Softening the Grid documents a year-long project that aims to re-imagine the grid layout of MK from above with the aid of a falconer, a bird of prey and a drone.
The project Softening the Grid encompasses artist Laura Coopers engagement with Milton Keynes from 2017-18. Involving birdsong listening sessions, drone flights and hawk walks around the city centre, all have been attempts to literally soften the experience of the MK gridded streets.
The film Eating Up The Sky is a dream like document of this process and it began as an attempt to translate the experience of the Milton Keynes architectural grid layout through subtle interactions between animal, human and machine. It involves collaboration with a falconer and drone pilot, attaching a tiny camera to a hawk and flying and tracing its path over the city.
It is a poetic and idealistic attempt to control a raptors flight, which is typically not systemised, geometric or based on right angles in the way traffic or pedestrians are funnelled to navigate the peculiar geography of MK. The idealistic architects behind MK’s grid layout made it the first UK city to be organised in an L.A.-style grid; it is one of the first places where driverless cars have been tested in the UK, and you can encounter delivery robots navigating the grid streets. The film explores how physical environments shape their inhabitants and dictate human and non-human relationships. It features documentation of experiments by the Avian Research Centre at the department of Zoology, University of Oxford. It involves working with Dr. Graham Taylor (and his 9-year-old daughter Isobel) whose current research involves raptors flight and visual perception for the design and improvement of autonomous drones.
Through attempting this act a mysterious and intimate portrait of the city, a scientific experiment and the relationship between man and bird emerges.
To accompany this action from above the project will also comprise a special “early bird” screening of the work at dawn. Viewers will be invited to don bird masks, and try a bird breakfast of seeds, considering how to embody the bird whilst engaging with and questioning the reality of navigating a grid town-plan designed by humans but also inhabited by non-human residents.
Laura's installation is viewable Saturday 15th - Sunday 16th September at Westbury Arts Centre
Opening Hours: 10:00-16:00
Special 'Early Bird' Screening of Eating Up The Sky on Saturday 15th September between 06:37-07:07
Suggested viewing times:
Saturday 15th September between 16.00-16.45pm, travel can be supported by The Coach Trip - Tour 2.
Laura's installation is also viewable Monday 17th - Thursday 20th September by appointment only. Please email email@example.com to arrange a viewing for these dates.
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This work has been commissioned by Tracing the Pathway as part of their project Groundwork, a cross-arts platform and research project for and about Milton Keynes. Softening the Grid has received funding support from Arts Council England via its Grants for the Arts funding scheme. Thanks for additional support to the development and presentation of the work goes to Dr Graham Taylor and all the team at Oxford University’s Zoology department, field station and flight hall; and Dr Jason Hockman at Birmingham City University Film and Audio Engineering department; and Westbury Arts Centre. Other thanks to Lucianna Riso, Dale Atkinson, Hanne Van Asten, Connor Mott, Hermione Spriggs, Ian Giles, Caroline Malone, Tryphena Foster and Frances Fox.