bearpits + landmines


Bearpits & Landmines trailer by Matthew Watkins developer on Vimeo.

Bearpits+Landmines explores a mutable set of ideas and images including themes of entertainment and leisure, from rallies and protest to tattoos and stock car art, and the motorway site of a huge contemporary park – Cyclopark – and sees the gathering of multiple stories in order to create a new narrative, which manifests live – through performances and interventions and virtually through an online game and i-phone app (now discontinued). All the project’s  visual imagery was created in collaboration with Spike Golding, graphic designer.  The side scrolling PLATFORM GAME  (iPhone APP) offered a unique experience and challenge to the player by combining traditional gaming tropes with an innovative and playful introduction of other material (video clips, found imagery, text and audio) representing wider ideas and themes within the work. The game was technically developed by Matt Watkins at Mudlark. I undertook a period of research with artist Chris Yates, watch the slide show.



Game players are a hybrid she-bear-cyclist, riding a bespoke bicycle through the motorway landscape of the Cyclopark. As the bear traverses the physical challenges of the park’s terrain, they encounter several characters, including a stilt walker, fire breather and accordion player, who have been already introduced through local performances. The encounters, and video clips that accompany them, challenge the player to persevere with the daunting journey, the pitfalls and uphill climbs and to maintain their energy levels – depicted as a flame burning brightly. Throughout the journey the bear collects banal symbolic objects (raising energy levels) – a bottle of water, a heart, a peanut, a book – these trail along behind the bike absurdly, and if the player hits a mine they are all lost. The recurring bearpits that feature in the game utilise clips from artist Mark McGowan’s infamous online rants, and when the game was tested during the grand opening of the Cyclopark, a group of actors infiltrated the official Skyride and cycled around ranting on appropriate subjects like the oil industry, the status of motherhood, austerity measures, car dependency and nimbyism.

In April 2011 I invited juggler and unicyclist James Bentley to perform his “ring of fire” on the site of the Cyclopark earth works. It is right next to the A2 motorway traffic roaring between France, Dover and London.  We invited Magnificent Revolution to enable us to pedal power the Herzog film “Lessons of Darkness” in a silver airstream caravan called the Cultural Baton. It was hard work cycling just 4 bikes. Luckily we were joined by a slight gang of lads who helped. A bitter wind blew accross the motorway and I caught pneumonia.

We have run Bearpits Saturdays  in an empty shop in Gravesend’s St George’s Shopping Centre. This was organised by Chris Yates and Fiona Boundy, with Steven Hintches creating the bikes themselves… They declared an amnesty for unwanted old bikes, and gathered them up. The aim was to create an alternative fleet of bikes for Gravesend (a counterpoint to London’s corporate bank bikes), to stage a mass cycle ride from the city centre into the cyclopark and to highlight the need for a proper cycle path between the two locations. Hundreds of people came into the project over a few weeks. I proposed a bike workshop might exist one day as part of the park.

We had a petition and got about 150 signatures for the traffic free path from the town centre to the new Cyclopark. Peter Henshaw of Sustrans helped to work out the best options away from traffic.   online petition.

Later I worked on  what I called the sub-plot, a series of unannounced events in various public places, roads and paths… I have explored the myth of Ulysses and the Cyclops, gigantic-ness, monstrosity, through conglomerate figures, half human half machine, underpinned by the presence in our lives of the internal combustion engine. I have been thinking about fire, about regeneration, development, and conversely about system collapse and destruction. There were riots in London and other cities in the UK this summer. I invited Jonny Hoskins, a stilt walker to walk the entire length of the park, and Lina Jungergard, a firebreather to blow flames beside the motorway.

We had a November the Fifth, high up on a hill in the park with the A2 sweeping its lights, fireworks cracking all around, the lights of gravesend, it felt epic.  The yurts pitched up in the sea of what looked like volcanic mud all around, (weeds killed to make way for grass). We screened, by pedal power,  The Moon and the Sledgehammer  by Philip Trevelyan, had a bon fire in a wheel hub, followed the magnificent Puffs of Smoke punctuating the eerie cycle tracks and bmx circuit. The bearpit bikes came out again, circling aimlessly in the fog. I travelled to a real volcano to film the following day on Lanzarote.

I have had plans for a roadside pianola, protest songs, a woman from Holland called Leander in a bear costume setting up house in the park, a bushcraft fire lighting contest, a really long fusewire burning down the side of the motorway (we tried it but it was too damp), a line of Kelly kettles smoking offering tea, unfit parents cycling on fitness bikes set around the playground, as there’s no liberty in looking after kids… but it became clear that the difficulty of doing anything in public space was so bureaucratic that it might be relevant to retreat to the virtual world, soon to be more omnipresent than “offline activity” (life i guess) ?  During  a fruitful conversation, in Whitstable, the notion of a computer game on a phone came up again. I was fascinated by how smartphones occupy and provide mini spaces of time in the daily whirl.

The game was made with the expertise and skills of Mudlark. In it players become a bear riding a customised bicycle through the tarmac circuit of the Cyclopark, or perhaps just an imaginary landscape. Within this undulating, dystopian environment players speed through a number of pitfalls, obstacles and hazards, which they must negotiate in order to keep moving and maintain their energy levels. These challenges exist alongside random encounters with characters some of whom have already appeared on site, live. There are bearpits, with ranting bears and the sounds of parliament.  Along the journey totems (water bottles, books, a peanut…) can be collected, which impart energy  to the biker, and there are landmines where all can be lost. The game was initially hosted online  by Fiona Boundy/Artlands.

A trailer can be seen here

There were two yurts (something tent like became important after considering and rejecting the idea of a permanent structure- thanks to all the architects for your time), like the tents of an army or a circus,  one white – a kind of foyer – and the black space of the Bearpit cinema yurt. Electric Pedals screened  “The Bear That Wasn’t”, a 1930’s film about capitalism and a bear after some of “The Bicycle Thieves” on a rainy saturday in the town centre. The game has been tested in the yurt in May 2012 at the Cyclopark’s Launch. Here cyclist/actors performed particular rants as they traversed the park amongst the crowd.

The yurts were intended to  stay at the Cyclopark, under contract brokered by Artlands with KCC and Cyclopark but unfortunately they were destroyed. Most of the bike fleet was gifted to the Bristol Bike project

The game was launched as part of Rumble, Rattle and Spark: Fire and Explosives in Artists’ Film at WOMAD Festival 2013 (25th-28th July 2013). Flames, smoke and sonic booms are linked to ideas of both good and evil: the fires of Hell and the comforting flames of the home hearth; the causes of death and destruction, and the celebratory use of fire in festivities throughout time. The programme includes work by artists who are attracted to the transformative power of fire and explosives, and others who have considered the personal and political impact of the explosive’s destructive force.


Game and App launched at Womad Festival 2013 as part of Eriffire at Rumble Rattle and Spark, Womad World of Art,  curated by Jeni Walwin.

Commission and web hosting of i-phone app game by Fiona Boundy of  Artlands North Kent for Kent County Council’s Cyclopark, Gravesend

Dates – 2011/2013


A notion to give instructions in a conceptual manner – which would have been good but hasn’t really happened – has become  more like a team that has sort of grown beside the work, both remote in Kent, by the work of Chris Yates in Bearpit Saturdays mainly, and including Steve Davies, airbrush artist and stock car painter in Gravesend, and locally to me with several talented people in Dorset – Spike Golding for his ongoing collaboration over the imagery and graphic design for the project, Mike Jessop for the ingenious blackout Bearpit Yurt, Darren Crane for ongoing advice and proper fairground illumination, Sophie Sharp for the cyclops drawing, Sam Wood at Mikkimugs for screenprinting resources and the ranters.

I would also like to thank

Stephen Turner and Julie for accomodation, Laurence Tricker (KCC) and all at Cyclopark, Kent Cultural Baton and Nicole, James Bentley for the Ring of Fire, Magnificent Revolution for pedal inspiration, Colin and Electric Pedals for pedal power, Allpark welders, Stefan Hintsches of Kinetic Interventions in Bristol for inventive and inclusive practice which helped make Bearpits Saturdays such a massive success, Kelvin Pawsey, Jay, Alfie and co. for bike fleet work, the Bearpits Bunch  – Andrew, Maisie and Fay, Dave Fish, Kate Grewal, Charlie, Chris, Cycles UK and everyone who made a bike or trailer, donators to the bike Amnesty and bikers on the Ride, those (150 ish ) people who signed the petition, Simon Keep for the sheep’s fleece accordion playing, (Miranda for the fleece) Jonny Hoskins for cyclops stiltwalking, Lina Jungergard for momentous motorway fire breathing and Gary Wells for puffs of smoke in the wilderness, Steve Davies and Shane for yurt help, Sel and Lou of Setla Productions for filming, Dave Cooper for QR codes, Andrea Crociani tech, support and music, ranting consultation with Lloyd Stanton, Kath Best, transcriptions by Iris Hilton and production by Vanessa Bartlett and to all the ranters – Mark McGowan (whose rants appear in the game) David Jessop, Georgie Deverell, Chek Best, David Neylan, Jake Cooper, Theo Langton, Dan and Ben Cantrell and the actors – Ashley Stanton, Lee Moone, Katie Warren, Silvana Maimone, Luisa Guerreiro… double decker bike riding by Neil Chapman… Matt Watkins and Mudlark.

Bearpits+landmines was the final part of a residency and commision at the Cyclopark, Gravesend and was supported by the Arts Council England, Homes and Communities Agency, Kent County Council, Eu interreg iv. British cycling and the Collier Ferguson Trust.