Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Save Me

Perched on top of a 1.5m high platform on Pero's bridge I can be seen from many places. Squinting across St Augustine's reach, Jodie can see me as she waves her flags from atop a similar platform on the fountain steps. I can be seen from the water that separates us, from the boats in their moorings, from the cobbled pathways, from beneath the trees and from windows of buildings on either side of Bristol's floating harbour.

The people on the boats wave as they pass under the bridge; they can see me. The saxophone player plays and the Big Issue seller sells; they can see me. The drinkers in the bars, the cyclists, the tourists, the walkers, the strollers, the parents with their pushchairs and their children; they can all see me. They haven't come here to see me, not in the first instance. They've not read the programme or browsed the website or scrolled down the mail out. They see me because they were coming here anyway, they were always going to be here, they don't just happen to stroll past – it is me and Jodie and our flags that are the happenstance, not them. We are on their patch, their turf, this is their bridge, their fountains, on their route; this is their territory.

But the over 11 days of the performance something changes. In the eyes of everyone who can see me, my flag waving on Pero's bridge, at first an oddity becomes familiar. It is this process of familiarisation; from being outsider in another's territory to becoming a part of the landscape that excites me.

It's a simple thing we're doing – talking with flags. But we're here everyday, same time, same place and perhaps it is in the repeated dipping in and out of the project that makes it seem like something bigger – a part of the furniture. And of course this is an illusion, two hours a day for 11 consecutive days is no shallow undertaking, but next to the enduring permanence of this stretch of water it is a drop in the ocean. An illusion, but a convincing one because when so suddenly we are gone there is a gap, something has changed – like when the trees lining St Augustine's Reach have been too severely pollarded, providing more light and less shade, this place feels different. Or when thousands of amateur runners are plodding round St Augustine's parade, inspired or irritated by Heart FM's cheerful pop classics, this place feels different. Like the pruned trees and the sweaty runners, us flag wavers reshape this place, in a way that is perhaps best measured by the moment of our absence.


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