A review of Maps & Lives at Phoenix Gallery

by Alice Beesley

Phoenix Brighton has been running the gallery installation, ‘Maps & Lives’ over the last three weeks. This exhibition has been a participatory activity in which individuals and groups work with artists and activists to create maps of their lives in the city of Brighton & Hove.

The project began with a blank map in the gallery space and has accumulated documents, drawings and three-dimensional pieces of people's histories, journeys and connections filling the floor of the gallery. Through participation, the Phoenix gallery has become a site reserved not only for artworks but also a civic and democratic space.

Maps & Lives’ is eye opening in regard to the memory and psychogeography of Brightonians. As residents, each of us observes our city with different perceptions of the physical space and our individual consciousness. It offers a broad and three-dimensional insight into this concept offered by residents, academics and artists.

Naturally, our feelings towards Brighton & Hove is that of a diverse, creative and positive place, however some additions to the map has offered other perspectives that’s also highlight some things that we don’t necessarily discuss about our city’s past and present issues. For example, the history of Slavery in Brighton, is something that seems to have been overlooked in the past, Catherine from Phoenix Gallery explained that “we think of Brighton as quite a liberal and tolerant place, but it does have quite a dark history and the exhibition is exploring that.”

The most outstanding addition to the map is from a Road Sweeper, here viewers can see the observations and thoughts from someone who is so involved with the preservation of the physical spaces of our city. The streets have been mapped out in sentences that offer his thoughts in the areas where he works, which are poignant and honest, such as “why do the rich looks so different from the poor? I see it everyday.” and “Some people don’t see me. They say a Road Sweeper hasn’t swept their road.”

Catherine guided me through the map and discussed the additions that had recently been made, as well as some of the socio-political themes that have also cropped up throughout its creation.

When the exhibit opened the space was just blank white nothingness and I think everyone was really unsure as to what was going to happen as it really depends on what people bring to it. Luckily, people have brought loads to it, every day I come in it has grown and I look at what has been added.

It’s all about Brighton and thinking about the city in the current economics, housing and politics that run through it. I think that Brighton does have this reputation of being welcoming, tolerant and a lefty place but on the other hand it is extremely expensive and not very racially diverse. A lot of these things are barriers to the image that we want to present of ourselves and the exhibition really explores that. A lot of the work people have added here does have stuff to do with marginalized communities and voices that don’t get heard and not necessarily things that we think of in Brighton.”

It is very interesting to see how groups and residents have expressed their memory to create additions to the map, for example there is a theme of ‘smells in Brighton,’ others have brought in photos or old newspaper clippings as well as other maps they have and have contributed to the space. The principal addition of understanding the map as a three-dimensional piece are the hanging figures created by A-Level students who came in as part of a workshop with Phoenix.

Phoenix Gallery has not put limitations on anyone who has chosen to add to the map. This has allowed the gallery space to become three-dimensional living and breathing work of art filled with senses and memory. This last year has unearthed a major issue in the divide between different cultures, political ideals and heritage. ‘Maps & Lives’ has focused in on our city and forces us to consider the impact of these issues and concentrated them in this wonderful collaborative space.

Today, Saturday 2nd December is that last day to see and contribute to the map. I really suggest going to take a look because it really is an interesting experience.