Update: Glasgow, Lake District & the Merz Barn

THE SCHEDULE UPRISING

It has been a while since our last update, at least two weeks spanning two locations and hosts!

In the last few days of our stay at NN contemporary arts, in Northampton, the group approached the MilesKm team (Warren & Nora), to discuss the schedule that we had both taken responsibility for organizing up until that point. The major issue suggested by the group was not necessarily the nature of the schedule, although many of the group identified that it was unnecessarily hectic, but rather the way in which us authoring the schedule separated us from the group and cemented a divided between us, as ‘facilitators’ and them as ‘participants’.

The format of the schedule to this point had also failed to recognize and allow space for more informal exchange between the participants. With a heavily structured format, with little down time centered around the group spending time together, the group was tired and simultaneously frustrated with how the most valuable dialogues they had been developing, over a pint, a cigarette and between the workshops were not being given time to breath or recognized as important.

From this discussion, we made the decision to let the group to author the schedule collectively. The format of the schedule was discussed, the group deciding that a flexibility was needed to recognize the different contexts we were going to be operating in whilst also taking into account the shifting nature of the groups individual and collaborative research. The group then began fitting in their requests for time into the chosen format for Glasgow and that night the group authored schedule was uploaded to this site.

(It is worth noting here that rather than bridging the gap between the ‘facilitators’ and the ‘participants’, we thought at the time that it would be best to withdraw from the process, allowing the schedule to be organized by the group. This was an error in judgement as it only further defined us as different to the group, and further isolated us from the group. I hope to expand on this shortly.)

A ROOM IN THE MARKET

Off the back of this conversation, the group headed to Glasgow. The format for the week that was chosen by the group meant that the beginning of the week was open to more informal moments of exchange and allowed for the group to explore and grow to understand the city better. I found Glasgow to be an incredibly rich city, full of a wealth of warm and friendly people, a city vibrant with discussion, operating at a pace unlike any of our previous location and full of exciting architectural juxtaposition.

In Glasgow we were being hosted by Single End Collective, who have a space in the Barras Market. Arriving on a Monday meant that we did not see the market in action until the following Saturday and Sunday. Barras Market is very much a weekend market, a ghost town during the week (apart from the occasional late night shanty being shouted into the air) the market exploded into life at the weekend. Fortuitously we had scheduled our public workshops on the weekend, meaning that we were able, in a small way, to contribute to the vibrancy of this growing site of community (weekend) life.

Glasgow presented us with our most considerable challenge in regards to our sleeping arrangements. The previous three weeks had been painless in this regard as we jumped from disparate flat sharing across London, to the domestic setting in Bournemouth, to the cold but well equipped student apartments in Northampton. In Glasgow we were sleeping and preparing food in the gallery space that we were also using as a workspace. The gallery space was not meant to be used as a living space, we were very aware of this fact and the group happily went about settling in. Air beds, mattress rolls and double sleeping bags were used to combat the hard floor and evening temperatures. Many in the group had restless sleep during the week and navigating the differing sleeping patterns of the group (some early to bed, other rising late) was a challenge. I personally would like to know more about how the group felt this impacted on the week and whether it has caused concerns that the similar arrangements in our upcoming hosts is a daunting and effecting prospect.

CLASSROOM IN THE BARN

We left Glasgow the following monday, heading towards the Lake District. A short drive and a slightly longer train journey took us to the Merz Barn. Our home for the following week. I observed how extraordinarily quickly the group settled into this new environment. A small plot of farm and wood land, right in the midst of the Lake District, with modest facilities, that was the home of artist Kurt Schwitters in the post war years. The contrast to the previous locations was incredibly strong and the mood in the group went from predominantly tired and slightly disheveled to refreshed and buoyant in an extraordinarily quick time. One of the group stated an hour after arriving, “This is my favorite place, I’ve already decided.

I believe that the week at the Merz Barn has been restorative for the group in many ways. The group made the decision to not schedule in any workshops, apart from the workshop delivered by Marta Amorós who was visiting us for a week. This meant the group was free to explore the beautiful locality, while exploring the potential for collaboration and the lines of connection between their research projects in an informal environment.

The Merz Barn is an incredible space run by Littoral Arts. Kurt Schwitters came to the United Kingdom as a refugee, a degenerate artist in the eyes of the Nazis. He made his home near a small farm in Ambleside, after being invited to live and work there by the farms owner Harry Pierce. Schwitters began his newest Merzbarn, working on it until his death. The wall of the Merbarn has been moved to Hatton gallery in Newcastle, however the barn that housed it and the atmosphere of the merz remains. The farm is no being used as a space to recognize and celebrate the influence of Schwitters. As well as a site for artists to retreat to, to make work and recharge. Something that the Tanteo group needed and took advantage of.

FIRE TALKS

On the second to last night at the Merz Barn, while sitting around the fire, the group initiated a well needed and subsequently useful conversation. Primarily the discussion centered around the groups observation that as facilitators, the MilesKm team (Nora & Warren), were distancing ourselves from the project whilst simultaneously undermining one of our clear goals within the project, to create a democratic space. Many in the group were concerned that due to this we were both limiting our ability to engage in the project and creating a gap between ourselves and other members of the group. It was suggested that this was not solely due to the heirarchy we were imposing on to the group but also through taking on all of the burden from the logistical and practical elements of the project, primarily the financial stresses associated with the project (especially since the break down of one of our vehicles).

I do believe that through allowing ourselves to become trapped in the same hierarchical issues that we are critical of has lead to some particular issues surrounding our ability to engage with the participants as collaborators and has unnecessarily distanced the group from some of the central decisions we have made on their behalf. Three questions that I now want to go away and think about are; how did we allow ourselves to become stuck in a model of organization that we are instinctively uncomfortable with? What impact has this had on the project and the research being undertaken individually and collectively? And how best can we learn from this experience when approaching our future projects?

This question of how can we learn from this experience when we begin to earnestly plan next year's project is not us admitting defeat in regards to this year's project. In fact the conversation has lead to a genuinely exciting moment, a genuine moment of discovery for us the MilesKm team and the group. It does bare saying however that when planning next year, we need to be a lot more sophisticated in how we understand and define our roles in building the architecture of the project and the differing role once the project is embarked on. A shift in role is required.

BACK IN SCOTLAND

Some of us have now arrived in Dundee, slightly staggered due to the challenging travel arrangements, working in the makers space of the Fleet collective. Once we have all arrived we, as a group, have decided it will be useful to sit down together to discuss the project in its totality, putting everything on the table, begin the process of spreading the responsibility of the project. A chance, a break, for us to redefine the group. Not split between two factions, facilitators and participants, but as one group, the Tanteo group. Hopefully this chance to discuss the projects final month, raise any criticism about the project so far and bring everyone involved in this years project up to date with what conversations have already taken place about next year's project.

We have now passed the half way point!