App aims to inject new life into Redcliffe Way
David Clensy gets a preview of a new interactive smart phone app, designed to breathe new life into Redcliffe Way
IT'S a busy city centre road that can sometimes seem a little soulless – even though it houses arguably the city's most spectacular church and the birthplace of one of Bristol's literary greats.
But an avant-garde writer is hoping to inject some human stories back into Redcliffe Way as part of a new arts project.
The scheme, enigmatically titled Missorts, has been commissioned by arts production company Situations – the Bristol-based company that earlier this year brought us the controversial Nowhereisland, an Arctic island that was briefly dragged into the Floating Harbour.
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But the latest project looks set to have more of a direct relevance to the city.
It comes from the pen of writer Tony White, best known for his challenging, often gritty, and exclamation mark-heavy novels Foxy-T, Satan! Satan! Satan! and Road Rage!
In 2008 he was honoured as writer-in-residence at the Science Museum in London, but with Missorts he has brought the latest smart phone technology to bear on the written word.
"When I was invited by Situations to come to Bristol and create a piece of art around this area of the city, I looked around and saw this incredible gothic church, with its spectacular 100-year-old Harrison and Harrison pipe organ, and just across the road I saw the birthplace of Thomas Chatterton – one of Bristol's greatest literary sons, who himself pushed the boundaries of literature in his day," Tony says.
"That inspired me to create something that wrapped around this unique part of the city, its past and present, and I wanted to go beyond the traditional written paper novel.
"When I first came here, one of the first things I noticed was that everyone walking down the road seemed to have their iPhone earphones plugged in, as they walked along. That gave me the idea of creating something that would allow us to directly connect with these people."
The idea Tony had was to create a smart phone app, which reacted, using GPS technology, to the user's location.
"As you walk along Redcliffe Way, you move through each of the different stories – you can either stop and listen to the story, or just walk on and listen to the next one."
It's almost like eavesdropping on other people's conversations – catching a brief glimpse into their lives through what you over-hear.
"Each of the ten short stories is written by a different Bristol writer. I organised a series of workshops in which I talked through the idea with all those writers who came forward to offer their services.
"The big idea was that their stories would relate to the environment directly around where the listener would be standing – so you could be listening to the stories of people who might once have lived or worked on that part of Redcliffe Way.
"Being there, in the very same place really makes it an immersive artwork – but then that's the common theme that runs through my writing: a close connection with a real geographical space."
Between the stories, the user will hear a series of specially-commissioned organ preludes, written by composer Jamie Telford, and performed on St Mary Redcliffe's Harrison and Harrison instrument.
"It really is quite a dramatic way to walk down the street, with this extraordinary organ music in your headphones," Tony says. "And somehow knowing it was recorded in the church you're walking past, makes you altogether more connected to the environment around you."
The title Missorts comes from Tony's experience as a former postman, working in London sorting offices.
"To me, this corridor between Temple Meads through to the docks, really begins with the old, empty Royal Mail sorting office, and I wanted that to have a presence in the artwork – especially having worked for Royal Mail for six years myself.
"'Missorts' is what we would label parcels that were lost, in order that they might be found – that's what I felt was happening to these voices; these imagined characters who were telling their stories within their own space in Redcliffe Way – lost souls, labelled as 'missorts' so that they might be found."
The new app, which is available to download free of charge for both iPhone and Android phones from today, was launched at a special event held at St Mary Redcliffe Church yesterday.
Those attending the launch were able to take the rare opportunity to look inside St Mary Redcliffe's muniment room – the ancient strong room of the church, which is accessed through a staircase from the inner porch. It was in this room, using the church's medieval manuscripts, where Chatterton did much of the research for his literary creations.
"It brings the whole thing full circle, to have that connection to the place where Chatterton wrote," Tony says. "It's very special to be here launching this app, which I really think takes the written word on to another level of interactivity and immersion."