Bus Shelter Observations – Heterogloss

Introduction by Bob Beagrie

‘Bus Shelter Observations’ began back in 1996 when Sandra Armstrong took an explorer ticket into the vernacular of graphic design. Stimulated by the FUSE 1995
conference she became intrigued by the contrasts between the sterilised images
on the Internet and the decaying images and text in the environment. She began
collecting images of graffiti in bus stops in Middlesbrough and Durham as
examples of marks/messages, which take on new qualities due to weathering.

To celebrate the raw vibrancy of this tabooed language she removed them from their original contexts, enhanced them by overlaying photographs and textures, by faxing,
colour copying and manipulating them further in PhotoShop.

By bringing together the freeform hand skills of graffiti with cutting-edge technology the hidden depths and unnerving beauty of the banal words, symbols and markings becomes apparent.

When Sandra showed me the images and asked me if I had some texts to support them I was excited by the way they seemed both familiar and strange all at once. And how they worked as historical texts in which each piece of graffiti becomes a relic of a delayed and always subversive form of communication, in which the intimate and the individual is made Public and generic.

Many of the marks in the images have been scratched into surfaces for thousands, even tens of thousands of years. People have said, ‘But those vandals who scratch a phallus onto a bus shelter don’t realise that’. Maybe so, but that hardly seems to matter because languages of social behaviour whether verbal, written, gestural or visual all speak through us. We inhabit the cultural/linguistic codes just as we inhabit space. To me bus shelters have become cultural objects within the public sphere, as temporary shelters they became the meeting place, a territorial marker, and a site of very specific social behaviour and ritual.

Rather than trying to illustrate the visuals, the narrative poem ‘Heterogloss’ was an attempt to indicate some of these ideas and to draw attention to the larger issues around public space and personal identity; the deep human desire to leave a mark of your presence, and the power politics between legitimate and outlawed forms of public signing. As 1 look out of the window whilst I’m writing this my I-site is bombarded with billboarded advertisements in the language of multi-national corporations that leaves little space for marginalized, communal and personal assertions of identity.

The idea of looking at the micro-politics of the bus shelter in different mediums drew in other artists. John McGhee and Martin Jenkins provided a soundtrack for the poem and a supportive piece, Adrian Moule took the project to heart and began to video the interaction between public and the space of the shelter, collecting lost or discarded objects as a ghostly reminder of a passed time.

Chris Litherland added to a growing catalogue of bus shelters with images of constructed context, playing the shelter against the stage. We began to showcase the work as an evolving interactive installation; turning art galleries, university foyers, local parks, restaurants and pubs into sites where the conventions of the actual space were disrupted by the inclusion of bus shelter object d’art, behaviour, words, images and sound. After two years we now have a large body of work and have raised enough funding to produce the bookwork and the pack. The journey has been exciting, tiring and extremely varied in the way we have tackled the different types of space and events. We hope you find the results stimulating, thought provoking and eye opening. I would like to thank everyone who has contributed their time and energy to the project for little or no financial return, as well as those arts bodies who have supported us with grants and advice. A special thank you must also go to Sandra Armstrong and Adrian Moule who have been the driving force behind so much of the work.

Bob Beagrie

Bob is a local artist/writer who has run creative writing, visual and drama workshops in a diverse range of settings: schools, youth clubs, residents associations, right through to adult education, multi cultural and residential care homes for the elderly and mentally challenged. His poems have been published by Mudfog, Scratch and Rustic Rub, as well as appearing in several public artworks throughout Teesside.

Chris Litherland

After training as a social documentary photo-journalist at Cleveland College of Art and Design, Chris became involved in teaching visual arts In the community. His work incorporates imagery sound text and performance. He has co-wrote and produced songs, created events and experiences and his exhibition ‘Family Documentaries,’ has been shown Internationally.

Sandra Armstrong

Sandra fives in Durham and is a graphic designer who teaches at the University of
Teesside. She works with a group of graphic designers, line artists and Illustrators who exhibit under the name of Circuit, including the Durham Visual Arts Festival in October 1994, and the year of Visual Arts 1996. She is fascinated with letterforms in the environment and teases their esoteric values through hand rendered and computer manipulated imagery.

Adrian Moule

A community artist who has facilitated the completion of large scale art works with
local youth groups, calling on their ideas of their identity. Adrian has worked with
many different mediums, believing that the process of being involved is the result in spirit.

John McGhee

John Is a musical artist living in Middlesbrough who has spent a large part of the last five years writing and composing for himself and for other creative people in the UK and abroad.

He was the musical director for ‘Paranoia Press’ in 1993, a multi media project called ‘Retracing Footsteps’. He has also been active, working in the community organising and running music workshops for school children and people with learning difficulties.

Martin Jenkins

Martin has been making technology based music for over ten years, establishing himself as one bag of a band that has Its roots in Leicester called ‘News Of The Future.’ Since returning to his home town to be involved in local projects, he has quickly made a name for himself on Middlesbrough’s electronic music scene. He has had a successful single release as well as creating the sound track for a short film titled ‘Hull To Hornsby.’

Take 5

An arts co-operative in Middlesbrough, founded in 1991. Their primary aim is to increase public access to the arts and they have been involved in various workshops with a wide range of community groups, taking on projects that include carnival sculpture, murals, costume design, film, video and comic strips, They are currently negotiating the terms for a Community Arts Cafe in central Middlesbrough.