img_20161012_1351191This is Texere, a collaboration between an artist, a sculptor and a poet. Set into the pavement, a pedestrian zone through the Leeds University campus. The artist, Sue Lawty, and the sculptor Dan Jones gave a talk today, at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, about the work, their choices, inspiration, sources, materials and practicalities.

The piece was commissioned in response, and to draw attention to Mitzi Cunliffe’s sculpture, Man Made Fibre’s which is perched high and in line, on an adjacent building. That arrangement of Portland Stone, which dates back to the ’50’s, with threads nested in a pair of hands, is a homage to the University’s textile heritage and its research into synthetics. Near buildings include The Clothworkers Court (funded by the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers), and the Clothworkers Centenary concert hall. You get the picture. There are also labs nearby where the biocrystallographer, William Astbury, made his first studies of DNA through wool industry sponsored research into its structure, which in turn led to Franklin’s, and Watson & Crick’s findings into the strands of that make up our genes.

Texere is the Latin verb for ‘weave’. The artist spent some time with a professor of mediaeval linguistics and discovered it is the common root of our words ‘text’ and ‘textiles’. The written word and cloth are further linked through the origins of paper in cotton fabrics, tapestries, and words that emphasis the process of giving structure; knit, stitch, suture, tailor, knots, fashion, fabricate. To weave is to create permanence, longevity, connections, whether through words or fibres, that would not otherwise exist.

Texere is integrated into the Lifton Place paving and is a path to Cunliffe’s earlier carving. Following the line of Texere up the steps and above the doorway of the Clothworkers South Building, there is a 3 x 1 metre window, an aperture which shares the same dimensions as the Kilkenny Limestone now underfoot. The blue, Irish rock, with Helen Mort’s words resting within the chiseled weft and warp, now acts as its own window into the industry responsible for many of the surrounding structures.











From here, 51 metres above sea level, you can see the world’s fastest animal. Not just one but a breeding pair. High on a plant-less ledge, tearing and sharing. Feathers fall to a rocky outcrop, where they collect in a crusty, fecal duvet. When the eating is over, they preen and rest. Then, eventually drop off the edge, circling, swooping, disappearing.

I’m no ornithologist, but I know a bird when I see one. Took a while to realise exactly what they were. At first, a screech, like seagulls. Then, when they came into view and I realised they weren’t seagulls, they looked like pigeons. But they weren’t pigeons.

The peregrine’s flight is projected onto this window. A glimpse into the natural world. These birds of prey treat this landscape like any other, undulations and opportunities, hazards and topographies. Swooping between the tall symmetries, monolithic pinnacles, crags of granite, sandstone, concrete, steel and glass.

The animal, sat opposite me, has a waste paper basket held between his knees. It catches the hairs as he prunes his nostrils with a pair of tailors’ shears. In the afternoon, he swills mouthwash and spits into the bin. I start to drift and imagine the city from the peregrine’s point of view.

Our call centre community, on this ninth slice of high-rise, is connected by radiowaves, copper wires, glass fibres and satellites to the outside world. We are linked to machines and people on the outside, sometimes hundreds of miles away. We have little need to move. Or talk to each other. We can email.

There are phones, one for each ear, and screens, one for each eye, with hypnotic, high-frequency, scrolling numbers, and flashing colours. Neighbours, just feet away, above and below, and in the surrounding buildings have no idea who we are or what we’re doing here. And likewise.

On the fifth page of the tabloid there’s a story of workers being tracked by a mesh of medium Earth orbiting satellites, developed by the US military. They go for a wander to the loo, and if it’s not the nearest, they’re classed ‘inefficient’. In another warehouse, security guards frisk employees on their way out to check they’ve not nicked any sports socks and they’ve got the right undies on. There are companies giving their ‘colleagues’ fitbugs or fitbits to measure their steps to encourage them to get off their arses and move around.

And in a Swedish office block, employees volunteer to be chipped, with a Radio Frequency ID device implanted into their hands, allowing them to open doors, swap contact details, use the photo copier. ‘It felt very modern’, said one chipped worker. A tech trends expert calls it, ‘augmented humanity’.

Looking out the window I glaze over and adjust the swivel chair. Reclining. This 11 storey, vertical factory, clad in Finnish granite from the Kotka quarry, has changed hands three times in the last two years. Buildings round here belong to huge pension funds, property companies or insurance firms. For them, they are rent-harvesting silos, finishing where they meet the ground at ninety degrees, and where the rest of the city begins. I picture a map, with concentric circles, like in the booklet the council gave out in the 80’s, showing ‘The Effects of a 1 Megaton Groundburst Nuclear Bomb at the Town Hall.’ Instead of casualty numbers, my map shows where and how far I can travel from here in the hour of free time at midday.

Where do people congregate, where do they interact face-to-face? Where are the old folk, where are the families, where are the cats and dogs in this city? The wildlife? Does anyone actually live here?

So at midday, I disconnect from the CPD, the productivity, the appraisal, the ‘Mission, Vision and Values’ and explore the environs and track myself using GPS to see where I go.

Thank to Tina Richardson for featuring this on her very fine blog here: http://particulations.blogspot.co.uk/



I’m on a quest. To fill that pure, unadulterated hour. Sandwiched between the two thick slabs of morning and afternoon. In my job I’m lucky enough to have an hour break for lunch and I’m looking for new bite-sized stuff to do.

The old, Victorian, philanthropic capitalists like local lad Titus Salt, the Lever brothers, Mr Cadbury, and the Rowntree family were, in some senses, progressive employers. Whilst counting their piles of money they provided workers with distractions, other than just combing wool, making soap or stirring chocolate. These forward looking individuals knew that work wasn’t the be-all and end-all. The well-being of employees was on the agenda. Maybe it wasn’t just altruism, maybe they got more work out of a more content work force. And those Victorian types were all for setting up societies to discuss big matters and learn more about each other and the world. From now on I’ll devote more of my lunchtimes to see what this city can offer its workers around noon. So far I’ve been tried mindfulness at the local Buddhist temple. Taken piano lessons again after a break of 20 years. I’ve got on my bike and cycled down river to see leaping Salmon. Discovered a lecture about magic lanterns (basically the demonic precursor to PowerPoint). Went hunting for the grave of Pablo Fanque, Victorian circus impresario, whose name is immortalised in the Beatles song, Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite. The other week I attended a gathering of local philosophers in a pub to talk about Truth. So instead of window shopping and eating a pasty at the desk I’m going to look for lunchtime enlightenment through exploratory meanderings, lectures, travel, eating and leisure. And be back in an hour.

(Thank you to Mr Street for allowing me to post this on his blog Into The Orchard http://intotheorchard.com last year)