Posted on 21/11/2014
In May I travelled to Portugal to speak at a conference called Mapping Culture: Communities, Sites and Stories.
As a former Trustee of South Seeds, I spoke about their work in Govanhill: on how the community growing and energy saving strands of the project combined to produce successful collaborations. The presentation was a conversation with artist Helen Smith who had been working with Aberdeenshire art centre Woodendbarn and the surrounding community to bring people together around a shared history of growing Lavender in the area. We wanted to explore the similarities and difference within the projects to reach a better understanding of how community driven spaces could be encouraged and how such projects could be archived to give more people in the area access to the strategies. I was interested in taking South Seed’s Energy Snapshot Report a step further to think about how the diverse cultural and social experiences of the people in the area could also be added to its maps as a useful community resource. Smith and I are currently working on developing that conversation as an audio resource to trigger responses and further collaborations between the two projects.
Set in the heritage city of Coimbra the conference explored both conventional and alternative approaches to mapping, with an interest in participatory forms and in the intangibilities of place (eg the stories, histories, etc.). The idea of deep mapping was explored, often in relation to digital technologies that could build online community platforms; websites including pictures, poems, memories and even sounds. These were linked to portable mobile access devices in projects based in Poland, Canada and Bristol among others. Speakers also considered the more difficult aspects to online projects including issues of access, privacy and sustainability. At the heart of a number of presentations was the question of ownership. If maps were collaboratively imagined they could help social ties form between people to establish new commons? Through this lens I began to imagine South Seeds community garden projects as maps that not only describe an area but remake that area as a common ground.
Artists also spoke on moving out of the digital area or grid approach to consider simply being with people and storytelling in particular areas. These practices often involved walking with people as a form of mapping. In this way maps become conversations rather than statements and include drawings, collected local observations and audio recordings that reminded me of Nic Green’s mapping of the New Victoria gardens allotments, through sound and memoryscapes.
In between presentations we hosted by a group called Coimbra em transicao , part of the international transition movement and operating out of a community garden site. As well as space for growing, the garden included huge tables to share food around. Although I couldn’t bring any of the amazing foraged and locally grown foods back with me I did bring resources from different projects about mapping for sustainability and collaboration. South Seeds has these to share.
Formerly resident in Govanhill and part of South Seeds Caroline Gausden is currently funded by Robert Gordon University to research collaborative art practices and other movements for social change.
 These practices included artists like Simon Woolham (http://www.darkcorner.co.uk) in Manchester, Petra Johnson ( http://www.petrajohnson.org) in Germany and Deirdre Matthee and Ines Carvalho (http://intimatemigrations.wordpress.com ) in Portugal.