Forest of the Future
The week started with a fantastic, creative discussion between myself, Cat Drew, Liv Bargman and Phoebe Ridgway about our exhibition applying speculative design to the local context of Waltham Forest. Provisionally entitled Forest of the Future, the show is due to run at the Pictorem Gallery in Walthamstow in May. The four of us span a spectrum from graphic design to illustration to fine art, and we are looking to apply novel visual techniques to the speculative design field (most famously explained in Dunne & Raby’s Speculative Everything). On Saturday the conversation started off gently as we learnt about each others’ perspectives and approaches. But we quickly got into gear, working up utopian and dystopian visions, including a Lea Valley beach, a tourist shuttle bus from Stansted Airport to Walthamstow, Chingford as an enclave of the north in London… Watch this space, but the exhibition is due to launch Thursday 2nd May.
On Monday my partner and I were hit by difficult personal news. I don’t want to go into the details, but there’s a few things worth immediate reflection (I’m sure there more will come in the future). First, this is when a team shows how amazing it is. Policy Lab have been supportive, sympathetic, affectionate and dynamic in rallying to support us, and delivering work I had been leading. Times of adversity can reveal a team’s character, and I’ve never been prouder to be part of a team.
Second, at some point I will draw a journey map of our experience with the health system over the last week. We met and spoke to a number of truly impressive people (including in the voluntary sector), but they consistently seem let down by fragmented communication and lack of resources. We’ve had to be incredibly tenacious and - frankly - pushy to try and achieve a less awful outcome, and this isn’t great when people are at their most vulnerable and weakest. We’ve also experienced how different healthcare settings have different cultural attitudes to medical procedures, which adds to the inconsistency of experience (with quite profound implications for mental and physical health). Something to ruminate.
Third, I’ve been reflecting on how we have been dealing with the sorrow. Together, it has been good for us to make space and time for our thoughts and feelings to percolate - a lovely, poignant walk around Walthamstow Wetlands helped us process our situation and emotions. Personally, I’ve learnt that it provides much comfort to keep busy. Alain de Botton has written about art as therapy, and I’ve learnt that producing artwork is therapeutic for me.
The artwork I’ve produced supports a project I’m leading on street design. Streets are vectors connecting places and people, but they are also pixels on a map, with profound impacts on communities and neighbourhoods. I’m interested in how different presentations of information relating to streets can lead to different emotional responses, decisions and policy outcomes. I have rendered streets in a range of formats, to be experienced visually, haptically, cartographically and through participatory engagement in workshops. This has involved creating CNC-milled woodcut reliefs of notable street systems in Nottingham (Maid Marion Way), Ballater and Milton Keynes; asking experts to send photos of their own favourite examples; creating a tile exercise, in the style of the Carcasonne board game, to build a collaborative pop-up mosaic of best and worst streets; using different maps (sourced from my dad!) to get people to think about streets at different scales. The next step is to evaluate whether these different formats really do result in different ways of thinking.
Not much reading this week, but I have got a lot from Art as Therapy (2013), Alain de Botton and John Armstrong.