A Breath Between is an ongoing collaboration between Elise Ashby & Stephanie Whitelaw.
As a collective they focus on ecological themes, in particular care for liminal spaces within communities and how they can activate dormant possibilities.
Most recently they undertook a residency in Can Serrat Barcelona and Peripheri ran as a two part project, exploring urban sites within Portobello and Granton in association with ArtWalk Projects, culminating in an exhibition in the run up to the ArtWalk Porty festival.
Peripheri: Tending to Corners
During winter through to summer 2022, artists Elise Ashby and Stephanie Whitelaw designed and delivered a series of monthly art walks, exploring peripheral sites in Portobello. The project explored the plant growth within unmanaged sites, observing the arrival of self-seeding plants over six months. Participants responded to what arrived through drawing and writing exercises, and some of the texts which inspired the project were read aloud in the space. During the second half of the project, the art materials used during the sessions were partly foraged from the local environment. Including homemade charcoal, plant inks and mussell shell pigment.
They are also places which, in the absence of competing native plant species, are seeing the evolution of authentic urban ecosystems, plant communities new to the planet but entirely appropriate for cosmopolitan built-up areas[…] These backlots are unofficial commons not just because of their rowdy vegetation, but because they are the last informal open spaces left in most cities: weekend strollers pick blackberries, children build camps, travellers’ settlement materialise, complete with horses and goats.’
Richard Mabey on brownfield sites
Exhibition Photos from Peripheri: tending to corners
In the first part of Peripheri, participants were led from Portobello to Granton following the coast. The route encouraged conversation around the ways in which the coast is accessed and used both by individuals and industry now and in the past.
The walk ended in Granton which has the highest concentration of brownfield sites in Edinburgh and is also the focus of a significant waterfront development plan. Several areas of planned development were held in limbo through the pandemic and in their unmanaged state were responded to spontaneously by humans and non-humans in the interim, suggesting interesting possibilities about the direction communities want for urban spaces of the future.
Reading Towards Action
Following on from the Peripheri work in Granton. We were invited by A+E (Art & Ecology, Accident & Emergency) to run a ‘Reading Towards Action’ session. While walking in Granton we met a woman named Lesley Hamilton-Messer. She had made an inventory of all of the plants and animals developing a newly rewilded ecosystem in the Granton development site area. We invited her to come to the session and read the list aloud. We also read two poems, Margaret Atwood’s The Moment and Ursula LeGuin’s Infinitive and an extract on ‘Walking the Imagination’ from Ernesto Pujol’s Walking Arts Practice. After the readings we walked to the sea to collect water to write and draw with in response to the plants which had been removed.
From the A+E website:
Informed by the writings of Paulo Freire, Reading Towards Action was kick-started in 2009. By reading texts together in the conflict of interpretation, Reading Towards Action opens up a space for critical reflection and collective action on issues of personal and political concern.
The a breath between collaboration began during lockdown through conversation around a vacant site in Leith. In the months before lockdown a building had been demolished leaving only dry soil and rubble. Work was halted and before long plants began to grow. Buddleia, rosebay willowherb, clover, thistles, poppies, white stone crop and more. The conversation centred around the hopes and frustrations of seeing windows of opportunity come and go in urban spaces for something less managed.
We began a journey of noticing the plants which self-seed in urban spaces, and spending time in places which have fallen through the cracks of normal city planning, and how this can create a feeling of creativity and freedom.