Signs of the City

 Berlin / 1 October – 18 October 2008

Signs of the City is a 15-month European wide youth art project, which explores signage within four cities: Barcelona, Berlin, London and Sofia. All the participants collectively created a visual inventory of cross-cultural signage systems to act as a visual communication system.

In 2007 Campbell Works were invited to take part in the Berlin Cluster. Neil Taylor and Harriet Murray made a proposal to work with students from the Wilhelm-Von-Turk-Schule, a specialist school for students with hearing impairments situated in Potsdam, on the outskirts of Berlin. The workshops were made possible with the support of Gisela Fiedler and Birgit Schneider – who worked alongside the artists and students as Signing and German translators.

Taylor and Murray’s approach was to examine the fundamentals of communication, to explore how different sections of society view their environment and what happens when their normal communication systems are altered.

By focusing on the artist’s minimal grasp of both German and sign language, and the audible impairment of the group Taylor and Murray created a willfully dysfunctional framework. The participants created photographs from scratch using basic analogue principles, constructing pinhole cameras from discarded cardboard boxes and developed the prints in the artist’s portable darkroom tent which can be erected literally anywhere. The addition of GPS loggers attached to the pinhole cameras allowed for collecting geodata about the location and time of the images.

Taylor and Murray’s work often plays with sensory disorientating environments and their Signs of the City project was the latest variation. During the workshops, the students’ reliance on their visual communication systems was severely hampered when they worked within the portable darkroom tent.

This loss of communication systems both verbal and visual created an atmosphere of ‘lost at sea’ feeling for all involved. By removing the ability to communicate through conventional channels, the participants and artists were forced to learn from each other’s actions and encouraged to take risks and make mistakes. Creating a feeling of freedom from conversational communication systems, including signing, allowed the creation of an experimental platform, within which to produce new imagery.

The artwork formed part of the Signs of the City exhibition at the House of Cultures of the World, in Berlin in November 2009 This exhibition forms part of a larger exhibition taking place across the four participating cities, in institutes of contemporary culture.

Signs of the City also includes an interdisciplinary conference, at which Campbell Works presented their project. The evaluation carried out by Goldsmith’s sociological institute will also be presented.

Project partnership with Urban Dialogues, Berlin.

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