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In the beginning…

My enquiry project began with a walk around Brandon Hill in Bristol. Listen! We were asked to find an object that fascinated us. The first objects I found were certainly meaningful; a condom wrapper, and a bedroll of someone using a tree for shelter, and unusual; a picture frame attached to a tree and a shard of ceramic. I soon realised that what I was seeing were markers left by other people. Even the planting of bamboo, although natural, had been placed by another human. Benches, rocks, trees, signs, beer cans and bedrolls signified that the space itself held different meanings for different people. I imagined a different coloured blankets being thrown over the hill; red, a blanket for lovers and drinkers; blue, a blanket for the people that live under the trees; green, a blanket for the landscapers, gardeners and tree surgeons, now and in the past; and grey, a blanket for the council, the local authority, the guardians of official benches, for our sanitized and genteel pleasure, and placers of warning signs for our safety.

The hill was scattered with signs, signals and markers, each signifying a different owner and utility of space. Some were direct; the signing of a name or a graffiti tag, others obvious, imposing and erect, the huge tower dedicated to John Cabot 400 years after his discovery of Newfoundland (or Terra Prima Vista, land first seen).

One in particular caught my eye, a tag attached to a tree with a picture and the words ‘i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart’). Listen!The tag, the tree, the choice of ribbon and its rich colour, the words themselves (specifically the use of lowercase i which, to me pointed to a certain humility in the face of death and loss). Those objects pointed our minds somewhere else. To the dead girl, to our human capacity for pain, and for hope. It was a signifier of humanity.

I found other symbols there, a hidden cross, buried or abandoned. All clues to the meaning and ownership of Brandon Hill.

Finding the meaning…

Wordle: A walk on Brandon Hill in Bristol

In asking questions about my chosen object (within the context of the other objects and glyphs I had found) I first drew the hill, and then mind mapped my thoughts (with post-its onto a window), an image of which is included in the slide show above. The monument to Cabot triggered thoughts of exploration, ownership and power. The monument with its angel of commerce was a symbol of colonial male power, and unmistakably phallic and in direct contrast to the mark-making, the glyphs and ideograms, the temporary markers, and discreetly dedicated benches beneath it. The theme of journey and exploration emerged as I searched for both mark-marking and information about Cabot’s journey of discovery. A search for way-makers led me to navigation as way-marking was the term used to describe the technique used by Polynesian explorers to find their way through the open sea. They used story and song to describe the formation of clouds, the direction of the swell and how it should feel on the boat, the wildlife that would gather and the positioning of the stars.

The themes of the mind-map were intermingled and difficult to sort out, but key themes emerged. They were

meaning making through mark making as symbolised by glyphs, ideograms, totems or amulets.

Identity, ownership and power of place

Landscape and navigation as story

The question that emerged for me was

“Can the democratisation of meaning contribute increase ownership of public places.”

My response to this enquiry has been the embryonic development of an audio project called storyspace which I have set up on audioboo which allows people to record their stories of a place, in this case Brandon Hill, for other audio boo users to find.

I have recorded a small number of stories already and would encourage more. These are tagged so should appear on searches for Brandon Hill, and can be found by any audioboo users on Brandon Hill or in Bristol who use the nearboo function on your iphone or android.

enables anyone to mark space with their own meaning which not only aids navigation of the space but also a navigation of experience (the experience of grief is one that is pointed to by my original object).

Storyspace stories for Brandon Hill can be found here