Brentford Biopsy - Christian Nold with Daniela Boraschi, 2008

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The Brentford Biopsy

The Brentford Biopsy Map is the result of a 12 week local residency by the artist Christian Nold with the designer Daniela Boraschi. Initiated by Watermans Arts Centre and the curator Ilze Black, the project consisted of a number of participatory workshops and drop in sessions. During the workshops the gallery acted as a live design and mapping studio for working with local people to gather, edit and visulise all the information that was used to create this map. We would like to say a very big thank you to everybody who participated and gave their time and energy towards this project.

Instead of taking tissue samples as one would from a human being, this project uses cultural probes to investigate the local social body and its unique ailments. Like eastern medicine, this project takes a holistic view of the body to look at the interconnections between problems to get a sense of the whole.


What is this?

In some sense, this object in front of you is a public mirror onto Brentford and the people who live there. It was created purely from the data, information and conversations about the area which were collected by roughly 200 local people. You will notice that the texts on this map are those of multiple voices often disagreeing with each other or speaking from different points of view, but always trying to make sense of their environment. Unlike a mirror which cleanly bounces light in order to reflect, the process of reflecting opinions and ideas is never simple or clean. This project is an art piece which brings a particular set of instruments and methods for exploring and visualising Brentford. While some of the instruments used to create this map, such as the clipboard seem familiar to us, others like Emotion Mapping or Sensory Mapping are exotic. More important than the unusual instruments or visualisations is the fact that this project does not hold a particular local agenda. It does not filter the collected information in order to persuade people to implement or build something. In fact, its central aim is to hold up the complex network of local issues for all to see and reflect upon and not to attempt to untangle or resolve them. This will no-doubt frustrate those people looking to this object for easily implemented-able action points. In fact, the best metaphor for this object is actually as a foreign language newspaper dedicated to reporting on Brentford. When looking at the newspaper we recognise a lot of words such as local landmarks and we can understand the photos and illustrations, yet there is a lot we are missing. We feel a sense of frustration at not being able to understand everything. Yet if we make the effort to grasp the logic behind it, we get amazing insights into Brentford. People might question why we are not use a 'normal' language for this map. Well, we, the artists, argue that as a public, we actually have very few shared references or languages for how to talk about our social spaces. The language of mainstream consultations offers only the impersonal language of officialdom and tick boxes which reproduces the tired assumptions of those creating the questionnaires. What we need is a communal process of translating complicated objects like this map in front of you, in order to create an active process of disagreement and participation. Even by publicly disagreeing with each other we create social positions and relationships that generate a public sphere. Rather than asking for, or offering action points for local change we ought to accept the difficult process of dealing with differences and making our own translations.


Who is this map for?

This map is for anyone who cares about Brentford or who really ought to care about it. The hope is that all the Brentford stake-holders such as local people, interest groups, developers and the council will use this map to revitalise their discussions. In particular, we insist on the role of people's sensory and emotional experiences as and essential part of all political discussions. How each one of us 'feels' about each other and our environment is the foundation stone upon which any democratic decision-making has to be based. To do this, we first have to enable people to focus more strongly on their own experiences, reflect and question them and and then to articulate and share them through a political process where their personal experiences are valued and not disregarded. The challenge that this map presents to all the local stake-holders is how to use this document productively and include it within the process of politics. It is this complexity and difficulty of how to situate the content of this map that should also give it a value and meaning to a wider audience who are interested in new ways to represent local and intra-local issues or ways to instigate local public spheres.


How to read this map

The map has been structured into four interrelated sections that suggest a left to right narrative from the past towards the future, as well as a progression from the static and solid towards the fluid and malleable. Each section contains its own mini summary of the issues and discussions that emerged from that section. In addition to the sections, the map is divided into smaller graphical elements that visualise the results of the different participatory activities with local people. Each of these activities becomes a lens for looking at Brentford from a different angle. Emotion Mapping The map starts with Emotion Mapping which indicates points of communal high arousal recorded by workshop participants exploring Brentford with the Bio Mapping device, designed by the artist Christian Nold. The map shows high physiological arousal as red stars. Arousal is not positive or negative but an indicator of high bodily and mental attention. This first geographical map is the conceptual focal point of the project, bringing together people's bodily experience with reflection and discussions about place. In addition, the map contains a large variety of people's comments and annotations in relation to their experience of walking and living in Brentford. Sensory Mapping This activity involved people walking a small area close to the project base whilst blind-folded and deafened. One person lead another, who recorded their sensory experiences in textual form in relation to particular locations. On their return, they entered these observations into a computer. Adjective Clouds The clusters of blue to black words are adjectives that project participants used to describe Brentford. The size and colour of words indicates their frequency of use. The adjectives have then been collected together into clusters of similar words. For example in the Built Environment section we see the tension between words talking about the history and past of Brentford versus change and development in the area. Issue Networks The rounded square shapes with interconnecting lines represent Issue Networks of ideas that the workshop participants connected together and later edited and reconnected. In the third section for example we can see how the issue of building flats, young people and community are interconnected. Drawing Provocations This is a series of drawing sheets with challenging questions such as: ?You have unlimited amount of money power and freedom to change Brentford. Draw what you would do to this place?. The drawings made my the participants were then digitalised and composited with the Adjective Clouds and Issue Networks.


Open Data

Copyright - Christian Nold, 2008 The Brentford Biopsy map has been released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share alike 3.0 License. A full quality digital version of this map is available for download from the project website: This map uses data from the Open Street Map project under a Creative Commons License.


Christian Nold

Christian is an artist, designer and educator. In 2001 Christian wrote the well received book ‘Mobile Vulgus’, which examined the history of the political crowd and which set the tone for his research into participatory mapping. Since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2004, Christian has led a number of large scale participatory projects and worked with a team on diverse academic research projects. In particular his ‘Bio Mapping’ project has received large amounts of international publicity and been staged in 16 different countries and over 1500 people have taken part in workshops and exhibitions. These participatory projects have a strong pedagogical basis and grew out of Christian’s formal university teaching. He is currently based at the Bartlett, University College London.


Daniela Boraschi

Daniela is a designer. Daniela has been a member of the Young Design Programme 2005-06 working with primary school children to collaboratively visualise the identity of their school. Since graduating from the BA at Camberwell College of Art, Daniela has been involved in various participatory projects with young people. She is currently studying at the MA Media, Culture and Communication program at the Institute of Education researching place based educational practices.


Watermans is the base for all the project activities. The address is:
40 High Street Brentford TW8 0DS

The best way to get here is to take the District Line Tube towards Richmond and get off at Gunnerbury. Then take either the 237 or 267 bus in front of the tube to Watermans which is a bus stop all by itself.

Google Map link here

San Fran | Greenwich | Stockport | Newham | Westminster | Silvertown | Brentford | Paris | Rio ||| Christian Nold |||