climbing, testing, penetrating, playing with, nurturing, building and/or pissing on boundaries; physical, mental and social in t

Submitted by Lottie on Mon, 2009-08-24 10:04

Street Training in Loughborough, On climbing, testing, penetrating, playing with, nurturing, building and/or pissing on boundaries; physical, mental and social in the perpetual making of public space.
Lottie Child Spring 2009

We wander into a car park, no trees, no colour, hardly even any cars. There’s a skip filled with folded cardboard boxes. Daniel approaches, circles it then leaps, and, arms outstretched, for a beautiful fleeting moment he’s a rising angel. Then thump he belly flops onto cardboard. We’re watching, laughing when a security guard comes round the corner, he’s really angry, telling us we are not allowed here, this is private property. Greg with deft timing and wit inserts the perfect put down, we’re pumped, we’re moving and we’re off. Some one says ‘start howling’ then we deliberately bump into people as we walk along together.

“Unless young people are in structured activities or acting as mini consumers, we assume that they are causing trouble.”

In Loughborough I met Camilla-Catalina who was walking down the street in the cold spring sunshine with a sparkly hula-hoop, we found her friend Reva too. Then I met Greg, who, between trying to sleep in a friend’s garage, working long hours and obsessively practicing tricks on his BMX was totally enthused and available, a young stunt man joined us for a while, Daniel a youth worker at the Next Level Café, Kev Ryan from Charnwood arts bounds all the way and John-Mark Abbot came too. As we walked and talked we casually chucked native wild flower seeds in any patch of earth and Greg told us about the technique he calls sniffing – to do it you walk along the street and get close to someone, sniff them, breath in hard through your nostrils and inhale them. He also taught us how to Bonno, you go up to any one and ask them with a slightly confused expression if they are Bonno, you say “Bonno?”.

“ Britain’s anti-social behaviour anxiety is one clear symptom of the dysfunctional relationship between young people and public space. Although orders can be made against any person who has acted in an antisocial manner, nearly half have been made against people under 18”

We go to the rushes, a shopping centre in the heart of Loughborough, it could be anywhere, it’s sanitised, non descript and full of chain stores. The posters there have images of people so generic it’s hard to say where in the world they are from, but I would hazard a guess its not Loughborough. In the pictures young people are depicted consuming, with a glow of infantile smugness making any other kind of behaviour seem errant in contrast. They have ‘fun’ and ‘value’ emblazoned in swirly writing and some one has stained their oh-so-pearly and smiling mouths with something white and dribbly. A Sports shop dominates one end of the shopping centre and a hoarding proclaims SPORTS in big letters, we read it as an invitation to jump on and off the metal bench and Greg practices tricks on his BMX. Inside, the shop is a very long escalator which I mount the handrail of laying my body on it and riding all the way to the top, the mechanism drags a bit halfway up and I think its going to stop but it judders a little like a fairground ride and keeps going, the security guard looks on unimpressed.

“The effort to spend time outside capitalist production - by running up the down escalator, by walking aimlessly around the neighbourhood, by sleeping through the day, by daydreaming, etc. etc. This is not leisure - leisure is part of the cycle of productive behaviour - this is glorious waste.”

We exit and wander over to some steps, Camilla invents a totally over the top rocky-the-super-star warm up before sliding down the meter long handrail, and bowing with a flourish.
A group of young boys are hanging around by the bike racks one of them is in a shopping trolley the other is spinning him around; they are giggling manically, the one in the trolley looks a bit scared. Then they start play fighting, they have these fake blood capsules, one of them holds the capsule in his mouth and when the other one hits him, he bites into it and spits red goo all over the pavement.

“On the 15th August 1943 at Emdrupvej, on the outskirts of Copenhagen, the first junk playground was opened … Denmark was then under German Occupation and the need for a place for children to play arose from the moral confusion under occupation when small acts of childhood delinquency could be interpreted as sabotage and severely punished. Indeed the playground site at Emdrupvej was hidden from view by a six foot bank topped by a fence, as if children’s play represented some form of rebellion to occupation and needed to be hidden”

We each go off on our own, I go mooching in corners making people uncomfortable with my aimlessness. We regroup, kick around in a wide open muddy space, where a dojo used to be, Kev gets into looking at the details on a brick, there is broken glass lying around and everything we notice seems like a sign. Greg is chucking stones at the wall and then we decide to have a fight. Kev really goes for me I keep ducking and trying to get out of the way but he is always there aiming straight for my head, I manage a few good hard kicks in his direction we whirl round. My clothes feel too tight and my hood gets in my way, we keep going until we start laughing – Kev is laughing more than I am.

Street Training has been encouraging people to shape urban spaces with the ways they behave since 2006. With Street Training sessions, videos and Street Training manuals pocket books containing a wide variety of people’s advice on how to be safe and joyful on the streets, presented as the Path of Safety and the Path of Joy. The practice has the feel of a martial art, it requires regular attention and practice, it can help improve joyful and safe behaviour thus enriching environments and our experiences of them. Despite increasingly sanitized and homogenized urban centres everyone does something over and above walking to shop and work wearing their walking-down-the-street-face. Street Training sessions take these techniques value them and share them around. Sessions now take place in Brazil, Germany, Austria in London and Manchester. Video clips and photos from the sessions are shared on the Street Training website.
During the development of the Street Training website which uses open source software, we considered how real world and virtual worlds inform and correspond. Shopping Centres, pseudo public spaces, just like web 2.0 applications such as facebook, myspace and youtube feel like they might be democratic, they might be places that we make together through participation with fellow citizens. Its only when we step out of the accepted codes to follow a desire not concurrent with the hyper consumption agenda that we realise the array of kinds of people and of behaviours we are missing out on as these smoothed out spaces that become increasingly the norm.
Research and development has been supported by many arts institutions including Radar at Loughborough University. Street Trainers are continually developing techniques and asking urban people how to be safe and how to be joyful on the streets. Sometimes to gather answers during 24hr night walks. People often relish the question of how to be safe. They usually have lots of advice. A street cleaner says “blend in, don’t stand out, be a ghost”, a homeless man called Kermit replies “scare the shit out of people”, a dog walker responds “don’t go out on the streets it dangerous” and we are told “only cross the road at the lights” by a young boy of seven or eight. It seems that people perceive a level of risk on urban streets mismatched with the actual danger. Imagined threats, fed by the media and flamed by fearful talk are passed among us. The effects are both far-reaching and internalised leading people to stay at home and fear spaces, other people and anything ‘out of the ordinary’.
How to be joyful on the streets? The question of joy is harder for most people to answer. This is exemplified by a shop owner on Caledonian Road, North London saying “you don’t be joyful on the streets you go to the park”, or a homeless teenager saying “you can’t be joyful in the streets you drink to forget”, or another shop keeper “some people is happy, some is not”. But joyful behaviour is being innovated in site specific and boundary pushing ways, educating its practitioners and all those who come into contact with them. These experts are children and young people, having water fights at the bus stop, chucking a shoe over a railway bridge, floor surfing in a shiny shopping centre floor or maybe smelling roses. _

Affordance is a term form the field of perception brought to my attention by Dr Martin Maudsley, Outdoor Play Development Officer for Play work Partnerships he says “we don’t read our environment in a neutral way we read it in terms of what is in it for us, children read the world in terms of what play is in it for them” most children have a powerful need to play, they scan the streets they move through looking for opportunities for joyful behaviour. Situationist Raoul Vaneigem famously wrote "There are no more artists since we've all become artists. Our next work of art is the construction of a full-blooded life." Young people often push boundaries social, physical, psychological in ways that anyone wishing for a rich, intelligent and engaged life can learn from.

UK MC Lady Sovereign remarked that there is a flight indoors by the middle classes as evidenced by all the home improvement programs on TV she says people are staying indoors to keep away from people like her. If people stay at home and watch the TV news stories that incite fear of the streets, strangers, the young, the poor and uncontrolled spaces the streets become empty and more dangerous. So instead of remaining isolated at home I invite you to get out onto the street and be part of the local news.

And when things get sticky just to keep moving.......

Loughborough Street Trainer update 2009
Camilla Catalina stays in touch and has made a video called urbanised cat, Greg keeps us informed and Daniel still contributes new ‘techniques’ such as the very popular leg wrestling game for two.

Lottie Child is the founder of Street Training www.streettraining.org an international network actively shaping their environments and behaviors with safety and joy. Recently Street Training has been at Tate Britain, Favela Morro dos Prazeres, Rio de Janeiro and The Cube, Manchester. Regular sessions take place in London and bespoke sessions can be provided. She Lectures at the University of the Arts London her research topics are in the field of situation based practice that engages with information exchange and explores the hierarchies, rituals and taboos of the streets through a combination or performance, audience participation and publications. www.malinky.org is her website.