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Canal &



Interview with Alan Dunn

A very quick post to point to an interview conducted by The Aesthetic Trust with Alan Dunn about the installation “Constellation of Signs” which was one of several outcomes of our long-running collaborative work with Liverpool Biennial, which began with the “Canal &” research in North Liverpool.  Read more…



Open Source Swan Pedalo

There is always an exception to prove any rule…

At the end of 2010, in a flurry of excitement, Re-Dock took on a whole new level of responsibility by stepping into the breach and becoming overall trustees of a five-person sailing vessel – a swan pedalo!  In terms of “keeping our operation light” the pedalo breaks all of the rules – it is 10 feet long and 6 feet high and it takes 6 people to lift it!

This particular swan pedalo had been instrumental in previous projects by Liverpool Biennial connected to the “Canal &” programme which we had instigated during 2008 and when we saw it for sale on E-Bay we felt a level of responsibility to try and keep it “in the family.”  Our investment in this swan pedalo (a bargain at a hundred quid!) is really only the very first step in what represents quite a different departure for Re-Dock – a new kind of emergent project which has a working title of “Open Source Swan Pedalo.”

The Swan Pedalo was one of the key symbols used to suggest new creative potentials for people living around the Leeds and Liverpool canal and that is a conversation we are keen to continue during 2011: the Open Source Swan Pedalo is a “see where it goes” project…

Thanks to all the people who “got onboard” with the Open Source Swan Pedalo project during 2010! << You know who you are 😉

Have a look at the Open Source Swan Pedalo Blog (hosted by defnetmedia) and (of course!) you can follow @swanpedalo on twitter.



Restrictions 1

Revisiting the Canal& Map. The idea that ‘Restrictions make us more Creative’ will probably ring true to anyone who has seen what George Lucas did with a budget of millions, once he was able to ‘fully realise’ his original vision for the Star Wars Saga.

I’m not suggesting an absolute rule here, but this is an idea that we have always found useful when developing tools used to stimulate imaginative thinking and connection making.

As Constellation of Signs was launched this weekend, it seems a good time to share some reflections on how, as part of the Mapping Activity for Canal&, we developed a collaborative mapping activity using a restricted visual language and very simple materials.

The main benefit of the restrictions in this Visual Mapping Language were that the people building the interface could focus on mapping very specific things, so using the spatial metaphor of a map, without getting bogged down with less relevant, geographic details.

At this point it’s probably worth sharing the process of building the map.

Setting Up the Map
1. Clear a space in a Community Centre/Shopping Centre/Retirement Home etc.
2. Throw down the rope, and arrange it loosely in the shape of the Canal between the Albert Dock and Seaforth, introduce the idea that that this rope represents the Canal.
3. Place a Liverpool Flag at the liverpool end, and the Seaforth Flag at the other.

Tuning Up the Map
1. Take the cardboard cut out landmarks, and ask people to place them, where they think they should go, along the Canal.
2. Negotiate with others where these different landmarks should be placed in relation to one another.
3. Ask each person to make a quick drawing of something you might see along the canal, blu-tac it on a plastic dome, and place it where they are most likely to see it on the map.


Adding Content to the Map
Ask each person to…
1. Make a sketch of a memory that you have of the Canal, place it on a different coloured plastic dome, and place it where it happened on the canal.
E.g. “My  husband was walking the dog, which is blind, along the Canal. He was looking the other way, and the dog fell in the Canal. ”
2. Think of a suggestion for something amazing that could happen on the Canal in future, based on your memory,  someone elses, or a combination of a few different ones.
E.g. “An annual sponsored ‘Throw Your Husband into the Canal Day.”

“My husband let our dog fall into the Canal..”

“Sponsored ‘Throw your husband in the Canal’ event..”



The simple restriction for this interface was to  work with just three categories of colour coded nodes to be placed on the Map.
1) Views of the Canal
2) Memories of the canal
3) Suggestions for the future of the Canal,
Over time this allowed for some really complex interactions with the Map.


What was produced with many different variations, depending on the people, the space we were in, and the atmosphere created, was a very simple map, plotted with an incredibly rich constellations of memories and ideas.


“Robot Sharks..?”

Even if the conversations we had with people around the Map often went around the houses, the things that it captured were Memories of the Canal, & imaginative suggestions for it’s future.

People were able to combine and recombine this limited set of places & memories, and use them as stimulus to make weird connections and suggest something new for the Canal.

Artists, most famously the Surrealists, have been using random combinations of limited data sets for years, as a way to stimulate their own creativity, throwing just the right number of ideas up in the air, and seeing what caught their imagination.

What was interesting with this activity was that by using the reductive visual language of the mapping interface, plotted with Constellations of Memories and Suggestions,  we were able to share this process with large numbers of people, many of whom were communicating & collaborating without ever meeting.



The Signs Are All There…

We have just started work on another Re-Dock project involving the Leeds-Liverpool canal. Building on the work we did for  Canal &, we are using the memories and ideas gathered as a starting point for a signage installation next to the new Pennington Road bridge.

Constellation Of Signs‘ will be made of over 100 aluminium road and tourist information signs with custom designs based on ideas about the canal. We are running workshops with local groups to help us develop these designs and in doing so explore further how people relate to the canal.

Some of the signs developed in our first workshop this week were warning signs for dirty water and sharks, prohibitive signs for swimming and teachers, and direction signs for ice-cream and the graffiti wall.

It is a really great project to be developing as again it is about the inherent value of ideas and experiences, and their relationship to each other. We are not promising that these things will happen at all, but simply making spaces for a creative and imaginative ownership of the canal.

Ideas in themselves have value. Once someone suggests an idea we can discuss the practical implications of that idea, we can discuss it in relation to community, law, aesthetics, history, possibility, technology. If something can’t happen, then we can ask ‘why not?’ and open up a new area of investigation.

Signs function to shape our understanding of a space. They give us an orientation and also permit levels and modes of engagement with the space. This has a potent impact beyond the immediate message. When I was growing up we used to play footy on a patch of grass near us. One day a window got broken, and the following week a ‘No Ball Games’ sign was put up in what used to be the goal. Aside from the practical obstruction, the space became pretty much unused for play at all, as if sulking after a telling off – it was as if the sign had just said ‘No!’. What if there had been other signs to frame that message and our interpretation of it?

The signs in Constellations Of Signs will act as markers and totems of peoples’ impressions of a place. It will represent their willingness to let their imagination briefly reclaim the canal for the sake of letting the imagination wander. They will be fossilised harbingers of events that may never actually happen, or uncanny indications of things to come. They will mark previous histories and current concerns in relation to irreverence and humour. They will illustrate what people want and what people fear. They will be the evolving dictation of a cross community conversation about what if? and why not? And they will tell you how to get to Bootle Strand Shopping Centre.

You can see more about the project at –



Canal & – Billboard Installation

Another interesting public manifestation of our ‘Canal &’ collaboration with artist Alan Dunn and Liverpool Biennial is the installation of this huge collage artwork at a billboard site – 227 Knowsley Road, Bootle.

The billboard illustrates some of the many contrasting ideas and suggestions for the future of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal (put forward  by over 2000 Bootle and Seaforth residents.)

Suggestions range from tunnels of love to koi carp, from using the Canal in a Bond film, to safari parks and staging an annual “throw your husbands in’ day.

The piece is installed to coincide with Liverpool Biennial’s ‘Urbanism‘ – 16-20 September, at St Winnies School, Bootle, Liverpool.

Design by artist Alan Dunn + Re-Dock