The Groundbreakers: An Unmapping/Remapping workshop at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (2019)

The Groundbreakers was a workshop in collaboration with Urban Laboratory (UCL) and Livingmaps Network. This workshop aimed to explore and map the territory that is currently Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, through the memories, experiences and imaginations of the workshop participants. Using our collective lived experiences as a starting point, both past and present, we explored how we can use mark making as a way of mapping and capturing the emotional, subjective and embodied experiences of being in a physical landscape. Participants were invited to imagine a journey that they were familiar with, perhaps one that they have done many times, ideally within the geographical area that the Groundbreakers project was concerned with (ie the QEOP, Hackney Wick and the Hackney Marshes more generally). Their imagined journey could relate either to a contemporary memory of the area, ie post Olympic development, or relating to a memory of the area pre-redevelopment. The journey could also be the route that they had taken on that particular morning to come to the workshop, since that may have been the freshest in their thoughts. With their eyes closed, participants were asked to draw their journey using while using their drawing hand as their mind's eye as they passed through this imagined space. As they walked through their imaginations, participants would consider the difference between an aerial view perspective of their journey and a street view perspective, marking down both the route itself as well as the visual, emotional and experiential elements that stood out to them on their journey; For instance a particular shop front, a local busker, a busy road, a beautiful tree, a rainy day, a missing dog, a cyclist going through a puddle, the pattern on the side of a building ... Rather than prescribing a particular method or key to denote these elements, or to distinguish between street view vs aerial view, and literal representation vs interpretive representation, the way of mark making was left open and exploratory. Participants could experiment with their own way to represent the various elements of their imagined journey through making, playing with how they could produce a variety of gestures and marks using different materials to express themselves and define if they were describing an object, a direction or a feeling. The beauty of not looking at what you are drawing takes the pressure off trying to make something look in a particular way, and encourages people to explore a more sensorial and intuitive way to represent something imagined. This process of mapping was essentially about making marks, rather than drawing as a means to connect to a place in the participants mind in a more visceral than cerebral way, and to open up possibilities for a conversation about the place.

Once the drawings were made, we discussed them among the group; each had the opportunity to describe their drawing and the various elements, particularly focusing on people's emotional and personal attachments to the area. Participants observed changes in the area, positive and negative effects of redevelopment, the importance of green space and the space to breathe. We divided into two groups and cut the drawings up into small pieces and shuffled the pieces between the two groups. We then collaged the drawing pieces together to make abstract non-sensical 'maps' to guide us on journeys around the Olympic Park, as a means of systematic de-touring. The groups then chose certain spots on the 'map' that they wanted to visit - an interesting blob for instance, and then took the maps out on a walk. Participants took turns in reading the map, interpreting the lines and marks they could see in the drawing in relation to lines and marks that they could find out in reality. Remembering that the scale of the map may be warped and distorted! When map reader decided that they had reached the designated spot they were looking for, the group would stop and look around to discover what was there at that moment in time. Perhaps it would be a spot that they would not have chosen to stop otherwise. At these spots, I had asked participants to consider what they knew about that place either in the past or present or and what they imagined how it might look in the future. These observations were then noted down or drawn onto another sheet of paper by the other participants.

The idea behind the exercise was to look at an alternative way to explore and capture the many layers of different realities that overlap in a given place, but also how an absurd activity can lead a group into a focused discussion about a place from an emotional and felt perspective.