This article was originally published on UEA Journalism on 11th March 2021.
Wyrd Norwich (@wyrdnorwich) is a street and found photography Instagram account dedicated to showcasing “all the wyrd & wonderful” art found across Norwich. Founded and curated by Meg Watts, a 21 year-old Literature and Creative Writing student at the University of East Anglia (UEA), the account launched in October 2020. Since its inception, the account has grown rapidly, gaining over 1000 followers, many of whom submit their own photos to be featured.
Siân Roche sat down with Meg to chat all things Wyrd Norwich, from what actually qualifies as ‘wyrd’ to the best hidden gems in Norwich.
What inspired you to start Wyrd Norwich?
There’s a zine that I really like called Weird Walk which is made by some guys from Wiltshire (where I’m from). It’s a Pagan-infused zine for walkers which features lots of local history and occult stuff, and it discusses psychogeography, the concept of which is walking but avoiding paths and routes, just going out and seeing what you can find and really taking notice of what you’re looking at. I began to practice this when I was walking around Norwich during lockdown, and I just became very aware of the amount of weird stuff there is, from UEA’s suicidal-looking Antony Gormley sculptures to a suit-wearing horse in a skip on Dereham Road.
What really did it for me though was, one day I was cycling by Norwich market and saw a woman wearing a brown fur coat and full-face teddy bear mask. She was just completely motionless, watching people walk by. It wasn’t performance art; it was just a woman wearing a bear’s face. I was so perplexed by it, so struck by it, I thought it was so weird that I needed to document it, so I set up Wyrd Norwich to act as an archive of odd things people find around Norwich.
There’s something so lovely about people making art in public spaces because you can’t really monetize it. You can’t sell it. It’s going to be destroyed or damaged or washed away or painted over and it’s just doing things for the sake of doing things because they’re satisfying. That really appeals to me. It strikes such a chord in me because it’s so nice to just make for the sake of making. Art doesn’t need to be beautiful, it can just be really, really odd.
Your follower count is continually growing. Why do you think it’s become such a popular account?
I think it’s the fact that nobody else was really documenting it. It also helps that I’m specifically looking for weird and funny stuff. I think weird and funny stuff always tends to capture people’s attention and imaginations.
My followers are really diverse as well – I have a lot of followers aged 18-20 but then quite a few over 60, which is interesting for Instagram!
Where did the name, Wyrd Norwich, with the ‘y’ come from?
There were a few reasons for the name. Firstly, I just like the ‘y’ and it’s a weird spelling of the word. Secondly, because I was originally intending for it to be more of a local history account, I picked a more archaic spelling. Finally, I was also trying to differentiate from Weird Norfolk, which is a really cool account which focuses on ghost stories in and around Norwich.
What qualifies as weird enough to be featured on your account?
It really depends. A lot of it is based off my gut reaction: does it make me laugh or ask what is that?
I also like really beautiful things. For example, there was a submission from the Grape’s Hill bridge which says: “when will we feel each other’s touch again?” It just struck a chord with me because we’re all feeling that from Covid.
How has the account helped you during the pandemic?
Personally, it’s been really nice because it’s a creative project that is quite low maintenance. Normally I spin a lot of plates and have a lot of different projects going on, all of which are quite time pressured and collaborative, whereas Wyrd Norwich is something where it’s completely up to me what I do. It’s really satisfying to do something I enjoy that other people seem to enjoy too.
I think it’s helped other people as well because it gives people something to do when they’re out on their daily walks – we’re all going on isolated walks and literally anyone can look out for weird things.
Tell me about your decision to infuse politics into the account.
I made a conscious choice to make Wyrd Norwich at least a bit political. I’m not going to go in all guns blazing, but of course I’m going to lightly push that human rights are good and racism is bad if I have an audience of people who are looking and listening. Politics is just a part of me. I can’t cut it out and I wouldn’t want to. I’ve got principles and I wouldn’t want to compromise them in any way for the sake of popularity.
What’s your favourite post on the account so far?
I really love all of them. One of the nicest stories I think I’ve had is about Tarmac the cat. It was the second post I ever did. Someone had stuck up a poster of a black cat in their window saying: “Tarmac is 20 years old, doing well”. I posted that at the beginning of October 2020, and then two weeks ago (March 2021), the owner of Tarmac was tagged in the post. They commented, saying: “very proud to say that Tarmac will be turning 21 in just two weeks”. It was really cute to have a full circle community moment. I really enjoyed that.
What tips would you give to people who want to start finding art around them?
Walk a lot, visit places that you don’t normally go, pay attention and just be really nosy. Look for things you find visually interesting or things that are funny. Most people probably have a lot of pictures like that in their camera rolls already that they’ve sent to mates.
Do you have any recommendations for secret and ‘wyrd’ gems in Norwich?
People don’t send me enough photos of Magdalen Street and Anglia Square! There’s some really good, really weird graffiti up there. In general, as well, it’s a nice part of town. I think students don’t head out that way too much because it’s too far from the university but it’s worth it.
I’d also say also people can make their own weirdness. I would encourage people to proliferate the weirdness – make your own art and then wait for it to appear on Wyrd Norwich, like a treasure hunt, just odder.
What are your hopes for the account? Where do you see it going?
I have no idea. I’m just going to keep running it because I’m having fun with it. Currently I sell some of my art, writing and designs on Redbubble, and I would love to design Wyrd Norwich stickers and merchandise at some point.
I also like the idea of working with other awesome Norwich-based groups, like Site Collective, which runs creative community events, and Common Ground, a heritage group who approach local history from a youth-led perspective with lots of LGBTQ+ people and people of colour, highlighting opinions you don’t normally get in heritage spaces in the UK.
Check out Meg’s website here: https://megwatts.carrd.co/