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.

Artist-in-residence – Paul Hurley

Paul Hurley 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.  Paul, who is a Bristol-based performance artist, will look at how both human and animal communities inhabit the site and connect with each other.

His insights will be turned into a series of films to be shown on multiple screens to create a thought-provoking and immersive experience.

I’ve lived and worked in Bristol for a number of years but am always seeing it in new ways. The city is always changing, but so am I – my perspective shifts when I meet new people, learn new things about Bristol, or see and observe different lives being lived here. This was one of the starting points for my residency at the Temple Quarter. How can I make an artwork about a city that is always changing? And whose story is most important? Mine? The University’s? Someone who’s been born and raised here? Someone who’s recently arrived and wants to feel welcomed?

This then got me thinking about ‘communities’ (never a simple term) around South and East Bristol and the encounters they might have – encounters with me and my art project, as well as with the broader project of the new campus and the University at large. I have a long history of making performances with communities as well as performances with and as animals, but have never mixed the two. It struck me that in a big development project like the new campus, the communities around it are multiple – both the different human communities that live and work around here, and the nonhumans that also inhabit its spaces.

My plan is to create a performance for video work that will bring together some of these different communities in a kind of council or community meeting to reflect on the area’s past and to think about its future. This meeting will be attended by representatives of different human and nonhuman communities, expressing their interests and concerns. The work will be a space for differences to be explored (differences of opinion as well as differences of lived experience), and to consider how the campus might fit into a broader ecology of human and nonhuman lives in the city.

Fun Palace Barton Hill Settlement blog: – 6th October

On a slightly cold and rainy October day I went to Barton Hill Settlement, to take part in one of Bristol’s annual Fun Palace events. The Settlement is a community centre dated back to the early 1900s. There are some interesting archival photos here. Although the clothing and the centre might look very different today, the activities of the centre remain focused on creating opportunities for local residents to participate in positive and life-affirming activities. Fun Palaces are an initiative that “promotes culture at the heart of community and community at the heart of culture”. At Barton Hill, the day brought together artists, University staff and families to play video games, make bubble paintings, eat samosas and enjoy a free lunch from Food Cycle.

I used the opportunity to do a creative mapping exercise with families, drawing a map of East Bristol and asking people to draw where they thought different nonhuman communities might live. I discovered not only that most children can draw animals better than I can, but that they see the city as a place shared with a huge a range of nonhuman animals. As well as obvious ones like cats and dogs, people drew ladybirds, snakes (spotted near the river Avon), gulls, bats, nits and a pet tortoise. Almost 60 species (although that included a panda, two monsters and a reindeer).

Just one afternoon spent chatting to families not only opened up my own thoughts about the nonhuman communities around here, but felt really encouraging about how the project idea can connect to peoples’ imaginations. We will see how bringing human and nonhuman communities works – maybe the final piece will include a panda and a monster!