Last year in September, we took on Bidston Observatory in order to re-establish the site as one of artistic research. The former institute will house a not-for-profit study centre, focused on providing artists, writers, academics, performers (etc.) with a cheap, temporary place to dictate their own methods of work, allowing them to stay and come together to develop projects that require time and space, in a non-pressured environment, in order to be realised.
We are currently in the process of renovating the building - whilst structurally sound, after a few years of neglect, its roof has some leaks, its drainage is blocked, and the basement blooms with mineral efflorescence. If all goes to plan, come Spring 2018, we hope that these spaces - the domes which crankily turn and the underground laboratories - will gradually be re-appropriated for other purposes, for example as print and editing labs, or screening and study rooms. We’d like to give the building new intent, and its users direct access to the resources it offers as a result of its histories. The building itself has been remodelled time and again, in response to a practical need to know and learn from the questions or urgencies thrown up by the natural environment. Through tracing these cuts in fabrics social and architectural, we’ve been getting to know the building as an apparatus that furthered the project of scientific progress in the West.
Having been a working government building, the local people of the Wirral have cherished the observatory for 150 years as a landmark, but seldom had access. So, after the warm welcome the community has given us, part of this building will be dedicated to a small museum. We’d like to meet an interested audience with alternative, situated stories about the building’s past and the people who worked here. We are interested in critical thinking through making, and the remnants the building leave us with, suggest modes of engaging with the materiality of technologies. Below peeling lino, lie metal supports for the tidal prediction machines, where (mostly) female computers abstracted, coded and drew the anticipated tides for a year. And conduit still marks the paths of abundant data connections, threading early computers so cumbersome, they required rooms rigged with air-con and sound-proofing in order to operate.
So, alongside the museum, we’ll be organising and hosting seminars, events and workshops, open to a range of academic and non-academic discourses, from politics and social science to philosophy, theory, or chat; where discussion can flow from cooking to sound recording studio, or from monitoring wind speed to meeting room. We can imagine a diversity of other fields such as therapy and publishing also seeing the site as a forum where these different types of knowledge can be tested, shared and extended. The emphasis will be on the site as a space of research and non-commercial creative production, rather than public presentation per se, and work here will be co-initiated rather than steered by programming.