DAN SHIPSIDES - Let's Get High
Let's Get High aimed to get high with Belfast teenagers.
It was an "outreach" project faciliated by the Golden Thread Gallery.
Literally we wanted to get into high places around Belfast where we will make drawings and photographs and see the city from new perspectives.
The desire to live and work high in the sky is being promoted again after the developments of 1960's such as the New Lodge and Rathcoole flats. New developments such as Hilton, Obel and the proposed Bedford Square tower are promoting the "qualities" of living high. The suggested morality of the bigger the better is ironically referenced in relation to some of the less desirable living conditions of some of the 60's housing blocks and to slang references to drug abuse. Morality and success is often measured in terms of elevation with phrases like; the high life, the moral high ground, high achievers. This project addresses these ideas and the actual viewpoints by gaining access to the high places in the city for a drawing and photographic project.
Would the teenagers have stories to tell, places to describe and sights to point out? Would the experience present an exciting or revealing perspective? Would it be fun? Wouldl we feel high?
The project involved two parties of teenagers - the "Higher Force" group from the lower Shankill - a traditionally protestant area and the Chinese Welfare Association from the Donegal Pass area.
We managed to negotiate access to many tall buildings - the Housing Executive in particular were very helpful - as was the Hilton Hotel. Other buildings were difficult to negotiate access - such as the H&W cranes and Windsor House on Bedford Street (Prior to the Obel these were the two tallest structures in Belfast).
The groups came together to the Hilton Hotel - where we had gained access to the top floor penthouse suite. This was really exciting. Both groups met for the first time and spent an hour in the suite viewing and talking about their city. Interaction between the two groups was quite limited - they did not mix easily - but were respectful of each other and the project. It did not seem possible to initiate drawing workshops - I felt this would have spolied the moment of the groups being there and reacting naturally.
We also gained access to the Grainne House in New Lodge area - this was fascinating as it is residential tower block with amazing views - in an area with a strong sense of identity.
As a project I felt it had some good successes but also some problems mainly to do with "buy in" from the groups because they had other time committments - not least school exams - so our timing was bad. It was also difficult to re-initiate the project once the exam period had passed - as by that time other access problems had occurred due to re-furbishments and other occupations. Also the funding window passed the the gallery moved onto other forthcoming events. The period of support effectively ended the project.
The project spawned two public billboard projects:
Shown as part of Art, Media and Contested Spaces, Interface, Belfast 2008
Let's Get High
Shown as part of Marble and Concrete, Golden Thread Gallery 2007.