Artist-in-residence – Vanessa Kisuule

 

Vanessa Kisuule

Vanessa Kisuule is one of three Artists-in-Residence working with local communities on projects to celebrate the regeneration of the Temple Quarter area and document its heritage.

Vanessa is an award winning spoken word artist, recently appointed as Bristol’s city poet. She’ll be sharing her reflections and writing poems which explore the stories of the local area and its inhabitants, collecting memories from the past and hopes for the future. 

 

Click here to share your stories with Vanessa or call 0117 428 2322.

The Sorting Office Site: A Halfway House of Ghost Stories  

It takes a considerable leap of the imagination to walk through the cavity of the former Royal Mail sorting office and envisage a gleaming new university campus in its place. Despite its crumbling frame, there is something irrevocably sturdy about the structure. I can’t quite imagine it giving up without a fight. Even the way it will be demolished speaks of architectural stubbornness: rather than blowing up the structure in one cathartic motion, the contractors must ‘nibble’ away at the site with an extractor that will reduce the building to rubble over several weeks. Though initially disappointed that the building wouldn’t meet its end with a literal bang, I now appreciate the subtle poignancy in this death by slow mastication. It’s fitting that parts be taken away gradually, much in the way the building has decayed of its own accord in the twenty-two years since the sorting office was shut down. It’s the perpetual affliction of a poet to see metaphor in the most arbitrary of happenstance, but I like to hope this idea is striking for others to contemplate as well. 

The archival responsibilities we have to a space, even when we are radically changing it, are fascinating to ponder. As we were escorted around the site, stories of varying plausibility were relayed to us. Some were mostly true with the inevitable garnish of hyperbole, others seemed to be mere urban myths. But don’t the myths we make up become a part of our historical truth in their own way? The site, in this way, feels like a halfway house of ghost stories. Indeed, there are stories as yet untold beneath one’s very feet around the perimeter of the site. There are an estimated 70-1000 bodies buried there after a cholera epidemic that swept the city in the 1800s. It is strange to think of the ethical duty we have to lives long gone and silenced under asphalt. But what a testament to the cyclical nature of time: as we build something new, we must also reconcile with the past that we dig up in the process.  

As I walked along the pitted floors scattered with pigeon feathers, desiccated carpet squares and endless mountains of debris, I couldn’t help but marvel at the playfulness of the space and how much of an inadvertent playground it has become. To speak of its ‘aesthetic’ would be suggestive of a deliberate curation that is not at play, but there does seem to be an incidental beauty here. I found myself charmed by the asymmetric chunks of tiles making scrambled mosaics on the floor, the walls that boasted meticulous murals and graffiti tags that would not look out of place in parts of Stokes Croft. It’s the sort of environment that media agencies spend thousands artificially creating for edgy networking events and pop up vintage stalls. If the university hadn’t bought this site, I wouldn’t have been surprised if a young tattooed micro-brewer specialising in niche IPAs had instead.  

But this space is not the all too common facsimile of counter culture we’re so used to seeing these days. There is a genuine spikiness here, an authentic deviance that is both bleak and thrilling. One of the old safes is reimagined as the locked entrance to a gay bar, an ominous political commentary if ever I saw one. The tags ‘Le Peng’ and ‘SHN’ recur frequently, the monikers of artists who have flaunted their stealth in getting into the building undetected. I fell a little bit in love with the swaggering aggression of this towering, majestic eyesore, the simultaneous fragility and belligerence of this not-quite-place. As an artist and as a human, I have learnt how to feel at home in the belly of a contradiction, so it stands to reason that this site speaks to me on a guttural level. It’s hard to imagine a time when it was an orderly place of work where things were filed and organised into neat piles and people dutifully clocked in and out. I am interested in these stories of the postal workers, how their regimented schedules may compare and contrast with the street artists who, decades later, scrambled into the husk of this once functioning business to reappropriate it in their own names.  

These stories may not be the remarkable kind that traditional history is so enamoured with. They are not the narratives on which instrumental change hinges. But they are the stories that have character and spunk, that perhaps relate to the communities we are trying so hard to retain as our cities become increasingly modern. The only hope for the survival of these stories is to ask probing questions and seek out those who may have answers, however partial. 

There will be a lot of conflicting opinions about this campus and what it means for the landscape of Bristol. Pertinent and uncomfortable discussions must be had as to who benefits from these changes and who potentially suffers or gets left behind. Whilst emphasising the exciting potential of developments like the Temple Quarter, we must also give space for uncertainty, for fear, for lament and respectful commemoration of what has been.  

I don’t want to be a vessel for glib evangelising for the campus, as brilliant as I think it has the potential to be. This residency, for me, is a chance to think deeply about the stories we tell ourselves about the cities we hope to inhabit. It’s nigh on impossible to disentangle truth from myth, hope from delusion, blue sky thinking from bottom line economics. With the help of my fellow Bristol citizens, I hope to make work that holds this dissonance with humour and care, that understands the trauma that comes with change and also the hopeful progression. Rather than forcing neat conclusions, I hope to make work as messy, provocative, angry, complex, beautiful and compelling as the site itself.

Student, Chelsie Bailey, on the rich heritage of the Old Bristol Cattle Market

As a History student at the University of Bristol I’ve had the privilege of looking into the heritage of the University’s new Enterprise campus and the history of the old Bristol Cattle Market, operating from 1830 until the 1960s. I’ve discovered a rich and extensive body of archival material, both locally in Bristol, and nationally and I was really excited to be part of the film celebrating the history of the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus.

I looked at changes in both legislation and public opinion around cattle markets in the nineteenth century, spurred by protests against the treatment of animals at Smithfield market in London. Working with members of the History and Veterinary departments at the University, an interdisciplinary approach has helped to uncover fascinating details of the experience of animals in the market and their treatment on journeys to and from the Temple Meads site.

Bristol Cattle Market initially held market day on Thursdays, with an additional opening on Mondays added later due to high demand. With numbers in the thousands at full capacity, the market held a range of livestock, including cows, calves, sheep, pigs and horses. The establishment of the Great Western Railway station at Temple Meads in 1840 increased the ease of access to the market, both for consumers and animals. Cattle travelled to the market on foot from local farms, by rail from the surrounding areas, and by boat from Ireland and Canada. The journey by boat in particular was reported to have been long and strenuous for the animals, with the minimum amount of food, water and physical space provided in efforts to keep costs low.

Bristol Cattle Market was nevertheless seen by many as the model of good practice in animal welfare, particularly in comparison to Smithfield. In Bristol, drovers – who walked the animals into the city – did not use the sharpened sticks commonly known as ‘goads’ to herd the cows. The location of the Market itself also ensured that the pens were of regulation size and there was less overcrowding in Bristol than at other major city markets, especially Smithfield. However the extent of animal welfare provision in the market should not be exaggerated. Butchers’ reports noted bruising and cuts on slaughtered animals, and a number of contemporaries observed unnecessary cruelty to cattle on the part of the drovers. One resident of St Phillip’s Marsh recalled her terror of market day as a child:

It was terrifying to hear the herdsmen shouting and hitting those maddened cows, and the Bulls had rings through their noses with men pulling them along on huge ropes. Blood would be running down from their faces where the rings had cut into their nostrils. Sometimes men would put a sack over the Bulls heads to quieten them down. Once a Bull put his backside against my Aunties front door and broke it down, and then one of the cows ran into the house.
Source: St Philips Marsh, The Story of an Island and its People, BRO Pamphlet/2054. P39

Through the nineteenth century, public awareness of animal cruelty was on the increase , exemplified by the establishment of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (now the RSPCA) in 1824. The Bristol branch of the society was established in 1842, and funded regular inspections of the market, increasing the number of cruelty cases brought to court. Contemporary newspapers frequently reported the details of such cases, with cases commonly involving the binding of calves mouths with twine, which became ‘quite sunk into the flesh’, to prevent the calves from suckling and the exposure of diseased animals in the market.
Source: The Bristol Daily Post, Monday February 11 1861

The Market allowed the city to grow, putting Bristol on the map as having a good market for space for the animals and closeness to a train line. The significance of the market, and it’s long history, should be reflected in the new development of the University to commemorate the lives of the people and animals who dedicated their lives to it. We hope the essence of the market can be understood for the importance it held for Bristol, and for feeding all those who benefited from it. I have thoroughly enjoyed working on this project, and would like to thank the Brigstow Institute and the Temple Quarter group for their help and support. I hope you enjoy this film about our project and the history of the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus.