The Swansea Post-Apocalypse Re-Build Society's Annul Picnic
Picnicking has long retained a disruptive zeal in the name of art and revolution. In 1863 Edouard Manet's Le Dejeuner sur L'Herbe upset the Salon with its indecent use of paint and confrontational stare of a naked, impassive picnicker. In 1921 Dadaists Andre Breton, Tristan Tzara and Louis Aragon hosted an excursion to the church of Saint Julien le Pauvre and its neighbouring rubbish dump. In torrential downpour the company of one-hundred picnicked and so the revolutionary roots of the participatory art event and outdoor dining became inextricably entangled. Thirty-six years later, conceptualist Allan Kaprow christened such events "Happenings" at an art picnic event on the farm of artist George Segal. In 1968 it is said that Situationist Guy Dubord shared brie, baguette, vin rouge and Gauloises with striking factory workers on the city streets to watch as post-modernism sprang from the ashes of riotous Paris. Carrying on the tradition of the revolutionary art of picnicking The Swansea Post-Apocalypse Re-Build Society will stage their annual alfresco repast in the city's crumbling High Street to toast uncertain futures as the world is cast over the precipice into the imprecision of a new socio-economic (dis)order.
Tiff Oben & Helene Roberts
On behalf of SPAR
Diary of SPAR Picnic
We sat ourselves down outside of Swansea station, opposite the entrance, in front on a barrier laden with flowers than separated us from the busy road. We sat in the sunshine, sat on out jackets, and took off our shoes. We opened our picnic basket and took out our books, maps, compass. We opened the half bottle of champagne and poured one another a fluted glass of Moet, touched glass to glass and began.
We discussed Claire Bishop's Artificial Hells, a new book, just launched. I described some eastern block performances from the 1970s and 80s when artists were banned from working, when unofficial exhibitions were bulldozed, when objects could not be made and works were performed away from the surveillance of the city, in snowy fields, documented in text and one or two analogue photographs.
The book attracted a man and women. The man had read Bishop's previous works. They were interested in how artists socialize, psychologists, the man's head seemed so pregnant with thought he was unable to communicate verbally.
A foreign man walked by amazed asking "what is this?" Later he returns and asks the same question, we wonder if he can say much more. The day seems punctuated by men unable to speak. This theme continues as we are surrounded by a group of young teenagers. They claim to be sixteen, they look far less. The boys are silent. The girls loquacious with questioning: what's this, what's that, why are you doing this, what are you drinking, can I have some, can I dip my finger in, can you speak Welsh, are you Welsh, where you from, how old are you, are you joke reading that book?
A drunken, slurring man stopped, can of larger in hand, sober girlfriend by his side ushering him towards the train.
A swarthy man with tattooed face squatted down to our level, eyes hidden by shades, face hidden in the shadows of a cap. Interested but strangely he seemed to know about nothing, even the most mundane of the things we talked about. How can someone so interested fail to know anything?
At four pm the champagne was gone. We packed our hamper, reinstalled our small library into its suitcase. The picnic was over.
Image by Ann Jordan
Image taken with Titcam
Images by Helene Roberts
Tiff Oben & Helene Roberts used the Situationist strategy of navigating Swansea town centre using a map of the city's Polish twin town Bydgoszcz. The artists stopped passersby to ask directions to well known landmarks, offering the map of Bydgoszcz to those willing to direct the way.
By using the wrong map the urban landscape was made strange, the artists became lost but also discovered new ways to navigate around Swansea town.
Referring back to cold war surveillance strategies of Soviet Poland Oben & Roberts documented their journey using covert spy equipment concealed upon their persons.
With spy camera handbag and a suitcase of photographs we leave the train.
The wind greets us as we leave central station, wrapping us in its cold embrace. We huddle into our coats and enter the city hotel. We pick up a map of Swansea and place our acetate map of Bydgoszcz over the top. We plant a photograph of Bydgoszcz in the hotel:
"The choice was our to make…"
Matching central station to central station we walk for 1 mile in a southerly direction. We divert neither left nor right but keep to the map and keep to the street.
Hungry we refer to our map and find a bar. Bohemian in style, we take a table in front of the burning fires and place a photograph of Bydgoszcz on the mantle:
"Memories are a second chance at happiness."
Our first direct and positive disruption with a barman from Hull - what is he doing so far from home? We direct him to Bydgoszcz and leave a photograph in a broken picture frame with the details of a Polish lunch we once ate.
We head westwards through a salubrious passage, furtively posting a photograph in a brass letterbox as we go:
"Meet me at 3 at Wiseman's Bridge Inn."
We follow a woman in brown velour tracksuit who leads us to the Catholic church. We leave a photograph as mass is said:
"And all the bats and owls from the church bells started calling."
We continue onwards following the map towards the tourist information office, passed a Byzantine icon of Mary, leaving a photograph on a notice board:
"We'd drawn a blank and my mood was darkening…"
In the tourist office they had not seen or heard our twin…
Out onto the street and into the arms of a Polish street vendor, drunk on vodka, smoking into his wares, correcting our pronunciation in a way we could not emulate. We gave him a photograph:
"In search of a cheap hotel I suddenly saw her."
He gave us a pitying smile, we shook hand and headed onwards now in a northwesterly direction and through the main shopping area crowded with people and clowns and musicians. We plant a picture on a pink moped:
"You are obliged to identify yourself.
And hurry on.
Northwards now and away. Past the gallery and the old now deserted hotel:
"Factories and warehouses sprung up like a rash of blackened toadstools."
Into the Polish café - no coffee, only a broken-down machine and strange foodstuffs. The woman in the shop helped us into the Polish language, laughing and correcting us as we copied her exactly to our own ears, but not to hers. We leave without coffee or understanding, handing her a photograph:
"It's not long back and it's certainly worth it."
Double backing, east, south, south, south past:
"Buildings so long derelict and cobwebbed."
Across busy roads directing cars outwards and away. Past a statue of the city's one true hero and into his hand a photograph:
"If only I could establish the balance…"
To a tower block with dubious lift we are uncertain will ever release us. From the sky top panorama we survey our path, map our root., we drink wine, we leave a photograph:
"I belong down here underground beyond reproach."
Feet blistered - we have walked six hours in heels. One final burst we ask directions back of a man steadying himself against the pub we find him outside - without so much as a blink at our map he directs us away to the station.
Film spent, photographs exhausted, words trailing behind, we can walk no more.
We know Bydgoszcz like the back of our hands.
We are thoroughly lost in Swansea.