Only one day left to get our installation built: the pressure is on! Ben and Aziz, who had worked until midnight last night, were back in Old Kingsway by 9am. One hour later they had already managed to get another structure standing, and were joined by the rest of the team. We now have three structures in the space – one is completely finished, while the other two still need work to create seating at the bottom and to integrate the wiring for the LED lights. Seeing the three structures standing is impressive, and we can already imagine all the different possibilities for positioning them in relation to one another so as to create different kinds of shapes and spaces. The morning proceeded with Lotfi and Yusif making the benches at the base of the second structure, Aziz fixing the benches on the third structure, and Hedi and Mohammed making more profiles for the remaining two structures. We were all helped by the children and teenagers who hang around Old Kingsway, who contributed in all aspects of the building process, from carrying bamboo to cutting it with the saws, from tightening cable ties and ropes to propping up the structures.
People passing by Old Kingsway are also starting to ask us more questions now, since our work has become more visible. A recurrent question is what the point of our work is, our goal. One passer-by wondered if we were building a robot. Nao, who is documenting the process by taking photos and videos, and so has a bit more time to talk to visitors than the boys, usually replies that these structures will be left here for the community to take care of or modify as they see fit. People seem happily surprised to hear this. An architecture student who just finished her studies came by, and after hearing about the project decided she will join us tomorrow with working clothes. Some also wonder where we got the bamboo from and how much it cost, since they don’t usually see it used in this way, and very few people know that there is a wood yard close-by, just behind the Methodist Church. In the afternoon we met a group of primary school teachers on holiday, who came to do a photoshoot before the madness of the festival kicked in, to then prepare an exhibition on walls of their classrooms. They discussed the pedagogical aspects of the project with Ben, and were impressed to see so many young people from the neighbourhood helping us and getting involved. We also had a visit from one of the young architects who is doing an internship next door, at Joe Addo’s (known by the children as Mr White, since he always wears white) James Town Café (where Valentina and Nao sometimes sit to work on the blog, since it is handily positioned right next to Old Kingsway, and sometimes, magically, has coffee). His name is Jeffrey, he is Cameroonian but lives in Togo where he studies architecture. He was curious to check out what we were doing, and asked if we had designed the installation before arriving or whether we had thought it up on the spot. He was inspired by what we had achieved in such a short period of time. He joined us in securing the feet of the structure so that the weight of it was better distributed and didn’t put too much strain on just one bamboo.
Now that we are taking up more space and big structures are emerging, people with whom we have been working over the past days are also becoming more curious, and are joining us in thinking through what our installation could become. One of the children who has been helping us every day, called Eric, says he likes the structures we made because they remind him of goal posts, and he has enjoyed doing this work because you can exercise your body at the same time. Eric yesterday was wearing a Twenty One Pilots t-shirt – Yusif has enjoyed spotting the t-shirts of bands he approves of around James Town, like Metallica, Slayer, Linkin Park. Another regular participant, called Daniel, who is 11, said he liked this work because now that he knows what it’s about he can do it in the future. He also found it good to be able to sit on the benches and take your time, surrounded by wall paintings to look at.
Wilson, who is 14, has also been a precious co-worker over the past week, and had introduced Ben and Aziz to his mother’s work place, an open-air bakery just behind Kwaku’s sofa making workshop, from the very first day. Today Nao and Valentina went to visit it too, and got to taste different types of bread warm from the oven. Wilson gave us a tour of the rooms where the bread and baking utensils are stored, and explained to us the process of baking in the impressive clay oven that takes centre stage in the space. His favourite bread is butter bread, because of the colour and because he feels good when he eats it. We had to try, so we bought one, and Wilson’s mom gave us sugar bread to taste as a gift. We also met several of Wilson’s mom’s colleagues, one of which was called Spendy, “because she spends a lot”, jokes Wilson. Spendy explains that that is not the reason behind her name: she was named Spendy because she will share what she has, she will enjoy it together with others. Another colleague, named Cecilia, burst into laughter when she heard that Valentina’s sister has the same name: “an obroni Cecilia!” Wilson’s family and the other workers at the bakery all come from the interior of the country, about a 10 hours bus ride, they only go visit once a year, says Wilson. Before they used to live in another part of James Town, but now their home is here, behind the door in the wall of Old Kingsway that had first lead us a week ago to Kwaku’s workshop to negotiate our presence in this space. Wilson tells us that the rest of the year Old Kingsway is our park, it’s where we play football and see friends. There are also people who come here to shoot music videos, and so they have to pay, but to play football it’s free. Faidal also told us about Old Kingsway’s fame in music videos, and said that he will be on the lookout and will send us videos that have the Warcha installation in them.
Concert organiser Nii (also referred to in the previous post as Leeds Nii) came to the space twice today with Mr Table, a record label producer, and Mr Naughty, the artist who will be working with them to create the set for the concerts over the weekend. He was pleased to see the installation, and loved the LED lights enclosed in the bamboo – he will have to fight it out with Kwaku to see who gets to keep them after the festival (Ben has already told Kwaku, who has been very kind and helpful throughout, that he will leave the structure to him after the festival). Nii agreed that our structures can stay in one side of the space, opposite where they are planning on building the set, and can be a sort of chill out zone, “maybe we should name it something-lounge”. Nii had already told the Chale Wote organisers he was happy to keep our structures here, he told them the plastic chairs they were thinking of bringing in for the concerts can stay out and the structures remain. This information, though, had not trickled down to Kwaku, who was concerned that the “landlord” of the space would want us out. The “landlord” did indeed later come by to ask us what was going on and how come we were still here. Nii managed to sort it all out, he thankfully knew the man from before and explained the situation. Meanwhile in the afternoon another self-appointed sovereign of the space decided to place a pink bucket at the entrance to Old Kingsway and ask people for donations to be able to come in. We only found out because a tourist came to ask us how much she should put in the bucket. One of the wall painting artists got very angry with the self-appointed sovereign, and got him to get rid of his pink bucket and leave.
By 4pm all of our five structures were standing, despite the space being full of people coming and going, making it tricky to coordinate ourselves in the chaos. The final effect of our installation will feel a bit like a pavilion: the idea so far is that the structures will be placed in a circular shape, facing inwards, with benches at the base and LEDs enclosed in bamboo hanging from the end of the top bamboos, creating a lights cluster in the centre of the circular space. Ben wondered if we should attach fabric strips in between the top bamboos to create shade for people sitting below. In the end we decided against it, as fabric would introduce a whole new material to the structure, and it would also somehow anchor it more in the world of functional objects, instead of letting the open ended, expansive shape created by the bamboo shooting off in different directions take us elsewhere. One aspect of the work that we could have perhaps done more of, but which turned out to be too difficult to organise while being busy creating the installation, was devising design and building activities for the children to do alongside our work. In the end children and teenagers were involved in helping us in creating and thinking through the structure, but not all were involved at all times and the stimulus of what to do came from us – it would have been interesting to have them create something of their own as well. It was also on a practical level difficult to work while also trying to involve a big number of younger people. For next time we could think of strategies for better organising the time and giving different groups responsibilities for creating different things.
We had dinner at Osikan, the fish restaurant by the ocean that we had gone to on our very first stroll in James Town, Wilson came with us too. The boys have been eating mostly bananas for dinner over the past few days – 4 bananas for 1 cedi, they couldn’t believe it – so it was good to have a change tonight, especially after a long day of work. The Warcha team then stayed out until 1am working in Old Kingsway. The goal for the night session was to only leave small touch-ups for tomorrow, since Nii would have to build the set in Old Kingsway and the festival preparations will be under way. The team managed to triangulate the feet to make the structures more stable, and to add bamboos to triangulate and support other parts of the structure. They then tested the lights, wrapped the LEDs in transparent plastic to protect them from the rain, put them into the bamboos and hung them, and then thought of how to work the electricity around the structure. That will be tomorrow’s challenge.