Chris Barr







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City breaks
(Nov. 2004)


City breaks
(Jan. 2005)


City breaks
(Mar. 2005)



18 Albany Rd, Basement Flat,
Bristol, BS6 5LH.
Telephone: 07968 745 781.


City Breaks
Chris Barr, Mar. 2005


The user of a city picks out certain fragments of the statement in order to actualize them
in secret’ – R. Barthes.

I think for many of us the decisions, which we perhaps made almost unconsciously in regard to the project, are much easier to bear witness to now that we have had time to reflect upon them. I am genuinely frustrated with myself however, because I feel I took my eye off the ball for the last part of this exchange.
I think that the work I produced for the Helsinki show at the Muu Gallery seemed to embody a search for something, this seemed idealistic in itself, perhaps it seemed that way purely because it questioned established or conventionalised structures that people were over familiar with i.e. municipal architecture. On the other hand perhaps the moving about that the city multiplies and concentrates makes the city itself an immense social experience of lacking a place – to walk is to lack a place?

One of the first metaphors that I came across for describing the state of distraction that I cited as a proposed avenue of research in some of the previous texts I have submitted for this project was that of the labyrinth, a Nietzscean metaphor for modernity that would certainly embrace “the art of losing one’s way” beloved of Walter Benjamin’s city walks…

I think the searching element that seemed to be at work (through activating the space outside the gallery with the simple use of a heater, and in the process of collecting personalised maps of the city), generally did show more potential as a viable way of working within this exchange / project that would have counted for more in terms of the active part that it played in becoming more performance based and in generally serving to create a dialogue with the city and its inhabitants. It should have been continued in some way for the London episode...I feel that I became a little bit seduced with making models because they represent a familiar way of working for me, as I have predominantly been pre-occupied with objects and how meaning is generated through methods of production within my own practice. The models are more tangible in some ways although not necessarily in the ways that perhaps this project entails or was intended to encourage… So I think it would have been a lot better to have continued the works that seemed to show more promise because of the open-ended and active questioning of public space in a more direct way.

A space is public, on the one hand, when it functions as a public prison: it’s conventions, images, signs, objects become facts of life – they make a system of order in which everything is in it’s proper place, and the citizens follow suit. A space is public, on the other hand, when it functions as a public forum: its conventions, images, signs, objects are turned upside-down, or collided one with the other, or broken into bits, so that these conventions are de-stabilised (they’re not solid facts anymore) and the power that grounds each convention is exposed (the space becomes an occasion for discussion, which might become an argument, which might become
a revolution). – Vito Acconci.

I also think for me at least, it is no great surprise that I fall back on what I know or what is perhaps more comfortable, but unfortunately this familiarity has meant that I did lose sight of what is crucially more interesting when it comes to creating a discussion which, I feel has been one of the defining points of this project-in its attempt to say something comprehensible about something as diverse as our conception of the city. The fact that I am now much more aware of how easily I assume a familiar approach to art making if I do not question the structures that support my practice is an issue which this project has at least been successful in bringing to the fore.
The idea that any of the works I have produced might serve some practical purpose is slightly ludicrous, particularly the alternative map of Helsinki, however the relationship of a work of art and the functional origins that it may allude to, has long been a pre-occupation of mine. To this end I don’t necessarily feel that I have questioned the function of the gallery as a supposedly ‘neutral’ space in the way that Simo has, where the gallery is a starting point and an end point in some way, but the work has taken place outside of the gallery and as the result of a direct approach that negotiates a much larger territory for the work both literally and conceptually.

If it is true that a spatial order organizes an ensemble of possibilities (e.g., by a place in which one can move) and interdictions (e.g., by a wall that prevents one from going further), then the walker actualizes some of these possibilities. In that way, he makes them exist as well as emerge. But he also moves them about and invents others, since the crossing, drifting away, or improvisation of walking privilege, transform or abandon spatial elements. Thus Charlie Chaplin multiplies the possibilities of his cane…in the same way, the walker transforms each spatial signifier into something else. And if on one hand he actualizes only a few of the possibilities fixed by a constructed order, on the other he increases the number of possibilities (for example, by creating shortcuts and detours). – Michel De Certeau from ‘The Practice of Everyday Life’.

I have gained a lot through my involvement with this exchange, I know this because despite the fact that some of the questions which the project has brought up were not necessarily answered in a direct way by the group as a whole, I can clearly see the potential that working in this way provides and how much more control it entails for a group of artists to question curatorial practices and actually shape the context in which the public view their works.

It is difficult, as we have discovered, to bring the different stages and outcomes of discussions and experiences to the attention of the audience. This is I think, due to the fact that we would have spent as much time formulating a strategy to tackle this issue as we did on realising our own individual responses to the project. I think that if one of the objectives of the project was to identify a way of working collaboratively, a map of the different ways in which our individual research has overlapped would have identified quite quickly which issues were being given more consideration, although I think it is hard to work collectively when, as an artist you are aware that you may be working in a way that bears resemblance to another’s approach but never the less feel that you have to learn through the process of completing a work which serves as an example of your own attempt to come to terms with a problem.

Of course any such associations between the works in the gallery are there for the viewer to make, and to a certain degree the difficulties we have experienced in actually bringing the group together as a whole are as equally important to the nature of how we account for this project, which has enabled me to broaden my understanding of curatorial approaches not to mention cultural exchange.The following texts could accompany the works:

The small hand drawn maps collected in Helsinki for my own orientation, offer an alternative cartography of the city inscribed with the personal realities of the people who have drawn them. It became apparent to me in acknowledging the dialogue that each map entails that perhaps the act of walking is to the city, what the act of speech is to language. In this sense each new shortcut is representative of a new possibility, which in turn gives shape to the city.The models that I have made could be seen as an extension of the map-making process, and as a means of establishing a link between landmarks which serve as points of orientation. There is a latent economy in the way materials can dictate their own formal solutions, which is displayed here in the production of architectural models that bring everyday materials and their functional origins into a dialogue with the monumental landmarks characterised by modernist buildings.

One such Landmark in Helsinki is the Finladia Hall designed by Alvar Aalto, the logo of which, used in its media circulation, has served as a schematic for a model that attempts to lay emphasis on the ‘imagistic’ quality of the quasi-abstract building as a sign. The logo in this circumstance represents an unattainable point of view or an ideal one, which does not exist at street level.