The Edinburgh ‘Fringe’ Festival will soon be opening (5th-29th August) and host a range of acts including comedians, dancers, artists and musicians. Alongside the ‘official’ shows and ticketed events will be a variety of street performers – each becoming part of the largest arts festival in the world that has been held in Scotland’s capital since 1947 (with the Festival Fringe Society established in 1959). Their official website states that “In 2010 we enjoyed a record-breaking 2,453 different shows staging 40,254 performances in 259 venues by 21,148 performers.” The Fringe prides itself on being an ‘open access’ arts festival, meaning that street performers in particular can put on a show as part of Fringe with no selection process and be part of a programme that is not curated. This creates a unique environment and arena for ‘performance’, as well as a particular type of engagement with the audience(s).
In his recent article published in Area (currently on earlyview), Paul Simpson discusses the geographies of street performance and “the acts of audiencing that members undertake in relation to this” (2011: 1). He uses street performance as an example through which to explore the role of video methodologies in contemporary geographic research. The paper reflects on his research – during which he played guitar in Bath, UK and videoed the street performances – and focuses specifically on the giving and receiving of donations, linking these practices to debates on affect, embodiment and ethnography. Whilst ultimately a paper that critically reflects on using video as a research method, Simpson’s research on street performance highlights debates on everyday and artistic practices, many of which can be seen at the Fringe Festival.
Promoting cycling as a form of urban transport is lauded by politicians and planners as one way of creating sustainable cities. Despite efforts to establish more cycle lanes and networks, Britain’s cities are still not bike-friendly environments and anyone who takes to the saddle needs to be “a rugged fearless individual, wholly responsible for your destiny”, according to Janice Turner in an article in The Times.
Justin Spinney’s research focuses on urban cycling in a western context. His latest article in Geography Compass, suggests that most geographical research into cycling has focused on why people choose that particular mode of transport to get from A to B and what routes they take. Instead, he draws attention to a neglected area: the line between A and B and the experience of travelling. He seeks to draw transport geography into a dialogue with cultural geography by proposing different research methods for investigating “less tangible aspects of daily mobility”, in particular using video.
But I wonder what the video-journey of an average London cycle commuter would reveal. Two wheels having to share the tarmac with 18 metre long bendy buses; illogical one-way systems; drivers turning left without using their mirrors; the struggle to find a safe place to park your bike when you arrive at work; the stolen wheel when you return to collect your bike. Equally, it could show some of the bad behaviour of cyclists: listening to music on headphones; jumping red lights; using pavements; not wearing safety helmets. Spinney’s proposed research methodology could reveal as much about the state of society as about the experience of mobility.