This weekend Lincoln sees the return of Frequency Festival, a biennial takeover of new digital art across the city’s medieval streets. The theme is disPLACEment. Displacement is, of course, something that has taken on almost unbearable relevance in recent years, as we become increasingly alienated from our ‘natural’ environment whilst also watching our cities become non-negotiable spaces, more and more difficult to inhabit (think of advertising hoardings around developments showing us clean-lined artist’s impressions of blue-skied paradises for mid-30s, whilst blocking our view of and passage through the very spaces they are designed to spotlight).
The decision to focus on the ‘place’ within displacement hopefully doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to, but instead maybe opens up the possibility of looking at how we can navigate the huge transformations occuring in the way that we inhabit different spaces.
With this in mind, the premiere of Log Book, a new project from Assemble, is one to watch at Frequency. Their work with Granby Four Streets Community Land Trust in Toxteth (or L8, as it’s known here in Liverpool) has, of course, received unprecedented international attention after winning a certain arts prize, but it’s important not to let that recognition distract from the impulse underlying the project in the first place; accolades can obscure and distort the very things they are designed to highlight.
Assemble’s work essentially stems from finding ways to deliberately put direct engagement with people back into the process of regeneration or placemaking and navigating displacement – not tokenistically, but as a valid and invaluable means of creating a lasting, useful place.
“There’s a careful balance between being able to work with people in a respectful way that listens to them and and doesn’t make assumptions about what their needs are but then at the same time being able to bring our skills and experience as designers or artists or people working in a particular kind of way to new projects in the area,” as Fran Edgerley, one of Assemble’s founders puts it. “It’s not undermining the fact that we have a lot to contribute in terms of the the way things evolve, but also making sure that things are still open-ended and that we’re not basing things on the process or assumptions we have.”
Fran’s statement functions as a pretty good manifesto for socially engaged practice: collaborative projects between artists and communities that respond to a social need, in which the voices and resources of each party come together to guide the production of something meaningful to all involved.
Log Book, an open installation commemorating 800 years of the Charter of the Forest (a companion to the Magna Carta), will take place in the Chapter House, Lincoln Cathedral. A team of traditional woodworkers will process a large stack of locally felled logs by hand, slowly and methodically turning them into beams of the same kind used in the roofing structure of the medieval cathedral. Each and every stage of the process will be documented by Assemble photographer Henrietta Williams.
The beams will then be taken to Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 2018 and used to construct a new piece. Following that, a book will be produced that reveals the entire process from start to finish, through photographs, essays and sketches. The plan is to print early editions of Log Book on paper made from the pulped woodchips created through processing the wood.
This isn’t about demystifying or deflating a sense of wonder when looking at an ancient structure, but to re-bridge the gap between resource and finished product. It’s about revealing the production chain of a monumental cathedral as a means to change the ways we think about built space, and to take that understanding with us back to our built environments.
As Fran puts it, it’s about ‘the legibility of construction and production: being able to read processes, and understand the city as built. It’s man-made, and so therefore contingent and questionable, not inevitable. Everything is the product of many hands, labour, energy. Being able to read that in your own environment is really powerful’.
Log Book is a collaboration between Assemble and Common Ground, with The Woodland Trust and Threshold Studios. It premieres at The Chapter House, Lincoln Cathedral, as part of Frequency Festival 2017, 20-29 October.
Jacob Bolton is a writer, designer and music producer based in Liverpool. T/I @bacobjolton.