Four Huge Billboards;

One of the first things I witnessed after the official lockdown broadcast, was the forming and pasting of ‘Our Super Heroes We Love You’ on four huge bill-boards outside of my Leeds bedroom window. These boards are on the other side of the street but face inwards, so that from any angle in my bedroom I glimpse the Capital letters, designed by Morag Myerscough for Posters for the People[1], all of the words are bright stripes of support, declaration and love for our frontline workers. Strips of yellow, pink and orange combined with sunlight coat my room in awe and continue to remind me. 

The View From my Windowsill, by Author, May 2020.

Here in Hyde Park, Leeds, things have changed. The hubbub of student life has been replaced for something more sinister. Masks and gloves now tread cautiously around stacks of booze in One Stop. 

No more shuffling into a crowded Royal Park Pub or nipping to Crispy for a cheap midnight snack. 

Reality has changed.

Billboard Takeovers, FYI, In Good Company and Morag Myerscough, May 2020. 

Still living in my student house often lulls me into a false sense of security. These are the rooms that used to house my flatmates, these are the stairs we ran up and down to get to university on time or to get ready for a night out in the city centre. The only drastic inside change is the noticeable absence of my house mates. Day to day, I could forget the monstrosity of this situation as my house is near-to the same. But those strips of colour, tinting my carpet, my duvet and clothes rack, remind me. 

I keep writing and writing to remember the days. There will be many stories like mine, gushing with nostalgia and fuelled by the indefinite future we have been dealt. But something else has changed. 

Sans – Audience, by Author, May 2020.

University, as we know it,has been swept from under our feet. Our third (some people’s fourth) and final year of University has vanished. No longer will we devour copious amounts of hummus and sit close to our friends in our last summer of Hyde Park. We can no longer be excited for the night’s plans of a BBQ with friends once it’s too chilly to sit in sundresses and shorts. I know I wasn’t the only one looking forward to spending my days in the Fine Art studios. To really get stuck into producing, making, spending more time together as a year group and realising our ideas for what we thought would be our degree show ‘Simmer’. I was even looking forward to biting our technician Pete Morton’s ear off over A/V equipment, possibly,even the helpful-sarcastic remarks I would get in return. 

GIRL-ISH IS SCREAMING, by Author, January 2020. Audio-visual still. 

These days, I no longer walk to university, or sit on the grass, or walk through the hushed halls at midnight with a cup of coffee before a deadline. I miss the 24hr access! Now, I spend my time in the park walking or running, but not stopping! Evermore aware of the people around me, wandering and wondering about their lives. Are they safe at home? How close are their loved ones? Are they able to be productive? What does life look like to them now? Are they hopeful this will end soon? I’m sure those who have returned to their family homes may still hold sweet memories of sun-kissed Hyde Park days but now, for me, the park holds a new bitter-sweet resonance…to get to the park, I pass the four bill-boards.They remind me. 

FYI, In Good Company and Morag Myerscough, Billboard Takeovers, 2020. 

Establishing a home-environment to work in has been testing, strange. My garden poses as a difficult distraction. Productivity comes and goes. Drinking tea and coffee remains above the average dose. My practice is predominately text based, from this writing I compose audio and performance works. This means my ‘artist’ life hasn’t really changed, you’d usually find me propped up on a high stool on the second floor of the school, typing away anyway. When no words came, from there I used to gaze and gaze upon red-brick rooftops smoke-worn and hazy, lining the outskirts of our campus. Golden hour luminous on my studio desk as the hours kept ticking by, finally taken over by smoky sunsets masking the studio in a pink-ish glow. 

GIRL-ISH IS SCREAMIN, by Author, January 2020. Performance still. 

My practice attempts to tell stories. I started exploring live performance this year at university and I miss it. I miss the heat of the floor lamps on my face as I delivered narratives through verse and movement to people watching. I miss the absurdity of peeling carrots in front of an audience and the dialogue the peeling noises created. Now performance space holds a new significance. It has been challenging to recreate physical immediacy as there are only screens staring back at me. But I have learned to tackle the digital or (rather shyly at first) pick up a mic and perform in my back garden. Poor neighbours. I miss chatting to peers in the studio and getting second opinions readily and daily, however I am constantly overwhelmed by how much support we are giving each other at this time. Emails and ‘Team’ video meetings are constant and helpful. Tutorials with tutors are still engaging. 

Sans- Audience, by Author, May 2020.

I keep writing and writing to remember the days. I find stories in everything.

Doreen Massey suggests: ‘Perhaps we could imagine space as a simultaneity of stories-so-far’.[2]This quote stays with me as I try to navigate narrative space in my home-studio. This quote stays with meas I write stories about my life in this circumstance, as you may be doing too. 

I write stories in my bedroom where strips of pink and green light lick my keyboard and fingertips. Those coloured words ‘Our Super Heroes We Love You’, glinting on my window-sill, remind me.

Remind me to be thankful. Remind me to find colour in the daily dance of home-life. Remind me our front-liners are saving lives. Remind me to not always trust the news. Remind me that it’s OK not to be as productive today. Remind me to call my loved ones. Remind me to get on with work. Remind me to go outside once a day (as per the rules).

Our Superheroes, We Love You, FYI, In Good Company and Morag Myerscough, May 2020.

These words are hoisted high and pasted across the UK to remind us that we are in this together. 

Four huge bill-boards outside of my Leeds bedroom window remind me there are still stories to be told.

By Olivia Tess Russell

[1]Morag Myerscough Billboard Takeover, Leeds, The installation is part of #PostersforthePeople — an initiative created by Laura Wellington of street art project @ingoodcompanyleeds in collaboration with renowned artists from across the U.K. 

[2]Massey, Doreen, ‘For Space’, p. 9.