Deirdre Macleod has a longstanding interest in how cities work and how those who live in cities experience them. Her research as part of this two-year residency explores how gesture-based performance might help tell the story of cities. She starts from the premise that movement-based performance is a form of enquiry which can help make sense of lived experience and create new forms of knowledge.
During her residency with Art Walk Projects, she created a series of three projects, culminating with:
Future Value 2021
Performances during Art Walk Porty
Bridge Street, Portobello
A new, semi-improvised, site-responsive performance piece, in collaboration with dance artist and performer Monica De Ioanni.
Future Value seeks to explore how we relate to, and are shaped by, the cityscape that surrounds us. Over recent decades, Portobello has undergone significant development. Its current physical appearance is a complex mix and sequencing of developers’ aspirations, changing land values and planning decisions, along with social, historical and demographic change. These dynamics are not specific to Portobello; they can be seen at work across Edinburgh, in other British cities and further afield.
As residents and citizens, we have agency over how local spaces are used and we can actively shape the places in which we live. Future Value proposes site-specific performance as a form of enquiry which can both help make sense of lived experience and create new relationships with the city and its suburbs.
Future Value is a term used in finance and investment planning to determine the likely future worth of assets. As the title of this project, it is used as a way of opening discussion about how we might define, and contribute to, a new form of urban value, grounded in the needs and desires we have for our local community – both now and in the future.
With a background in human geography, Deirdre Macleod has a longstanding interest in how cities work and how those who live and work in them experience urban physical and social infrastructure, its more or less hidden patterns, meanings, regulations and strictures. While previous work has explored these issues through forms of drawing, more recently she has begun to pursue practices associated with the interdisciplinary area of Experimental Geography. She is currently researching the potential for performative drawing to reveal, and influence, the hidden dynamics within the social life of cities. Working with movement improvisation is part of this developing practice.
Monica De Ioanni is a dance artist, performer, teacher, theatre maker and movement educator working in the UK and internationally. Over recent years, Monica has been leading site-specific work in urban spaces as a way of facilitating amongst participants and audiences a growing awareness of place; places that we embody everyday, places we use every day, places we “grasp” with our presence.
Deirdre and Monica share a common interest in artistic practice as social enquiry, but they have never previously worked together. In this collaborative project, they bring to bear their common interests in a way that extends their individual practices to create a new site-responsive work which is specific to Edinburgh, but with a wider resonance.
Flow Lines 2020
is a set of six performance pieces for anyone, anywhere, to perform. The six pieces draw upon minor gestures observed during the current period of immobility and social distance. Each starts from a score (a document which communicates the intention of the piece, but which is open to interpretation by the performer). It is up to the performer how, where and when they perform each piece and whether they make any sort of record of their performance.
From the Århus River
into the Kattegat
to the North Sea
In human geography, flow lines record the movement of people, such as commuters or migrants, between one place and another. In physical geography, flow lines on oceanographic maps describe how ocean waters circulate around the world.
Since the emergence of the Coronavirus in 2020, and particularly since lockdown, we moved differently within public space. Time outside became precious and, often, solitary and we were still unable to visit, and be physically close to, those with whom we did not live. At the same time, the pandemic highlighted the importance of urban public space to individuals and communities.
Designed as works for people to perform on their own (but in concert with others at a distance) each piece of work within Flow Lines draws upon observed gestures by solitary individuals. These movements and gestures have been observed within Portobello during the recent period of social distancing.
Each explores an aspect of the solitary condition in which we found ourselves in 2020, reflecting on our separateness and desire for connection.
A short set of instructions for performing each work were published online inviting anyone to follow the instructions and perform the work.
Deirdre approached other people across Scotland, the UK and internationally to invite them to participate in these performative works, to record their responses and, in dialogue with them, to develop ideas for further projects that will be published as part of the Flow Lines series.
Three of the Flow Lines scores are detailed below.
Photographs from the Flow Lines project were projected outdoor during Art Walk Porty’s All At Sea 2020 programme
From the Longcote Burn
to Eddleston Water
to the River Tweed
to the North Sea
‘FLOW LINES (1)’
On your own, and maintaining a self-isolating distance of at least two metres from anyone nearby, make your way to a sea, or ocean, which is near you. If you live far from the sea, make your way to a nearby stream or river. A canal is also fine, as long as it eventually joins the sea. Take off your shoes and roll up your trousers. Stand in the sea, river or canal.
Bid goodbye to the water which laps around your ankles. Wish it farewell as it flows to other countries’ shores to meet the people who may paddle there.
Put your hand in the water and shake hands with all of those who are now linked to you by water, but whom you cannot visit, at the moment, by land or air.
‘FLOW LINES (2)’ Shadow Play
On a bright, sunny day, go for a walk on your own.
Choose a time that is neither too early nor too late in the day.
Look for your shadow.
Take your shadow for a walk. Try to keep it in your sight.
Watch as your shadow slides up walls, falls into the road and breaks up among long grass.
If your shadow fades, wait for it to return.
Take your shadow to play on (the shadows of) the tops of lampposts, railings and trees.
Walk so that your shadow mixes with the shadows of other people.
When you have finished, say goodbye to your shadow and walk home.
‘FLOW LINES (3)’ Volley
Find a partner. Stand as close as you are able to, at the moment.
Walk away from each other and stop. Turn to face each other. Ask your partner a question and listen to their answer.
Walk further away and then stop. Ask your partner another question and listen to their answer. You may have to raise your voices to hear each other properly.
Keep walking and stopping.
When you can no longer hear each other, stop and return to where you started.
Play | Relay | Replay 2020
Deirdre Macleod in collaboration with Christopher Kaczmarek (USA)
A public performance piece which linked two cities, Edinburgh and New York, through walking, gesture and play.
Artists Christopher Kaczmarek (New York) and Deirdre Macleod (Edinburgh) invited members of the public in both of their cities to join together in a project that combined whimsy and play with deeper themes of connection, separation and place. Gestures observed in one city were performed in the other, captured on video and played back in the spaces in the city from which they were originally gathered.
The resulting film was screened at Art Walk Porty in October 2021 in an outdoor public site in which some of the filmed gestured had been captured. Play | Relay | Replay was also shown at an international academic conference at Northern Arizona University, Arizona, US in April 2021 at which Chris and Deirdre presented their project work.
Deirdre Macleod explores material and other aspects of towns and cities, including the more or less hidden patterns, systems, regulations and strictures that operate within them. Her practice is informed by the discipline of Human Geography.
Within her work, she draws upon a range of fieldwork methods and observational strategies. Recently, she has begun to investigate how performative actions (for example, looking intently, rule-based walking and listening, playing made-up games and improvised group dance) can reveal, and help us understand, aspects of urban experience that might otherwise be hidden.
Deirdre studied Geography at the University of Cambridge and holds a Masters Degree in Politics from the University of Edinburgh. After working in public policy analysis and development for 16 years, she returned to study Painting at Edinburgh College of Art.
She currently teaches Art and Design and Access to Art and Design at the Centre for Open Learning, University of Edinburgh. Recently she has been Artist in Residence at the Institute of Geography, University of Edinburgh.