Monday 3rd May
I decided I wanted to suddenly appear as Alice, rather than leaving home and getting on the Met in costume, so I decided to take the costume in a backpack, with a few things I’d need (purse, phone, lip balm, keys) and to get changed in the public toilets inside the Arndale Centre. I went in as Dani and emerged a few minutes later as Alice, rather like Superman (I changed back the same way later). This, I thought, was to become a new ritual for me and for the Alice’s Adventures practice.
Manchester is an incredible place to play. Exchange Square is perfect, as is Urbis, St. Anne’s Square and the routes between there and Oxford Road Train Station.
I got lots of responses. People say “Alice” and “it’s Alice in Wonderland”. Lots of people laugh at me. The kids that hang out around Urbis are keen to know what I’m doing. They follow me around and ask me if I want to hang out with them. A woman outside Marks and Spencer stops me and we have a brief chat. She seems impressed with what I’m doing. She works at Afflecks Palace, making toys. Three separate charity muggers (chuggers) stop me. Two just want to know what I’m doing. One thinks I’m ‘ace’. A group of boys follow me down Deansgate.
I’m particularly aware today of how this performance work unlocks spaces and I’m even more certain of the importance of my engagement with sites, rather than people within sites. When people try to get my attention or shout things at me, it sometimes seems as though they feel left out, or perhaps just want to contribute, to something, anything.
Saturday 8th May
The path I took today went from Exchange Square, round the side of the Church to Urbis, up the side of the Arndale and on to the Northern Quarter, up Thomas Street, over Oldham Street, right (down a side street) into Piccadilly Gardens, down the side of Primark and across various side streets towards King Street, through to St. Anne’s Square, then back to the Arndale entrance at Exchange Square.
Today seemed to be going badly; I had been thinking about the idea of tricks, but I didn’t seem to be able to come up with anything. Then I started to change what I was doing, quite organically, and realised I’ve only just found my practice.
I moved away from the main streets and started really engaging with architecture. I started feeling a relationship more. I started to listen and respond to objects as if dancing with them.
I danced with the columns outside St. Anne’s church. Some men wanted to take a picture with me, they said they liked my dress and that I looked like I was having a good time. People tended to stand and watch a lot more than they’ve done previously.
Earlier on, whilst at Urbis I came across the same group of kids I’d met last week. They remembered me and all wanted to hug me – this is clearly something the ‘kids’ are all doing… hugging… weird. I felt a little uncomfortable, but managed a couple of half-arsed embraces with the three most persistent ones. A little later on, I was heading towards the Northern Quarter and a different girl (one not associated at all with the earlier group of kids) asked me if she could take a photo of me. I decide to decline, and tell her I’m ‘shy’. Her next question was, “can I have a hug then?”, and I decided to say, very politely, ‘no’ because, to be honest, it feels weird hugging strange adolescents. Just because I’m dressed like Alice doesn’t mean I’m public property – this isn’t Disney Land! I was really polite to her and my tone was nothing short of apologetic (as I mentally contemplated my reasoning for not hugging her) and as I walked off, the girl shouted “cunt!” at me, before I was out of ear-shot.
In St. Anne’s Square I was practising a trick at the bottom of a statue. A group of kids were hanging around me and after a while, one boy asked me what I was doing. When I said “playing”, he turned to the statue – a memorial to the Boer War – and said “do you know what this is?”. I think he was making a slightly unassertive objection to me, because I was playing ‘with’ the monument, though he didn’t actually articulate that to me. Before we got involved in a detailed conversation one of the other boys began asking something and the moment dissipated. Many people use this monument as a seating place, it has a small set of steps as its plinth. I didn’t consider what I was doing a problem because really I was playing with the plinth and not the statue itself. I was trying to pivot and balance between the corners of the steps and the spherical bollards around the monument.
Aside from this, I get the usual comments from people. One man shouts “it’s Cinderella – Cindy!”, which is a funny, perhaps intentional, misunderstanding that he uses to identify me with a Sindy doll.
My movements were more focused around the creation of tricks. Some of the boys who were watching me in St. Anne’s Square actually start trying to perform my tricks. It is in this moment that I feel a real sense of being ‘skateboarder’; as I’m engrossed in attempts at successfully performing a trick that is not clearly understandable to people within the space, I’ve witnessed intrigue and numerous attempts at reclaiming heteromasculine space within specific locations and sites.
Today I feel I’ve discovered something closer to a feminine transformation of street-skateboarding.
Tuesday 18th May
I started in Exchange Square. I took a lot more time playing on obstacles, really taking my time to explore fully. This felt much better as a tactic because it meant I was more deliberate and certain in what I was doing. The ‘streaking’ method I’ve used previously, which involves me moving quite quickly around a city, so as to cover more ground, is too temporary and apologetic.
I spent a long time at Urbis when I discovered there were skaters there. As I played alongside them I kept wondering what the public were making of the juxtaposition. I also wondered what the skaters thought of my behaviour. There was no sense of aggression or ownership, except for when I first arrived and was jumping from one block to another. One skater was sat on one of the blocks in my path and as I moved closer to him, he stood his ground. I jumped onto his block (a bit he wasn’t sitting on), which was probably quite an aggressive move on my part. His friend, who was sat on another block further along saw this and moved out of my way. However, for the most part it was simply two different practices located in the same space.
I also began thinking more about a possible sound piece to accompany my activity; since seeing Eimer Birkbeck’s sound installation ‘Instantanes Vladimir’, I’ve been intrigued by her idea of sound producing place or locating the body within an imagined place, and as an extension (and further influenced by the work of Janet Cardiff) I wonder how an aural portrait produces space and, in turn, what the effect would be of mapping such an aural portrait directly onto the body of a live performer in a public, urban space. I thought I could take recordings of skate sounds alongside the sound scape at Urbis and use this recording for audience to listen to (on personal MP3 players) as they watch me play within the Urbis arena (without skaters necessarily being there) I would also like to film myself here, ideally with the skaters present.
I also decided to play hop scotch whilst outside Urbis; it was nice to feel totally immersed in something rule-bound, it was a nice diversion from play.
Aside from these experiences, I got the usual comments – including a wolf-whistle.
Monday 24th May
Today I went filming. I felt as if it wasn’t working today. Having the camera meant I had to consider more carefully where I was playing in order not to capture any general public too much. This meant I was unable to use quite a few obstacles I had had in mind, because they were already occupied by people.
I still received lots of comments, as before.
Maybe it was simply because of having the camera, but I found it a real struggle today, to the extent that I began wondering whether this piece of practice has run it’s course. Maybe it just needs to be varied or transformed in some way. I feel a desire to do something more private or anonymous within the spaces, which I think is why I’m keen to try out creating a sound piece.
When I watched the footage back from today, I did notice some nice moments. One is when I’m playing at Urbis and the perspective makes me appear to be as tall as a nearby building. There is another nice moment following on from this in which I appear to shrink in size and then grow again.
Later in the footage, I am playing near to the big wheel, which can be seen in the near distance, and randomly, I stop playing at just the right moment on a railing to make it look as if I’m sat inside the wheel (again, the perspective makes me perfectly proportioned against the wheel).
Similarly, on fast-forwarding the footage, the wheel appears to be moving more quickly (in reality it moves quite slowly) and it was in this moment that I realised my action, which was a kind of moving along and turning, is paced at approximately the same speed as the wheel. So when I fast-forwarded the tape, it is as if the wheel and I are reflecting each other in movement, or at least that we are temporarily synchronised.
These experiences make me think I should do more with the editing process. Perhaps this project is actually all about the footage and not the live practice at all. I could see what other tricks I could play with buildings through perspective… the only thing is that it was so accidentally achieved, it might not really be possible to set up.
Both ideas – the editing development and the sound project – unfortunately rely on me developing some better skills in terms of using sound and video editing software, which is another little barrier to me.
One thing is for sure, I need to look back at my research questions for some direction. The practice has to function as research.
Monday 31st May
After last week, I became interested by the idea of speeding up footage of myself in public, urban spaces and mirroring some of the less obvious rhythms of the city. I discussed some of these ideas with Dave and we talked about opening up the unconscious of the city and considering the idea of hidden rhythms and movement, or at least of different rhythmical frequencies. We also talked about repetition, and this all seemed to relate to the little we both know about psychoanalysis. Then I thought about an article I found, which focused on Alice as Phallus, so this is definitely something to consider in more detail.
After various conversations with myself, a lengthy interrogation of my most recently articulated research questions, and after reflecting on my brother’s totally accurate, if a little blunt, comment that my practice is a bit too “aimless”, I went in to Manchester again, with the dress in my bag, and decided to spend some time just sitting in a chosen site, to examine the rhythms and practices. I went straight for Urbis, mainly because it’s such safe territory, and it’s where I’m always drawn to.
After a little while, I decided not to change into costume, and not to perform. I watched skateboarders, groups of kids throwing each others clothes into trees, pigeons scavenging crumbs, rollerbladers, a man with a big, loud motorcycle, BMXers and a boy who could do really good wheelies. I also watched a number of girls performing quite similar micro play as those I perform as Alice. Unlike the boys, the girls play momentarily as they walk through the space – blink and you’d miss them. They quickly jump onto blocks and off again, they avoid cracks in the ground, they balance on pavements, but it’s whilst they traverse the space, they don’t stop and linger and dwell.
And it’s here, I thought, that I’m going wrong. I started thinking about skateboarding tricks and then I wondered, how might Alice perform an ollie, or kickflip? How might Alice perform a board slide? Particularly without the board. So, the plan is now to develop a manual of tricks, all of which are Alice’s versions of skateboarding tricks, which can be performed without a skateboard. This way, I’ll be able to practice my versions of these tricks anywhere, and this will hopefully allow me to feel more of a sense of purpose. I need to be able to create a practice that has the same level of intent and skill and purpose as all these other urban practices.