A document of the five City As Material events we ran in London last year, this eBook collects the blog posts penned after each event, a selection of photographs taken, as well as an introduction to the project and our motives for undertaking it. Created in place of an individual eBook for Sonic Geographies, due to the absence of a special guest, this account of the series provides a narrative that was lacking from the other books produced, detailing the experience from each event on the day, not just the resulting output, and hopefully intriguing potential future collaborators.
Simply using the existing text from the bookleteer blog and full-page photographs as covers for each section, in a book, turns transitory blog posts and assorted snapshots into a publication that can stand on its own right, demonstrating the transformational effect and credence associated with a printed document (although it’s also readable online), made possible with the eBook format.
Read City As Material: An Overview with the online bookreader below, or download, print and make via Diffusion.
A collaborative eBook produced as a result of our City As Material: Skyline event, Ancient Lights, City Shadows features mixed media collected on the day and material we were inspired to create after our wander through the city.
Adorning the cover is one of Martin Fidler’s intricate skyline drawings, opposed with an ambiguous photograph of Tower 42, taken from ground level, looking up – once the image is reversed, it resembles surreal train tracks, running into the horizon. Flowing throughout the book are two lines, mapping our elevation over distance and over duration, captured via a iPhone GPS / Altitude app. They stream through notebook scraps and photos, providing a locational narrative – we liked the idea of extending and distorting this digital data into an abstract visual, creating our own man-made skyline for the backdrop of the eBook.
Read Ancient Lights, City Shadows below, using our online bookreader, or download on Diffusion.
An offshoot of City As Material, Sketches In The City is an occasional series of observational expeditions in various locations across the capital. Mandy, Radhika and I sketch, take photographs and write poems and prose to form a collaborative eBook with underlying themes. Focusing mainly on people and interactions in public places – places that shape, and are in turn shaped, by the people in them – we’ve produced two books so far, and are working on a third.
Sketches In The City was our first attempt, created as a result of visiting the busy Victoria and Waterloo train stations – places which reveal an interesting insight of the human character when bored or stressed. Highlighting the material we collected on the day, this tidy scrapbook was an playful experiment with little interpretation or narrative, letting us take the time to view hectic environments from a different perspective than usual and refine our creative processes.
Sketches In The City: British Museum showcases the unique architecture and exhibits in the British Museum, looking at how visitors observe and interact with them and one another, as well as their grasp on the intangible knowledge that exists amongst that which we can see and touch.
As part of the City As Material series, after being our special guest for the Underside event and helping to co-ordinate the resulting collaborative eBook, Layered, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino was asked to produce an individual effort. She created Deep City, an attempt to “extract the individual elements we see in cities over and over again, to help me develop some sort of vocabulary for the cities I know and love, building blocks that make them all melt into one another”. Containing striking photographs of streetscapes, skylines and various nooks and crannies, accompanied by Alexandra’s thoughts and observations, Deep City is an ode to the cities we live in and their commonalities that we discover over time.
Tim Wright joined Giles and I for our second City As Material outside of London on Tuesday, as we took a trip to Norwich, where Tim spent his early years.
The train from London seemed distinctly commuter-free compared to our journey to Bristol, with only a handful of people in our carriage. We bagged table seats, and sat down to some much needed coffee, battling against the dreary weather outside. Mucky, sepia-tinted windows gave the landscape outside a grainy, nostalgic vibe, the perfect accompaniment to tales of Tim’s childhood in Norwich.
Arriving there, after setting up the GPS tracker and sound recorder Tim had brought, we walked down the main stretch of tacky nightclubs and kebab joints, possibly not the best introduction to the city. However, we soon spied Norwich castle, a curious structure, almost too uniform and perfect considering it dates from the 11th century. Tim said it looked like a fairy-tale castle, a manifestation of the first thing you’d see when you heard the word “castle”. Next to it, a space-age cylindrical lift ferried visitors to and from the lower levels – a bizarre combination.
We descended to the city centre, passing the market, towards Elm Hill, a historic cobbled lane with houses and shops dating from the Tudor period. This amazing street is home to the Strangers Club, set up to entertain those from outside Norwich, and where Tim’s father regularly took him to lunch. I couldn’t resist a peek through a lofty window, and was greeted with the sight of a woman carrying flagons from the kitchen, hastily ducking before she noticed. Further up, the window of an antique and curiosity shop in a side court displayed Crowley-esque goat horns and all manner of surreal exhibits.
After passing through the beautiful cathedral and it’s ornate cloisters (and a hilarious sign outside which read “We apologise for the untidy appearance of these ruins”), we popped into the Writer’s Centre, recruiting Chris Gribble briefly as our tour guide. He mentioned that Norwich was barely affected by the industrial revolution, apparent in the structures pre-dating it which are so common. We cut through the shopping centre, past the cinema where Tim first saw Star Wars, and arrived by a huge derelict building adorned with a giant graffiti mural; originally zoned for development, but now a victim of the property crash. A dystopian counterpart to the medieval niches of the city.
Before departing, Chris recommended The Window, the “world’s smallest coffee shop” (appropriately next to the “UK’s best pizza and kebab” shop – a dubious claim). After lunch in the refreshingly different Cinema City dining rooms (housed in a building where parts date back the the 14th century, yet the courtyard is sheltered by a modern glass roof), we stopped by. It resembles a tiny kitchen, with only a small bench and a chair or two to perch on, but has a great atmosphere. We chatted with the owner and several locals, and left with the after-glow of a dynamic and friendly venture trailing behind. Tim’s previous statement that nothing much had changed since he left, and that the pulse of the city was definitely on the slow side, had a small, yet charming, contender.
All day we had noticed plaques underneath various street signs, some with slightly vague origins; the phrases “may have been named because” and “could be” were used an awful lot. Paired with peculiar names, such as “Rampant Horse Street” and “Tombland”, these gave us the idea of perhaps creating some Storycubes with street-sign images, and fictional explanations on the other side, which could be fun. We were also interested in using GPS data and sound recordings from the day for an eBook output, particularly Tim’s childhood memories, and the peaks and lulls in conversations when passing through certain areas, so that we could contrast the physical experiences with raw data, examining the correlations and disparities. We’ll be starting work on those soon, so keep an eye out on Diffusion.
Yesterday, Giles and I took a trip to Bristol to meet Andrew Hunter from Dodolab, for our first City As Material event outside of London.
Rising early to jostle with commuters, gazing out the windows as London slipped away, we found ourselves wishing the grey clouds starting to form would soon depart. Giles recounted some of Bristol’s trading history as a major seaport – first cloth and food, then tobacco and plantation goods, and most recently motor vehicles and other industrial goods. The diverse influences these commodities have had, and the industries that grew from them, were apparent as soon as we stepped out from Bristol Temple Meads station. Classical architecture nestles alongside warehouses and work yards, the skyline an eclectic mix with multiple layers and contrasting shapes. We headed towards the city centre, past absurdly named company headquarters and a block of ultra-modern flats being developed, the new exterior half grafted on to a former electrical station. Deeper in, the surroundings became rundown and slightly seedy, with plenty of covertly named “massage” parlours. The intensifying rain only added to a faint sense of melancholy. This was soon replaced by the overwhelming juxtaposition of Broadmead shopping centre, its multitude of intersecting walkways and floors giving off a definite M.C Escher vibe.
Andrew met us outside a great little cafe in Stokes Croft, Zazu’s Kitchen, which we soon entrenched ourselves in and planned our next steps. He was interested in exploring Harbourside and the water, having already spent some time in Stokes Croft, a burgeoning counter culture hub, and an area with complex issues commonly cross-examined.
Along the river we passed some quirky houseboats and a cafe named after Brunel – a name with plenty of homages in this city. The tranquil water, with the cultural and community identity of the people who live and work on it, was a marked contrast from our first footsteps into Bristol. We worked our way towards the Clifton suspension bridge, past crumbling piers, their supports stuck firm in glossy silt, and amazing houses that resembled Spanish villas, ornate features at odds with the hectic road on their doorsteps. Clifton Rocks Railway, a former underground train system set into the cliffs, peeked out from behind bricked up windows and sheer walls.
We clambered up a steep path cutting into the cliffs, through a temporary haven of greenery sheltering the first bees of spring – pleasantly disorientating after the industrial harbour. Exhausted, we arrived by the Clifton bridge, and were rewarded with a staggering view of all we had just passed through. Giles pondered the design of the towers, looking almost Egyptian rather than Victorian. The banal toll houses seemed out of place as well, a mix between a bungalow and a bus shelter. After discovering the observatory nearby was closed, Andrew passed a fitting summary of our experience in the city: “Visiting Bristol is hard a get a grasp on. You get little peeks of contrasting areas and senses, and when you finally get to the top and get a chance to put it all together, you’re denied.” Our take on Bristol is as seen by the curious tourist, perhaps one that benefits from only glimpsing portions of it. After all, whats left to do and wonder after putting the puzzle together?
We’re currently brewing ideas for the publication. Look out for it soon.
Take a peek at the City As Material: Bristol photos here.
We’ve just received the complete set of 10 City As Material books back from the printers and next week we’ll be designing and making the special slipcases to hold them together and collect them into their limited edition (50 copies). The set will go on sale from the 31st March 2011 via the proboscis online store.
We think this is a great way of showing how easy it is for individuals or groups to create and print multiple books in short runs (such as 50 copies) that can be collected together to make a beautiful publication. We will be aiming to add the ability to design and print out your own slipcases to bookleteer later this year, but in the meantime we’re happy to discuss designing and printing custom slipcases for your projects.
The other week I mentioned an impromptu City As Material expedition with Mandy and Radhika, to Victoria and Waterloo stations. Despite it being FREEZING, we captured some interesting moments (fingers glove-bound) from the trip. I found just being still and observing whilst people whizzed about, quite relaxing, and it inspired a completely different way of seeing and thinking that is neglected when we’re commuting. It also a chance to watch people who were waiting for trains, their quirky mannerisms and subtle interactions with others becoming more apparent as time went by.
In the studio the day after, I assembled a quick eBook from Mandy’s sketches, Radhika’s photographs, and my writing. Designed to showcase a selection of the material created on the day, it’ll be hosted on Diffusion soon with our other efforts.
Tomorrow we’re journeying to the British Museum for more observations, comparing the contrasting locations and further developing what form these trips will take. I’ll probably be Tweeting some snippets of stuff as we’re doing it, so follow bookleteer on Twitter for a peek.
Tomorrow, myself and some of my fellow Probsocis team, Mandy and Radhika, will be venturing on a mini City As Material expedition, hopefully the first of many. We’re aiming to draw sketches and write observations of people and interactions in a variety of public places – places that shape, and are in turn shaped, by the people in them – almost People As Material, if you will. Rather than having a theme or any set ambitions, we’re just going to try and capture the essence of random people and actions, perhaps inventing some fictional narratives and backstories along the way, and see how this format might inspire future City As Material events. Tomorrow we’ll be scouting out a few busy rail stations – places that reveal an interesting insight of the human character when bored or stressed, which should be prime fodder for some amusing drawings and writing. We’ll probably create some eBooks with the results, once we’ve done a few of these, so keep posted.
In the next few weeks we’ll be printing up a limited edition set (50 copies) of all 10 eBooks through our PPOD service and are currently designing a special slipcase to hold them. The slipcases are also being designed as templates which we’ll incorporate into bookleteer later this year as an option for people to customise and create their own. We think they will offer a convenient way to organise or collect your own Diffusion eBooks. As with the other shareables, the slipcases will be designed so that they can be printed out and made up by hand (using an A3 printer/sheet size).
We’ll be hosting an event to launch the limited edition City As Material set this Spring – look out for updates on the date and venue.