.storiesfromspace.co.uk/data/html/menu.html. Last accessed 19th March 2012
Taking inspiration from Steve Lamberts ‘I will talk to any one’, Keri Smiths ‘Wish Tree’, Guerrilla Gardening and Chichester’s history we began to block what our final piece may look like.
Using Lamberts technique in performance persona in relation to the participant or observer in “I will talk to anyone” within our final performance we will set up a station in order for people to talk to us about their memories of Chichester, we have made a decision that we want to trade people’s memories for homemade cake (using homemade cake avoids using shop bought cake making the piece more personal). This will be keeping with the history of Chichester as a trading place but also adding a twist to it as we want to use these memories to place on a tree. The concept of using the tree came from Keri Smiths Guerilla Art Kit, the task within this book titled ‘The Wish Tree’ whereby people write down their wishes and place them on a tree, our tree will act in the same way only we will be using memories instead.
The idea of using memories came from our concept of making a performance involving the community and reconnect people of the community to each other as well as the place they inhabit, the memories will be of their time spent in Chichester which will cover places within the city as well as people who may be entwined with the memories therefore covering both the place and people of the community. This will take place within the heart of the city, the market cross again with the focus on community and bringing people together, from each end of Chichester. We are using a tree as we felt that the natural spaces within Chichester are very important and slightly forgotten about and looking at Guerrilla gardening’s philosophy of bring back nature to urban places we wanted to highlight that there are very lovely and forgotten parks and green spaces within Chichester.
Chichester's Market Cross was given to the city by Bishop Storey in 1501. To some extent this gift was an act of generosity, providing a covered marketplace from which Chichester's traders could sell their wares. In part however the Bishop was playing politics with the city authorities who had sought greater control over trade in Chichester. Until 1746 the clock on the cross was square. It was then replaced by four new clocks. How many thousands of Chichester shoppers have been told the time by looking up at the clock's massive black paddles over the quarter of a millennium since the clock was installed? Until the pedestrianisation of Chichester city centre the streets around the Cross used to be a busy highway with the main coastal road edging on the narrow gap between the Market Cross and the city centre shops. Nowadays, apart from a few buses, the centre of Chichester is more or less traffic free. (http://www.westsussex.info/chichester-cross.shtml)