We’ve been inhabiting our Storyville installation for a week now, and its been a really interesting experience on various levels – time for a little reflection…
We’ve had a huge variety of people visit. Children who play with our teddy bears, their parents admiring my rocking horse, musicians intrigued by the 80s keyboards or French horn, photographers who tell us about the challenges of finding a decent photo album at a decent price. We’ve heard stories of fortunes won and lost, of loves that reached their ends, of divorce leaving people penniless, of house clearances and sporting victories.
It’s been great to feel that the piece is so well received by so many people: as one man put it yesterday, that “there’s something we have in common with even the people who seem most different.” But at the same time, these have been discussions which acknowledge the necessity of spending, the drive to acquire stuff and at the same time the pointlessness of such acquisitiveness. Lots of people start thinking we’re like a shop, and then realising our reluctance to sell things decide to sit down and have a proper conversation about their own things. They’re engaged by the collection of objects we’ve assembled in our lives, and want to talk about their own. That helps the piece become about the multiplicity of intersections between those stories, ours, theirs, theirs and theirs…
When someone buys something, there’s talk about its future. There’s a sense of responsibility handed over: we want these things, our things that we’ve been parted from, to be looked after and it feels like our buyers have been people who will do this. It’s quite different from a shop. We’ve found ourselves increasing the price of a few things to prevent their sale, and lowering others to ensure they go to someone who really wants them. We’d be terrible shopkeepers.
So what is it people have told us about valuing? There are physical properties: a piece of fabric that feels right against the skin, that looks fabulous — and that particularly might look better amongst others someone already owns. There are historical and cultural values: things which have importance because of where they’ve come from, who used them — the stories we can tell buyers about our objects. There are experiences that people value, including the time they’ve spent with us, which some choose to embody with a purchase.
But there are also far more abstract things we’ve talked about. The value of work, not just as craftsmanship in making an object, but as something that is satisfying to do. The value that we attach to newness, to being the first person to unwrap, to touch, to enjoy. There’s been talk about the freedom to live and die on our terms. About how much we value our lives opposed to those of other people across the globe. About healthcare, tax, education.
There’s one other thing which has come up repeatedly, from geography students, from local artists, from business people, from mothers interrupting their shopping and from people who haven’t said much else at all.
It’s an appetite for ‘culture’. Chester needs this, they say — meaning not us or our work, but Chester Performs and initiatives like Rogues Galleries. They want their hometown, which lacks a cinema and a theatre, to be somewhere they can experience culture. There’s a real hunger for it.
That comes alongside thinking about what a city centre is for. When the shops are emptying, struggling to compete with online retail, there’s a sense that the space in that centre is there to be used. That culture is a good use of that space, amongst the shops and cafes, indeed that spaces for cultural experiences are a necessary part of a thriving centre. And that’s something it’s been really interesting to hear, because it’s so vocal, so keenly felt, by such a wide variety of the visitors we’ve had.
Through offering ourselves, and our pasts, we’re unlocking the hopes and circumstances of our visitors’ futures. That’s a grand discovery!