Birmingham a motor metropolis obsessed by movement, commerce and shopping. In contrast the city canals, along with the much loved Edgbaston Reservoir (The Rezza), offer brief moments to breathe, gaze, be still and spend time with oneself; and others if you choose. Fishing is a little known but highly treasured activity that takes place in these mesmerisingly tranquil city spaces.
Fishing was always part of my life, as was my father, grandfather and great grandfather. I had never really thought of it as being that important, not in any philosophical way. But, having moved to Birmingham from Burton-on-Trent, I began to realise that I missed those messy edges of town, the abandoned trolly scrublands where rivers met the land, where canals met woodlands, where quarry pits met semi-urban industrial estates. I had spent my childhood meditating in these uncluttered spaces, surrounding by water. Fishing with dad. Eating bacon cobs [with all important brown sauce] at 8am watching the morning fog rise.
I was passionate about running a participatory arts project about fishing in the hope of reaching out to new audiences, and on a personal level I had lost touch with these spaces. To capture the significances of fishing and equally as importantly the activity of “going” fishing, which is something slightly different. In 2019 I began to have conversations with the artists and curators at A3 Project Space and Studios in Birmingham about what is “Participation in the Arts” was and how some people may not ever have chance to engage in art projects. What would it mean to work with people fishing as a creative practice, how could I tell their story. Visit A3 Participate for more info and to see other participatory projects.
“ Many [men] go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after,” Henry David Thoreau.
While the project was originally intended to facilitate groups of fishermen/women in and around associated Canal and River Trust Let’s Fish Events. The COVID-19 pandemic presented many difficulties. I imagine this was similar for many people working within the sports and arts sector. The canals were closed for Fishermen, plus bad timing for the Fishing season. So the project took a turn into interacting with West Midlands based fishermen on online forums. Later as lockdown restrictions lifted, I was able to go on three smaller fishing adventures with less participants over a longer time, some of who had never been fishing before.
The conversations had, the stories told were really revealing and thoughtful. From talking about the expected “biggest catch” to conversations about how fishing is used to help with stress, anxiety and related mental illness.
The project resulted in the creation of drawings, photos and a reflective narrated video with one of the participants. As well as the events themselves which were much more participatory in nature.