Alone with a phone, are you a Good Neighbour as you walk Layerthorpe’s streets in York Mediale’s community policing experiment? The verdict

Neighbours, everybody needs Good Neighbours…or do they? You decide by taking part in York Mediale’s “weirdly familiar fictional documentary walk” in Layerthorpe this week

THE message arrived via email to confirm participation in York Mediale digital arts festival’s Good Neighbours scheme.

Your chosen Date: 20th October. Your chosen Time: 16:45. Location: 2 Foss Islands Rd, Layerthorpe: https://goo.gl/maps/BsBJjfxuB2tg7hkr6.

That’s opposite Walmgate Bar, should you be wondering, after a change from the original intention to mount the Good Neighbours project in The Groves, only for the City of York Council’s much publicised/controversial traffic measures to scupper that plan.

Never mind the bollards. Focus on Layerthorpe. “Please arrive promptly as we may have to cancel your slot if you arrive more than 5mins late,” the email warned.

Welcome to Good Neighbours, wherein “individual audience members will use their own mobile devices as they immerse themselves in a weirdly familiar fictional documentary walk alongside live performance, taking place in York city centre”.

A limping CH clocked in 3mins late, cutting it fine. “IMPORTANT: Bring a (charged) mobile phone with access to the internet (4G),” the email advised. “This will be a self-guided outdoor walk so do remember to dress appropriately and take care whilst engaging with the work, as you will be responsible for your own safety.” It is not easy to walk and keep on looking at the phone simultaneously, CH was to discover.

“Would you mind being filmed?” CH was asked before partaking in the dress rehearsal. No problem…unlike CH’s phone, whose data juice had run dry on holiday in Norfolk. Not a problem, CH was assured, by the guides, one filming all the while, the other (a familiar face from the York arts scene) conducting a Covid-secure safety check, hand sanitiser stern lecture and Green Cross Code reminder et al.

Stringent phone-cleaning measures ensued as CH was provided with an all-important mobile to follow instructions on a walk that should take you ten to 15 minutes but was destined to run rather longer thanks to CH’s initial ineptitude.

Can your friends experience Good Neighbours with you, you may be wondering. The answer is: “We would encourage each adult to book their own slot as this experience has been designed to engage one person at a time. We do however exempt children accompanying parents and carers supporting individuals with access needs from this guidance.” 

CH was being guided around the streets and housing of the Layerthorpe Neighbourhood, but nevertheless still imagined the solo experience…although you are never alone when you are on the phone and assorted instructions and text messages keep popping up, as you follow the green Good Neighbours logos and white arrows on the pathways.

Suddenly CH came across a young man in a tracksuit dancing to rave music, crushed tinny in his hand. “Is that noise irritating you?” asked one irritated neighbour in a vexed text. Would you just let him be, or ask him to turn it down? Live and let live, CH suggested. Not the answer one neighbourhood watcher wanted to read.

By now, the raver was raving in a different way, asking if CH thought he was a chav and “you better move on, mate”. No problem, exit CH…but then came a message that Punch the dog was missing. Would CH help to look for him? And guess who was being accused of taking poor Punch. Rave on, crazy dancer.

To cut a long story/short walk shorter, after various encounters and stressful text messages, CH ended up having to knock on a door to ask if Punch was inside. “Go away”, a woman at the window suggested. She had just filmed CH at her doorway on one of those new-fangled home-security/delivery check cameras filling up TV advertising slots right now.

No sooner had CH “gone away” than a young woman from across the street aggressively started asking CH, “What do you think you’re doing? I’ve been watching you. Why have you got your phone out?”

CH was beginning to feel Punch-drunk by now, a Neighbourhood Watch novice assaulted from all sides, nervously awaiting his Good Neighbours Personality verdict at charles.hutchinson104@gmail.com. It never came, alas.

So, what was the purpose of this York Mediale outdoor project, brought to the 2020 festival by Klasien van de Zandschulp and Natalie Dixon of affect lab, an Amsterdam research hub and creative studio with a focus on the relationship between technology and communities, mounted against the backdrop of an increase in WhatsApp neighbourhood watch groups through lockdown?

“As places across the country head back into lockdown, there’s a lot of debate around ‘community policing’ and the micro-politics of communities,” they say.

“Love them or loathe them, the introduction of neighbourhood Whatsapp and Facebook groups has changed the way we communicate with our neighbourhoods, whether that’s positively or negatively, particularly in the already tough times of Covid.”

The lab duo note: “The introduction of fines and government ministers weighing in on whether it’s OK to snitch on our neighbours for breaking the rules has put community policing at the top of the agenda.”

Oh joy, what a wonderful time we are all having in Covid-19 2020, when Layerthorpe’s student residences reinforce the town-versus-gown frown that is growing across the face of the city.

CH’s verdict? Snooping, no, but pulling together to help each other via Whatsapp and Facebook, yes. Oh, and keep an eye out for Punch.

York Mediale runs Good Neighbours until Sunday, October 25. To book a walk, go to: yorkmediale.com.

We’re watching you! CH caught on camera in his search for Punch the dog.

Will you dig it all as York Mediale, the digital media arts festival, seeks a cutting edge?

“We want to explore how we connect with loved ones, with our community, with nature and with our culture,” says Tom Higham, York Mediale’s creative director

YORK Mediale returns next month to deliver ambitious and cutting-edge digital arts projects inspired by and reacting to 2020.

For its second iteration, the international new media arts organisation has lined up six new commissions, five being world premieres, the other, a UK premiere.

Running from October 21 into the New Year, the programme of events will take place in York neighbourhoods, online and at two cultural landmarks, York Minster and York Art Gallery.

The first York Mediale in 2018 was the largest media arts festival in Britain, drawing an audience of 65,000 to diverse digital-rooted events over ten days, celebrating York as the UK’s first and only UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts.

The Coronavirus pandemic has led York Mediale to forego the original 2020 festival dates of October 21 to 25, instead “pivoting from a biennial festival to a charity creating and delivering a year-round programme of exceptional digital arts events, embedded in and enriching the creative life of the city of York and beyond”.

In a progression from the 2018 debut, this will involve working closely with York artists, young people and neighbourhoods.

Themes of love, nature and community – particularly poignant at this time following months of lockdown and isolation – will run through artists’ installations and interactive performance, engaging audiences both in person and digitally.

Leading artists in their field from across the world have created work for York, such as Marshmallow Laser Feast, fresh from their show at the Saatchi Gallery in London; composer, musician and producer Elizabeth Bernholz, otherwise known as the artist Gazelle Twin, and arts collective KMA, whose installations have transformed numerous public spaces, from London’s Trafalgar Square to Shanghai’s Bund.

The York community is being encouraged to take part, so today the Mediale team is launching two calls for participation. Firstly, Mediale is calling out for 50 members of the public to feature in a piece that will serve as a memento for the times we live in.

Secondly, in collaboration with York’s Guild of Media Arts and nine other UNESCO Creative Cities of Media Arts, Mediale is launching a call-out to York artists, worth £2,500.

Tom Higham, York Mediale’s creative director for the  2018 festival and now the 2020 one too, says: “York Mediale is a place where, through digital arts, we can explore, challenge and reflect on our lives.

“Plans for this year’s Mediale were well underway as the pandemic took hold. That we’re able to work with artists and producers to create an event at all is something we’re really proud of.”

Mediale planned “as best it could” for what it knew would be a different type of event. “We looked closely at the works already submitted and worked to develop the pieces that would most closely examine these extraordinary times,” says Tom.

“We wanted to explore how we connect with loved ones, with our community, with nature and with our culture. We have been developing projects around those themes, and we’re excited to now present a series of works.

“All of these projects resonated with us at the start of 2020 but we could never have imagined how they could develop to so beautifully reflect our worries, hopes and relationships to our communities.”

York artist and filmmaker Kit Monkman: Collaborating with Gazelle Twin and University of York Music Department for Absent Sitters, an online event at York Mediale 2020

York Mediale audiences will discover how the human body is hardwired, synchronised and inextricably linked to nature; experiment with a new form of performance, and explore the invisible transaction between a person and a piece of art and how WhatsApp has shaped communities for the COVID generation at this year’s “diverse, digitally engaged and mentally stimulating event”.

What digital delights are upcoming in York Mediale 2020-2021?

People We Love, November 2 to 29 at York MInster

THIS commission from creative collective KMA will be positioned in the Minster nave, where a new temporary “congregation” will be made up of a collection of five large high-definition screens, showing a series of video portraits focused on people that have been filmed looking at a photograph of someone they love.

The viewer will not know who is being looked at but will experience the emotion on the face projected on screen before them, interpreting each unspoken story.  

Visitors can add their story to the installation as a pop-up booth will be on-site, ready to capture the love stories of the city without the need for words.

Human Nature, October 21 to January 24 2021 at York Art Gallery

A TRIPTYCH of installations under the banner of Human Nature, curated by York Mediale and York Museums Trust, comes together as a centrepiece of York Mediale 2020 in a “hugely ambitious show”.

Embers And The Giants, a short film by Canadian media artist Kelly Richardson, makes its UK premiere, exploring human intervention through thousands of tiny drones mimicking a natural spectacle, suggesting a time when we will need to amplify nature in order to convince the public of its worth.

The Tides Within Us, a commission from immersive art collective Marshmallow Laser East, looks at the journey of oxygen from lungs to the heart and body in a series of installations that echoes the ecosystem within nature. 

Fine artist Rachel Goodyear presents Limina, a series of animations supported by her intricate drawings, in response to an untitled sculpture from York Art Gallery’s collection; all offering a glimpse into the psyche and fragments of the unconscious.

Absent Sitters, October 21 to 25, online

GAZELLE Twin, billed as “one of the UK’s most vital contemporary voices in electronic music”,  collaborates with York artist and filmmaker Kit Monkman and the University of York Music Department to experiment with a new form of performance.

In this intimate, shared event, you will be guided by a “performer medium” to investigate what is live performance in 2020? The audience, contributing via video call, will become part of an online audio-visual experience that examines the power of “collective imagination” and the importance of “presence/absence” in a live event. Are we live? Can we connect? Who are you? Questions, questions, questions.

Good Neighbours, October 21 to 25, The Groves, York

GOOD Neighbours, from Amsterdam’s affect lab – interactive artist Klasien van de Zandschulp and researcher Natalie Dixon – is based on research into the micro-politics of communities and the increase in WhatsApp neighbourhood watch groups through lockdown.

Individual audience members will use their own mobile devices as they immerse themselves in a weirdly familiar fictional documentary walk alongside live performance, taking place in The Groves area of York.

What exactly is York Mediale?

York Mediale is an international media arts organisation that celebrates York as the UK’s first and only UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts.  The independent arts charity was founded in 2014 to mark that designation.

As well as bringing new commissions from leading artists to the city for each festival, Mediale provides opportunities for the best emerging talents to showcase their art. Through incorporating technologies into their works, artists of all kinds will challenge, provoke, interrogate and celebrate our cities, our landscapes, our lives.