Initiative & Institution Symposium

Friday, 07.03.08, 13.00

‘take place’
trigger talks and discussion:
can altay,
townley & bradby
chair: andreas lang

Listen to mp3 here: Initiative & Institution – Symposium – Take Place – 07.03.08


Walking with brick - Townley & Bradby

Townley and Bradby make interventions, maps, performance walks and artists’ books.

Townley and Bradby’s practice explores the routines and rituals of urban public spaces. By carefully combining place, action and props, they feel for the bounds of what is permissible, or for the level at which an intervention ceases to be invisible and rises into the public view.

Their work is nearly always located in the public realm, and has included an improvised game of tennis on urban wasteland (Abide, 2006), a public poll (Plant Popularity Poll, 2006), a performance walk linking the morgue with the crematorium (Dust, 2006), a trail of altered books in a library (Shelf Life, 2003) and a study of pedestrian navigation and cognitive maps amongst Norwich market (Provision, 2004).

By situating their work back in the spaces which informed and provoked it, Townley and Bradby are making it available for chance discovery and comment. They intend their work to function as a framework which people can use to reflect on their surroundings. This reflection might be playful, and the notion of games is important, as it presents an invitation to participate. Some examples of these ‘portable ideas’ are a guidebook suggesting new ways to move around the city (Sweep and Veer: short cuts and intimate routes around Norwich, 2005), a site-specific drawing where a network of white lines painted on the ground led shoppers on sinuous deviations from their usual routes (Sweep and Veer, 2005), and a walk across London kicking a brick which had been found en-route (Walking With a Half-Brick, 2007).




How do institutions represent failed initiatives?

Galleries, universities and museums rely on some notion of success to secure funding; displays of failed initiatives that they have sponsored or commissioned aren’t going to help.

How do artists acknowledge and represent failed initiatives?

An artist’s project hosted by a museum or gallery will succeed and fail in different ways, but there will always be pressure to present it as entirely successful.

Does that mean we can touch the work?

Does the staging of relational artworks within established galleries shift our relationship with all the other work on show? If not, then it creates a new set of conventions for relational artwork, which will run in parallel to the existing conventions for other artwork. The risk is that one’s experience in a gallery is further prescribed, by needing to categorise what you’re looking at before you know how you should interact with it.


Another way of seeing it - Townley & Bradby

Another Way Of Seeing It

The image above is a partial view of the Foundling Museum, as seen from one of the other institutions nearby. All that can be seen of the Museum through the foliage is the most westerly ground floor window. The image represents one from a collection of views of the Museum that we made during the summer of 2007. To explain the reason for the collection, we have to go back to the institution that the Museum commemorates.

The Foundling Hospital was a home for abandoned children. For nearly 200 years the Hospital occupied a grand building on a 56-acre site just west of Gray’s Inn Road. Most of the Hospital was demolished in the 1930’s when the abandoned children (known as Foundlings) were moved to new purpose-built premises outside London. Some of the arcaded walkways of the Hospital survive in what is now Coram’s Fields playground. The Foundling Museum, which presents the history of the Hospital and the individual stories of some of the Foundlings, is tucked away in a cul-de-sac behind Coram’s Fields.

The Museum is an institution in its own right, but has a second institution packed within it: while the building itself is outside the grounds of the former Foundling Hospital, many of the interior fittings – staircase, panelling, ornate plaster ceilings, furniture – are original features carefully dismantled from the Hospital and reassembled in this new location. The successor to the Hospital’s charitable work is Coram Family, a charity that finds adoptive and foster families for children with particular needs. Yet the social care element is taken on by the Museum as well. The Foundlings still have a presence in the Museum; as one would expect of a social history collection there are archive photos, mementoes, clothes, and recordings of autobiographical stories and anecdotes by the Foundlings. More than that however, the Museum continues to be a connection point for the surviving former residents of the Hospital, bringing them together at anniversaries and celebrations.

This curious doubling up of past and present institutions creates a sense of both rupture and continuity within the Museum.

In 2007, we were commissioned to make some work in response to the Museum’s collection. Our practice uses interventions, maps and performance walks. On initial walks in the surrounding area we were struck by the cluster of health and paediatric institutions (including the Wolfson Centre, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Institute of Child Health), as well as educational institutions (International Hall, Goodenough College, Goodenough Institute). The cause of the clustering is the former Foundling Hospital, which occupied a prominent position, with an imposing building that played a significant role for the cultural elite of the time.

Our commission took shape as a series of journeys, each carried out according to a set of rules that we wrote beforehand. As we spent more time in the area, we noticed how, in contrast to the Foundling Hospital’s former prominence, the Museum is inconspicuous. We wondered about the present-day links between the Museum and its neighbouring institutions. We decided to use one of our journeys to explore these links. We would take vision as a starting point for a relationship, and ask a simple question: from which institutions can one see the Foundling Museum?

At each of the surrounding institutions we asked if we could enter the building to check if there was a view, however partial or oblique, of the Foundling Museum. For most institutions the request was not straightforward: they had to decide if we were serious, if we were being honest about our intentions, what risk there was for them. Watching these assessments being made gave us an idea of the character of each institution. Where we did gain access, there was sometimes no view, or only a view in winter when the trees were bare. The combination of views and non-views, all from different angles and different heights above the ground, defined the Museum in a new way, pinning down its shifting duality.
Another Way Of Seeing It 2- Townley & Bradby


Categories : /presentation, archive, contributions, symposium