Dinghy Trip On Leeds/Liverpool Canal: Burley park to Clarence Docks


The act, we consider, is both one of cultural resistance against the predetermined and conventional  routes of the city’s motoring ways in which the pedestrian is not the priority, as well as an engagement in the city’s history by actually travelling on what was an industrial artery, but has now largely become an access way soley for tourists on narrowboats.

To an extent a derive in a dinghy is also a détournement, for the dinghy is translated from the environment of the summer beach holiday to the slightly overcast, and in this particular case, predominantly industrial surroundings of the canal. What this achieves, or rather demonstrates, is the applicability of an object produced to satisfy a particular socially instilled need to other more diverse applications. Whilst a number of canals have been preserved many have been filled in, especially in cites hungry for construction space. One particular example can be found in Milan, which once had an elaborate and extensive canal system devised by Leonardo da Vinci and was considered comparable to Venice for ease of navigation by boat, where now nearly all have been filled as the result of Mussolini’s Futuro-fascist vision to promote the car as the absolute symbol of progress.

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Some documentation from an installation experiment featuring four of the sixteen short clips of footage taken from the journey projected onto the black line of the route taken. Located in Leeds University’s Fine Art studios.

Canals are frequently under-appreciated simply as vestiges from our past, an index of a period when Britain was at the forefront of industry and innovation, traced across our landscapes and running through our cities. Canals are classed as public waterways and so like public parks are accessible to all given that a few basic stipulations are adhered to. Like parks they offer the opportunity for both a great family day out and also an engaging way to discover unexplored parts of urban environments. Inflatable beach dinghies, poorly suited to sea use, are ideal for exploring the flat tranquil waters guaranteed by a canal and are a worthwhile investment for the more adventurous family.

The idea of taking a cross section of the city comes from the situationist concept of the urban derive, in which the participant undermines the restrictions of city planning by getting lost and simply drifting within their own city by negating the the need to travel from A to B. however, in more contemporary situationist based literature, notably the practice of psycogeography, the notion of the derive has been replaced with the concept of trying to orientate oneself within the urban geography based on learnt knowledge rather than dependency on technology such as smart phone GPSs to navigate. This practice does not stress the freedom of movement described as a derive, but rather the act of taking a cross section through the city’s geography to make a spatial, aswell as psychological, line of reference for the participant.

For those less willing to venture onto the water canals have a beneficial collateral element, that of the tow paths, many of which are used by walkers, joggers and cyclists as a way to quickly escape the city, presenting an amusing reversal of the canals’ position as originally being located next to now abandoned industrial sites. Canals are returning again to public awareness as many old industrial sites are redeveloped into residential and commercial centres which utilise the romanticised perception of canals to offer an appealing edge. In these redevelopments towpaths at best become incorporated into landscaped waterside walks or are interrupted by walls and removed from public use, with some canals becoming enclosed by buildings. In this regard canals offer a unique way to interrogate the demarcation of space within cities and provide a way to negate the privatisation of land and restriction of travel.

Leeds (UK) - October and November 2010
Participants: Gaia Rosenberg Colorni, Stuart Russell Brown, Gwilym Sainsbury

On Saturday, October 24th, End of Passage participants Gaia Rosenberg Colorni, Stuart Russell Brown and Gwilym Sainsbury took a cross section through the city of Leeds from their residence in Burley, to the commercial centre of Clarence Docks. This cross section did not conform to the modernist constriction of the city’s roadways, but took a sweeping curve through the city’s geography by paddling an inflatable beach dinghy on the Leeds/ Liverpool canal.


Interactive Google map showing route taken on Leeds Liverpool canal. Each blue marker shows footage from dinghy at the corresponding point:

Example of video footage taken from dinghy:

Related projects:

Kirkstall Storm Drain. October 2010 - June 2011: kirkstall_storm_drain.html
DRIFT: the synchronised movement of a pedalo on Lake Como and a pedestrian in Milan. December 2010Drift.html
The Island. March - June 2011the_island.html