Digbeth is a threshold zone, it smoulders under the threat of rampant property speculation. Walking south east of Birmingham’s glossy new retail zone one encounters a dense maze of streets allocated for redevelopment. The HS2 masterplan radiating across 350 acres from Fazeley Street will radically alter the area forever. The experience of walking through the skein of red brick warehouses, industrial units, canal bridges and scrapyards allows traces and fragments of memory to emerge as splinters in the ‘master plan.’
Urban regeneration schemes often possess a pioneering tone, the narrative suggesting that such areas are wastelands, that there is nothing of value there- Laura will respond to this by channeling a sequence of counternarratives. The nature of liminal and contested territory allows for a porosity in the physical landscape – architecture becomes provisional and cracks open for a reordering of urban space.
Laura’s research in Digbeth will start with a series of walks or dérives that shift away from psychogeography and become more ‘sociogeographic’ ie draw on multiple voices and narratives not just her own subjective engagement with place. She hopes to sift through the territory using sound, photography, drawing and painting to construct a cognitive map where memories might be activated and stories disseminated through the process of walking. She is interested in the countercultural history of the area, the alternative scenes around the Ragmarket and the Bullring and also the Irish community and the pubs around Digbeth coach station. She will consider which groups are occupying the area now and how the nature of this occupation has shifted over recent decades. She is interested in nomadic and transient zones, hostels for migrant workers, provisional encampments and the coalescence of marginal political and religious groups.
About the artist
Laura Oldfield Ford is concerned with issues surrounding contested space, landscape, architecture and memory. She is interested in a reworking of the ‘dérive’ or drift, a subjective process of mapping territory along the lines of social antagonism. The work is multidisciplinary and draws on her experiences as political activist and involvement in subcultural scenes, particularly protest movements.
In 2011 Verso published a compilation of her zine, Savage Messiah. The work combined text and collage to form a strident critique of urban regeneration and the marginalisation of London’s working class, a psychogeographic mapping of the city’s contested sites.
More recently the work has shifted into an intense scrutiny of landscape, religious zealotry, nationalism and class. She uses multiple lenses to open up plural spaces. The work is an attempt to channel the counternarrarives of protest and the dynamic of conflicting identities. She takes a discursive approach, for example the abandoned estate is a metaphor for her experience, a series of contacts with multiple hidden narratives.
In 2013 she was awarded a Stanley Picker fellowship, which has funded new work on the suburbs.
Laura Oldfield Ford b 1973 Halifax, West Yorkshire, is a London based artist and writer. She completed a BA at the Slade in 2001 and an MA in Painting at the RCA in 2007. She lectures and teaches across the UK and internationally on issues surrounding urbanism, architecture, protest and memory.
Recent exhibitions include Ruin Lust Tate Britain 2014, Seroxat, Smirnoff, THC Stanley Picker Gallery, London 2014 Recording Britain V&A 2012 (currently touring), Anarchy Unmasked British Library 2014 Soft Estate, Bluecoat Liverpool 2013 and Spacex 2013, Desire Lines, Caja Madrid, Barcelona 2012, There is a Place, New Art gallery Walsall 2012, Orbitecture Focal Point Gallery, Southend 2011 and Poster Sites Arnolfini, Bristol, 2010.
She is author of Savage Messiah, Verso 2011 and contributing writer/artist to Art Review, Guardian, Granta Magazine, Building Design, Mute Magazine and Verso blog.
She was Stanley Picker Fellow at Kingston University 2013/14