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We Can Make: Artist Reflections Part Two

Artist in residence Charlotte Biszewski is working on the We Can Make…Homes project, exploring how communities could play a leading role in developing new housing for their communities.

Charlotte’s Blog: Part Two – “On becoming a resident, communal living and further developments in cyanotype”

I can’t believe I have been working in Knowle West over a month now, I actually feel a little bit at home already. I managed to find accommodation at the Lee Abbey house, a Christian missionary community in the heart of Filwood. I have to admit, being brought up a casual atheist all my life, with little experience of spirituality and god, I was a bit unsure of how I would find it. Would the household judge me? Convert me? Annoy me? I’m afraid to let you all down, as I don’t live in a sitcom or a bad horror film, the group were pleasant, warm and welcoming and we all got on like a house on fire.

[The house] was once an ex-convent, inhabited by a community of nuns in its previous life. The house is a beautiful, winding, redbrick maze of creaking cisterns, deckled 70’s wallpaper and soft green carpet. It is home to three different family groups, consisting of five adults and twi children. It was amazing to see how this group integrates together and shares living spaces. Staying in communal living has broken down many assumptions about shared spaces.

I was able to interview the group and discover why they chose to live communally, how sharing space works economically and socially. What boundaries exist in communal living[…]? My favourite question, and one which demonstrates human nature and our interactions, was which room is your favourite room to share with others and which is your least favourite?

It was obviously the Kitchen as the favourite shared space. People love sharing food and cooking. It is a source of heat, a place to talk, catch up, and talk about the day.  And what was the least favourite? The Bathroom.

The Lee Abbey house is part of a wider Christian community and you can find out more they do in Knowle West here.

Building the Cyanotypomatic

The second stage of development [of] my work in taking the cyanotype process further was to make it bigger, by encouraging neighbours to make a large cyanotype piece. Now this was a bit of a thorny experience. What appeared to be a straightforward, simple yet effective concept, as is ever the case, took two weeks of long labour and unforeseen circumstances.

The basic concept is two light-proof boxes which house a long reel of cyanotype wallpaper. This is fed through two slits in each boxed and rolled around a wooden dowel. Inside the trailer is a UV lamp which exposes the wallpaper as it passes between the boxes (imagine how an old film camera looked from inside, when you fed the spool of film from one reel to another).

I had been using a bike trailer previously for portable printmaking workshops – the trailer itself was essentially a big black box on wheels, so perfect for a mobile exposure unit. I won’t go into the details of labour and process of the whole endeavour, but it is now in the existence and ready to take on the real world.

Saturday 4th March – We Can Make…Homes event

Thanks to our wonderful English weather the week leading up to the event appeared to be a little hit or miss, (torrential). But we were fortunate on the morning and the morning could actually be described as sunny. Knowle West Media Centre took over the corner of St Whytes Road for a day, exploring what community-led housing could mean for Knowle West and just how citizens could take part in this. It was a chance to spend time together discussing different ways citizen-led housing could take place. The team arrived early and put the giant gazebo up at a rapid pace, which was to house the PhysiCAD group. A fantastic team who are working with a Lego-inspired interface for virtual and rapid prototyping, they wanted to explore what St Whytes could look like with further developments and look at any potential issues such as parking with the residents. We also had representatives from Wikihouse, the MA Architecture lot [from the University of the West of England] and of course tea and cakes, as provided by the local community centre and the baking group!

I arrived at 11am with my bike trailer, ready to knock on people’s doors and demand they bring out some object for printing with. The event went smoothly – admittedly I only managed to make my way around a few houses – but I had the greatest response, with people coming out to talk and bringing some of their most prized possessions. My favourite was a Betty Boop statue and an Alien ornament.

Then we all had a natter as one of the neighbours was getting ready for their wedding anniversary. We all gathered round to look at the cake she just had made for it. It felt lovely for a minute – standing in the sunshine surrounded by community spirit. And then, as in true Bristol fashion, we all ducked for cover from the torrential down-pour.


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