SOIL AND THE CITY WALK

Wednesday 20th April // Reflections by John Hutchinson

Bob Hamilton of the Common Good Awareness Project led an east end meander to observe and discuss the relationship between the concrete and social constructions of the city and the soil on which it is built. The common good awareness project, initiated by Bob raises awareness of publicly owned assets in the city and engagement in the common good fund which arises from these assets. What if we understood soil as a common good and the assets as the ecological, social and practical services it provides?

Bob proved to be an interesting and informative guide as we took a stroll around the East End. In the spirit of a Parisian flâneur, our route was unplanned and our pace was leisurely as we took time to stop and discuss places and points of interest. Our first stop was at Glasgow Green, where a legalize Cannabis event provided an appropriate backdrop to discussions surrounding the social role of the commons as well as the ecological importance of their soil. Before starting the walk, Bob had compared the city to the structure of a computer circuit board, with their conductive tracks, pads and copper sheets resembling the roads, pavements and buildings of the city – individual components that all serve a vital function within a larger whole.  In providing a breathing space “where people don’t have to do anything, or buy anything” common greenspaces act like the heatsinks and fans of the circuit board, preventing components from overheating and breaking down. As we looked around Glasgow Green and saw the plethora of people who were enjoying it and the diversity of activities going on, this analogy really resonated.

Bob then suggested that we visit Free Wheel North, a cycling development charity based at Glasgow Green as a good example of the ways in which we “can plug-in” to the commons and utilize their benefits for the common good. It was great to see so many people utilizing the vast array of adapted bikes that Free Wheel North offer – a testament to their belief that everyone should have the right to access health, fresh air and exercise.  From then on we meandered to Bridgeton Cross, taking the time to look up and appreciate the wealth of architectural heritage that Glasgow has to offer. We ended up our walk basking in the sun at the Abercromby Street Burial Ground – a compelling site which contains the graves of three weavers killed in the Calton Weaver’s Strike of 1787. Until recently, this graveyard had long been neglected, but thanks to the efforts of local activists it has since seen renewed attention  – not least as the site of a Georgia Hogan exhibition as part of Glasgow International. Visiting this site for the first time, I was unaware of the role of weaving in the industrial history of Calton and the events of the weaver’s strike. While we enjoyed the sun in its peaceful surroundings, I thought of the importance of such places, and of their soil, as points of connection to the past and as incubators of local identity.

 

 

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URBAN ALLUVIUM WORKSHOP

SOIL CITY: Urban Alluvium Workshop / Guddling About // April 17, 2016

Artists: Minty Donald and Nick Millar // Field Notes by Ursula Lang // Photos by Clementine Sandison

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What does the water carry?

Have you looked into a storm drain along the streets of Glasgow? Probably you’ve glanced down at the floating cigarette butts, sky reflected on a thick surface, and odd pieces of urban detritus. Following the former tideline of the River Clyde, in this workshop led by artists Minty Donald and Nick Millar, we used urban storm drains to investigate what the water carries as it moves through the city. And how might this matter become soil?

Glasgow’s rivers have been shaped in conjunction with the city’s settlement and industrial history – and vice versa. What was once a wide, flat alluvial plain shaped by the coming and going of the tides has become the solid paved streets we take for granted. Over centuries of dredging and channelizing, the river’s path through the landscape has deepened and narrowed, constraining its meandering tendencies. This Soil City workshop is part of a larger ongoing project of Minty and Nick’s called “Guddling About” – based on the Scots word meaning to muck about, to be playful, to get messy. link: http://guddlingaboutexperiments.tumblr.com

How do water and soil meet?

It was a cold Sunday afternoon, windy and grey. A small group gathered, lots of conversation. Out we went, to meander along the former tideline. As we talked and walked, we stopped to peer into storm drains in gutters. We collected jars of water from eight storm drains with a basic water pump attached to a length of plastic tubing taped to a stick. Lowering the tubing into the water attracted pretty enthusiastic attention from passers by – many of whom were football fans. The liveliness of the streets loosened up conversation.

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Back at the Soil City Lab, the kettle was on and cups of tea warmed our cold fingers. We used a simple apparatus to filter each of the eight water samples: test tube stand, glass funnel, filter paper, and jar. Part ritual, part experiment. For about a half hour water dripped at varying rates. People chatted, looked through the library, and attended to ongoing Soil City projects like making nettle beer.

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We looked at the eight soggy filter paper circles laid out on the map. Tiny bits of vegetation, grains of sand, a couple of very small piles of wet mud. The actions of this performance brought us into closer contact with the drain water and all it carried, while at the same time our almost clinical treatment of the water once back at the lab distanced us from it. We talked about when dirt, sediment, and soil might be “matter out of place” (Mary Douglas’ famous phrase). Dirt in the garden is soil, is earth, is right where it should be. Is the muck from a city drain ever in the right place?

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At the end of the workshop, Minty sprinkled the filtered water as we walked a length of the former tideline. Lines of water marked the sidewalks, crossed the road diagonally. A man outside a pub watched us go by, and asked if if was holy water. Hard to escape the symbolic meanings of water, how we carry it, and where we place it. Minty smiled and said, “It’s drain water!”