Wandering Around the Toilet, 15th September, Manchester

To celebrate 10 years of playing out, The Loiterers Resistance Movement are holding Loitering With Intent: The Art and Politics of Walking, a special exhibition at the People’s History Museum in Manchester. The exhibition will be open July 23rd – October 14th, hosting a number of fascinating events, including one from us, details below:

Wandering Around The Toilet
Wednesday 15th September (walk 2-4pm, installation all day).

This tour will explore the history of spending a penny and how a lack of public loos impacts on who can use the city. There will be tales of public health, gender inequality, the blurring of public and private space and the fight for fair access to the toilet. All day in the gallery you can meet members of the Around The Toilet Team, and see an installation designed by Architecture students at the University of Sheffield. The construction is based on the materials and design of public toilets to challenge assumptions and provoke a rethinking of issues of gender, ‘ability’, access, surveillance and the meanings of ‘public’ itself. Drop into the People’s History Museum gallery all day and book free tickets for the walk here: http://toiletwalk.eventbrite.co.uk


Loitering With Intent: The Art and Politics of Walking
July 23rd – October 14th, People’s History Museum, Manchester

The Community Gallery will be full of art by LRM members and friends from Manchester and beyond who are inspired by creative walking. There will also be archive material, short films, music and a programme of talks, walks, games and tools to take away to start your own explorations. From cake maps to CCTV bingo and DIY maps, from strolls across oceans to travels around toilets and the fight for the right to roam we demonstrate how the pedestrian becomes an artistic and political act. Join us for a very special exhibition that shows our pavements are full of stories,  adventures and new connections just waiting to be discovered. Please come and walk, play, wander and wonder with.  A full line-up of participating artists to be revealed soon. An introduction can be found here, and the events programme here.

The LRM (Loiterers Resistance Movement) is a Manchester based collective interested in psychogeography, public space and uncovering the secret stories of the city.  Since 2006 they have been organising public walks, dérives (drifts), games and spectacles offering new ways to explore the streets.  To celebrate 10 years of loitering, please come and play.

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does that include us? / yn cynnwys ni?

We’re looking forward to participating in the opening weekend of ‘yn cynnwys ni?‘ (‘does that include us?’) at the g39 gallery in Cardiff on Friday 22nd July. If you’re nearby, please come along. Full details below:

does that include us? / yn cynnwys ni?
22 July – 24 September
launch weekend: 22/23 July
g39, Cardiff

[Image: A cut-out of graph paper with a hand-drawn red border and a number on each axis. In the centre it says ‘You’ in bold, hand-drawn font.]

Does That Include Us? is a multi-artform programme of events presented by artists, facilitators and activists, some who identify as disabled and some who don’t.

For the first part of the season, 22 July – 25 August, you are invited to participate in social gatherings, performances, practical activities, conversations and debates. Through these activities we will find innovative and experimental ways to promote discussion around the subjects of access, inclusion, empathy and diversity within the arts and the wider community.  All workshops, gatherings and events are free to attend, and you can find more information on individual events throughout the season on the website; updates and amendments to the timetable, will be published here throughout the programme, as well as a weekly calendar at the beginning of each week.

Around the Toilet
Fri 22 July 4—7pm

The research for yn cynnwys ni? at g39 begun in early 2015, and started by looking at one of the most fundamental manifestations of the need for debate around inclusion and institutional good practice – the toilet. Although the warehouse currently occupied by g39 is fitted with several toilets, none of them were accessible in a wheelchair or met the current regulations in terms of planning. Eighteen months later, we are very pleased to be able to invite you to the grand opening of our brand new toilet space, built by artists, and fully compliant,  the new toilet will be opened by  Around the Toilet, a team of academics, artists, activists and students who use arts practice based methods to explore notions of belonging and what makes a safe and accessible toilet space. Following the grand opening, there will be a workshop between 5-6pm based around the idea of the Utopian toilet, run by artist Nicky Rose from The Bower Wirks and inspired by her ‘toilet challenges’.

Between 6-7pm, hear from some of the Around the Toilet team, Dr Jenny Slater, Dr Emily Cuming, Dahlia Tayel-Brown, Mikhail Tayel-Brown and Gillian Kemp about their latest project, Travelling Toilet Tales, an animation documenting journeys taken or not taken due to in/accessible toilets. People of all ages and abilities welcome.

For more on the project on Twitter : @cctoilettalk or visit their blog aroundthetoilet.wordpress.com.

Around the Toilet at the Utopia Fair

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[Image: ‘Utopia Fair’ sign on a block of wooden crates with Somerset House in the background, people to one side and a cloudy sky above.]

The three-day Utopia Fair event at Somerset House began on 24th June – the morning Britain found itself plunged into Brexit, an irony in terms of timing which was lost on no one. The Fair was part of the UTOPIA 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility activities, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s radical imagining of a better world. The grand, cloistered courtyard of Somerset House was to provide a pop-up version of More’s imagining of a ‘no place’ that is also a ‘good place’ – at once located centrally just off London’s West End, and yet strangely set apart from the rest of the city. The carnivalesque juxtaposition of worlds was a theme that continued throughout the event – from Brexit to utopia, academics mingling with tourists, to the country fair style of the stalls set within the walls of a Tudor palace, this was to be a weekend of playful and stimulating contrasts.

The Fair presented a number of different stalls presenting outputs from various Connected Communities projects, all engaging with the creative and political possibilities of utopian imaginings. The event proposed future-oriented thinking as a gesture of hope and political agency. As one person noted at a speaker event on Utopian Housing which took place in one of the wings at Somerset House, communities are often asked to reflect on the ‘history’ of a place, group or institution. But often, when the conversation turns to plans for the ‘future’, then experts – architects, designers, councillors – will step in to declare what is possible or permissible (or affordable). In other words, there is often an unspoken privilege – or symbolic capital – in speaking about and for the future which is not always afforded to community groups. The Fair’s celebration of utopia seemed to suggest that everyone should have the opportunity to radically reimagine, shape or design the way the future. Utopian thought, in this way, has the potential to be a levelling act – one that is creative, ambitious and a powerful statement of a shared, collective will.

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[Image: Around the Toilet stall decorated with drawings, signs, and other materials. Two people sit behind the table.]

Travelling Toilet Tales and Servicing Utopia both had connected stalls at the fair in which we provided ‘hands-on’ activities for members of the public as well as exhibits from our past activities. The public received the first viewing on iPads of our animated Toilet Tales film, an exploration into the ways in which everyday journeys are planned around the un/availability of a suitable toilet and featuring stories from a range of toilet users, including truckers, disabled parents, and non-binary people. Visitors also got the chance to listen to the individual toilet stories in full, browse our postcards designed by artist Smizz, and talk to the special guests who were helping on the stall. At various points over the weekend, we were lucky enough to be joined by members of Accessible Derbyshire, Changing Places, Action for Trans Health, Truckers’ Toilets UK, and the Loiterers Resistance Movement, as well as the storytellers and artists behind the films for both projects and the digital Toilet Toolkit.

Toilet fair 2

[Image: L-R: The Toilet installation posed in front of Somerset House; two people looking at an ipad, one sitting down with headphones and the other leaning over behind; a close-up of the stall – hanging luggage tags for feedback, a tote bag saying ‘smash the cistern’ and decorated toilet roll.]


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[Image: The utopian model town – a cardboard landscape with colourful handmade buildings and scenery.]

We were also delighted to have with us Nicky Rose, an artist in mixed and recycled media, and Tom Gayler, a designer at the Royal College of Art, who led interactive sessions which invited visitors to create utopian toilet models from cardboard, wooden blocks, pipe cleaners and other bits and pieces. The intermittent sunshine over the weekend allowed us to stretch our craft materials out onto the floor for visitors of all ages to get involved and get messy. Once built, utopian toilets were added one-by-one to a utopian model town, assembled by Leap of Faith: Anarchy and Play on the stall next-door. If only all towns had so many (sparkly) public toilets…

Toilet models

[Image: Nine photos of handmade toilets or various shapes and sizes created by people attending our stall. One says ‘rotating loo’, another says ‘don’t put me in a box’ and another says ‘compost loo’.

This weekend also presented the first opportunity for the public to use the interactive digital Toilet Toolkit and view the short animated film produced by the Servicing Utopia team. The toolkit is aimed at architects and other design professionals to promote the accessible design of toilet spaces, and allows users to virtually ‘walk around’ toilet spaces and interact with the items and facilities. This will be available to view on our blog very shortly (watch this space).

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[Image: A close-up of the toilet graffiti people wrote on the acrylic boards of the toilet installation. The installation asks ‘Can we improve toilet design?’ and ‘Why are toilets funny?’]

Our interactive toilet installation, designed and built by MA Architecture students at the University of Sheffield, was constructed for visitors to view, prompting conversation and graffiti contributions. Written comments from our visitors ranged from a poll about toilet roll use, toilet confessions and jokes, to reflections on personal habits. People wrote on the back of artist Smizz’s postcards to include their own toilet tales, sharing stories that were informative, funny and sometimes disturbing: a dad being told off for changing a baby in a women’s toilet; one person’s account of the inadequacy and fallacy of ‘Community Toilets’ (businesses allowing the general public to use facilities); cleaners rebelling against unacceptable toilet mess; recollections of an instance of violent bullying in school toilets; library toilets providing ‘safe spaces’ for users to have private conversations; one person having to resort to using the ‘please wash your hands’ sign as emergency toilet paper; stories of global lavatory etiquette from the Gambia to the Himalayas to Tokyo; and important notification of a new venue in Liverpool that has a toilet DJ. All of these contributions turned into conversations over the course of the weekend as new visitors responded to the comments left by other people attending the Fair.

Team

[Image: Some of the toilet team. Six people stand in a row, smiling at the camera. The person in the centre holds a ‘Changing Places’ leaflet.]

As toilet specialists, we were curious to see what kind of facilities would be provided in the historic grounds of Somerset House. There were plenty of options available, including gender neutral toilets near the main reception area which were the source of much discussion (and not just on our particular stall). These were impressive ‘state-of-the-art’ toilets that had given some consideration to providing gender neutral options for everyone, with gleaming surfaces, modern fittings and private washing facilities in each stall. But what was striking was how far the disabled toilets fell short in comparison. Dated, not quite as clean and certainly not intended to be any utopian ‘showcase’ for twenty-first century toilets, the small-ish cubicle also functioned as a boiler room and the only space for baby-changing. Like many accessible toilets, it could have been more accommodating and indulgent…and accessible.

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[Image: Cobbled flour in front of our stall. A range of craft materials in the foreground. Children and adults sitting to the right.]

The Utopia Fair also gave us the opportunity to meet with other researchers working on Connected Communities projects and to reflect on the potential for new links and points of connection. The Stories of Change project, which explores energy and community, transported their mobile photobooth across to our stall and asked us to contribute a vision of energy-efficient toilets.  Ours included a wind-powered flush and use of recycled/‘dirty’ water. The open and informal setting meant that there were fluid interactions between the various stalls, and the opportunity to share experiences, tips and stories about our diverse projects. What was particularly effective about the Somerset House Fair was the combination of abstract thinking and imagining on the one hand, alongside a more tactile sense of getting stuck into hands-on activities, talking, designing and listening – from building utopian playgrounds, to model-making, to finding yourself immersed in a live puppetry performance. It was also wonderful to reunite various members of our Toilets team – and for us to also think creatively and ambitiously ahead to our own future projects.

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[Image: Somerset House lit up in pink at dusk. A dark, cloudy sky above, with tented stalls and people standing and chatting in the foreground.]

Utopia Fair – Join us this weekend (24 – 26 June)!

Our newest research projects, Travelling Toilet Tales and Servicing Utopia, will both appear at the Utopia Fair in Somerset House in London this weekend (24th-26th June).

The Utopia Fair will be hosting 35 representatives from contemporary utopian movements from all over the UK on stalls in the Somerset House courtyard. The Travelling Toilet Tales stall will offer the public an exciting first glimpse of a draft of our animated Toilet Tales film. Featuring stories from a range of toilet users, including truckers, disabled parents, and non-binary people, the film is an exploration into the ways in which everyday journeys are planned around the un/availability of a suitable toilet. Visitors will also get the chance to listen to the individual toilet stories in full, browse our postcards and artwork, and talk to the special guests joining us on the stall.

Next door, the Servicing Utopia project will be joined by artists who will invite visitors to create utopian toilet models. This weekend will also present the first opportunity to view the interactive digital Toilet Toolkit and short animated film produced by the Servicing Utopia team. The toolkit is aimed at architects and other design professionals to promote the accessible design of toilet spaces and will allow users to virtually ‘walk around’ toilet spaces and interact with items within the space.

This is an addition to our interactive toilet installation, designed and built by MA Architecture students at the University of Sheffield, which will be constructed for visitors to view, and a cinema room which will be screening a premiere of the projects’ films in full.

If you’re nearby come by for a chat with one of the toilet researchers, or with our special guests who will be joining us at various points over the weekend, including members of Accessible Derbyshire, Changing Places, Action for Trans Health, Truckers’ Toilets UK, Public Toilets UK, and the Loiterers Resistance Movement, as well as the storytellers and artists behind the films for both projects and the digital Toilet Toolkit. See you there!

The Utopia Fair is held at Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 1LA. The fair opening hours are Friday (24): 17.00-22.00; Saturday (25): 10:00-18.00; Sunday (26): 10.00-17.00. It is free to attend. For more details, click here.

[Image: Flyer for the Utopia Fair: blue, purple and yellow shapes frame the banner advert for the weekend.]

Re-Imagining Toilets: An event summary

At the closing event for the Around the Toilet project, we celebrated the provocative, visual and artistic creations produced in our research workshops over the last seven months. The exhibition space provided by Z-arts in Manchester gave us plenty of room to display the ‘Toilet Stories’ comics created by children at a local Primary School, toilet drawings and postcards by Smizz, the alternative toilet symbols created by members of Venture Arts, and the incredible installation game designed and built by MA Architecture students at the University of Sheffield as part of the Live Projects programme. In a separate workshop area, creativity continued to flow on the day thanks to resident artists who helped us to stencil political toilet slogans and designs onto t-shirts and tote bags. A cinema room also offered people attending the event the opportunity to watch a range of activist, artistic and Hollywood depictions of toilets.

Final event pic 2

[Three images: L-R: T-shirts printed with toilet slogans; Venture Arts alternative toilet signs; the toilet installation game. Photos courtesy Eleanor Lisney, Jana Kennedy and Niki Sole.

Activists, campaigners, academics, architects, and others with an interest in toilets, space and access, assembled at our ‘Re-Imagining Toilets’ event on 27th November to continue the conversations that the Around the Toilet project – and many campaigners and academics before us – have been having around the safety and accessibility of public toilets. In particular, but not exclusively, the event considered provisions for queer, trans and disabled people. Dr Jenny Slater, Principal Investigator on the project, introduced the day by reflecting on the social perceptions of toilets, toilet research and campaigns around access. Slater notes that despite toilets playing a fundamental role in all of our lives, the Yorkshire Post recently dropped an article they had invited Around the Toilet researchers to write to mark World Toilet Day. The article was unsuitable, the Yorkshire Post claimed, because it was believed to focus too much on ‘minority issues’. Slater argued that not only were the Yorkshire Post wrong to think that toilet issues were applicable to an insignificant number of us (in fact, we all use toilets), but also that ‘minority issues’ shouldn’t be addressed in their paper.

The speakers joining Slater on the panel had also played key roles on the project. Like Slater, they reflected on how toilets are crucial yet mundane parts of our everyday lives. Dr Emily Cuming, Co-Investigator on the project, considered how toilets are both materially and socially forged, ‘hooked up’ through plumbing and mechanics, but also understood and used as part of a wider public, cultural space. There is nothing natural or given about the categorisations our bodies acquire through toilets, adds Cuming; toilet designs, location and labels are always ideologically loaded. Disability equality trainer, Gemma Nash, spoke about disabled parents’ use of toilets, noting the stigma and moral judgements which place them under greater scrutiny regarding their ability to care for their children. Nash argues that this can unfortunately lead to disabled parents doubting themselves. Communal baby changing spaces may work well for some, Nash adds, but due to the judgement many disabled parents face, shared spaces may feel intimidating or uncomfortable for others.

Final event pic 4

[Three images: L-R: The ‘Toilet stories’ comics; ‘The only good tory is a lavatory’ t-shirt; Smizz’s drawings of the event. Photos courtesy of Action for Trans Health, Jenny Slater and Eleanor Lisney.]

Morag Rose, co-founder of the Loiterers Resistance Movement, discussed how the power structures of our built environment need to be incorporated into our consideration of toilets. She pointed to the rich social history of public toilets, reflecting on whose bodies and identities have been considered in their planning, and the often unexplored boundaries of public/private space. Jess Bradley, Action for Trans* Health Trustee, was the final speaker in the first session. She argued that that by labelling toilets as ‘male’ and ‘female’, we assume that these two categories are the only ones available. Toilets do not only reflect how society understands gender, Bradley comments, toilets produce our ideas about gender. However, things are changing. Bradley notes that gender neutral toilets are becoming increasingly commonplace, and are very often incorporated into building designs without controversy. We do, after all, use a gender neutral toilet every day in our own homes.

Following a refreshment break, the next panel addressed the importance of architects’ perspectives on toilets. Dr Lisa Procter, Co-Investigator on the Around the Toilet project, illustrated how the historical model of the ‘ideal’ (hu)man had been used to design toilet facilities and that these measurements were taken to be a universal standard. Whilst approaches to design have changed, toilets still fail to adequately reflect the diversity of their users. Procter provided many visual examples of the aesthetic potential of toilets. In some cases, toilets are not simply hidden away, but incorporated into the design of the city as their own feature; toilets as public art. Following Procter, Niki Sole and Suki Sehmbi, MA Architecture students at the University of Sheffield, talked about their roles on the Live Projects toilet team. A group of eleven students spent six weeks designing various tools for disseminating and exhibiting our research findings. One of the key outputs from the Live Projects group was the installation game on display in our gallery on the day. Sehmbi and Sole discussed the design process behind the installation, reflecting on some of the challenges of their brief – especially the size limitations, given that the disassembled installation needed to fit inside the boot of Slater’s car. Both Sole and Sehmbi emphasised how participating in the project had transformed their understanding of toilets and the design and planning processes involved in accommodating access requirements.

Final event pic 3

[Three images: Photos of some of the outputs produced by the MA Artichecture students. L-R: Toilet roll with Smizz cartoon drawings; Installation game; Toilet twitter handbook. Photos courtesy of Y Mu.]

Our final panel of the day brought together members of the Loiterers Resistance Movement, Action for Trans* Health, Queer of the Unknown, Truckers’ Toilets UK, the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, Changing Places, Accessible Derbyshire, and the MA Architecture Live Projects programme. It was inspiring to hear so many voices dedicated to putting toilets on the political agenda. We discussed the ways forward for toilet activism, practice and research; covering a wide range of topics including: the closure of public toilets, the re-labelling of toilets to include a gender neutral option, the use of direct action in response to accessible toilets used as storage cupboards, the lack of consideration given to Changing Places toilets when training architects, on-street urinals and gender socialisation, school toilets, menstruation and learning disabilities, and the radical potential of toilet protests. Many of these discussions were framed within a broader context of austerity and welfare cuts. Morag Rose argued that if the city is presenting itself as open 24 hours then its toilets, too, need to be available at all times. Similarly, Jess Bradley reminded us that toilets need to be included in anti-austerity campaigning, just as a critical perspective on cuts and privatisation needs to be incorporated into our discussion of toilets.

After a delicious vegetarian buffet, a performance from Queer of the Unknown brought the event to a close. Jess Bradley and Loz Webb staged their piece within the toilet installation, using the copper pipe arches to create the public cubicle stalls in which their performance was set. The piece drew on a range of performance practices, including dance, poetry, movement, and even some (well-received!) audience participation. They encouraged us to think about many of the themes of the day; access, safety, transgression, policing and solidarity. Scene-by-scene, Queer of the Unknown negotiated an artful balance between funny, political and poignant; proving all three are possible at once.

Final event pic

[Image: Queer of the Unknown performing. Two people: one sitting within the toilet installation and one standing, reading form a piece of paper. Blue lights overhead and the audience sitting at the front. Photo courtesy of Steve Graby.]

Thank you to everyone who attended Re-Imagining Toilets, or has contributed to the project over the last few months. Hopefully this won’t be the last you hear from us…

(A storify of the event is also available to view here).

Toilet Installation – Public Presentation this Friday!

If you’re based in Sheffield and fancy a sneak peek of our toilet installation then join us this Friday 6th November at 4pm at Moor Theatre Delicatessen. Masters students in the School of Architecture, University of Sheffield, have spent the last six weeks designing and creating the installation as part of the Live Projects initiative, using a toilet brief we outlined based on the findings of the Around the Toilet research.

Since May this year, the Around the Toilet project has been exploring toilet politics through interactive workshops, discussion sessions, and speaker events. We asked our Live Projects team to produce a durable creation of some kind; something which will ideally be used in the future by queer, trans and disabled people to campaign around issues of toilets and access. After this Friday, the toilet installation will have its official unveiling on Friday 27th November at our final public event, Re-Imagining Toilets: Adventures into the Design of the Public Loo at Z-arts in Manchester. More information about the final event (including registration and accessibility) can be found here.

Everyone is welcome to join us at the Master students’ public presentation this Friday at 4pm!

(Access info: The venue for the event this Friday, Moor Theatre Delicatessen, is in central Sheffield. It has three short steps at the entrance and a temporary ramp. The event will be held on the ground floor level. There are gender netural and accessible toilets. A photo of the venue is below.)