Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tatton Park Biennial

The other weekend we went on an AirSpace trip to the second Tatton Park Biennial. We were quite excited to go, as a few of the artists selected have exhibited at AirSpace over the last few years. Dave and Andy and I are also organisers of Conjunction (Stoke-on-Trent's contemporary art biennial) and are involved in the research and development phase at the moment for October 2010's biennial - so saw this as a bit of local(ish) research.
The 2008 biennial included lots of amazing works situated around the grounds of Tatton, but not in the building itself. This was the main difference - this year was a mixture. The first piece we came across was Helen Marten's Milk on White (the billboard) and Coveting Keratin (the lion). This piece felt incongruous in it's setting. The regal lion of course nods to the use of Lions as an emblem to the country's greatness - but here it is made of carved polystyrene, and is cut in half. There was a 'tag' on the back of the sculpture looking like a moustache or a signature. The lion looks toward the billboard - which shows a hand with some half invisible soap floating above it. The piece seems to discuss branding through the ages.
While wondering around the grounds we noticed the way that many of the trees are marked with these signs. For Common Ground one of the artists is creating a piece of work where the animals that live in the park will be represented by coloured squares, placed in suitable locations - we discussed signs of this kind as being a way of allowing the viewer an 'in' when reading the works.
We came across this piece by Fiona Curran. It seemed like a tree house, which is falling down - and does seem to have somehow landed in the tree. The piece is described as a folly, which I like, in terms of connecting to landscape architecture traditions of building wrecks as delights for rich landowners in their grounds. This is a modern take on this.

We enjoyed the mini mobile cinema, which was showing images from Tatton's history. We had a good look at how this was constructed - I want one.This is Jem Finer's Spiegelei - a camera obscura. Unfortunately it was just too sunny for us to really see anything inside this piece, which is a shame - but the pink windows on the way in were good.
This piece in particular got us talking. It is a great big iceberg, which Neville Gabie has transported from Greenland. This piece connects to both the history of the place and its current day situation. Tatton, like many other stately home, used to transport ice from the North Pole. In today's climate where sustainability and energy saving are top of the agenda this seems like a grand statement (carbon footprint of transporting this piece of ice must be huge). The large piece of ice is now on display in the glass shed - being refrigerated - the cold unit is itself being powered by solar power. We found the idea of the sun keeping a block of ice frozen really fascinating.
Ryan Gander had a number of pieces scattered about the grounds and house. This piece which was hard to photograph, being effectively behind two bits of glass (a window and a dome) was a mythical bird on display in the manager's office. A story around the piece has been constructed - setting up the 4th Baron of Egerton's 16 plumed bird of paradise.

The story is set up about the Baron as an explorer (a bit of a Darwin type) who was shamed - having 'discovered' this amazing creature on one of his voyages, which was later found to be a fake construction. I like the connection to history again here, the Victorian's fascination with discovering new things - whether real or fake is what is interesting here (and this follows up on the idea of the folly.)
We then made our way into the house to see the other works.
It was quite frustrating that we were told we could not take photographs inside, and then received mixed messages as some invigilators allowed us to photograph the contemporary art works - as long as we did not photograph the house! Why not let people document their visit to the house? Very strange. Anyway I was allowed to take an image of this piece which may have been interactive - it was a voting booth - but the please do not touch sign on it was confusing. I voted anyway. It asked whether something like this should stay in Tatton - and I voted no - the ethos of the piece has its roots in accessibility (I think) but the situation it is shown in here - where visitors are told off for photographing and touching things is the opposite of that.
I fully understand the need for Tatton to protect its assets by asking the public not to touch (things deteriorate beneath oily fingers) but at times this is at odds with the programme being set out by a contemporary arts festival happening within this historic site.
This piece, by Kate MccGwire was our favourite - we were told when looking at it that the artist originally wanted the public to touch it - which of course would not be allowed! Actually this did not spoil our enjoyment, even if the red coil rope may have spoilt our view. The piece is constructed of locally sourced feathers, belonging to birds which would traditionally have been cooked in these ovens, when the house was fully functioning. This monstrous mass spilling from the oven is at once beautiful and appalling.
We had a picnic in the grounds to discuss what we had seen before home. A few of the pieces we had really been looking forward to seeing were not working on the day we visited - Jamie Shovlin's Rough Cut/Cut Rough and Helen Maurer's Light Landing being two of those, this was a real shame. Overall we enjoyed our trip around the biennial - the works explore histories, stories, fable and constructed narrative. The true and the faked sitting together, with authenticity becoming irrelevant in the end. The artists have connected to the mythologies of the house and grounds in many different ways, I am already looking forward to next time.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hanley Park Reccy

Today myself and a couple of the other AirSpace artists went on a reconnaissance mission in Hanley Park. The proposals for projects are due in on Wednesday (19th), and so we have just under a week to formulate our plans. I thought it might be useful to put my images and thoughts up, in case anyone is thinking of applying, and perhaps has not visited the park in a while.
I have had a few ideas already.
My first idea was really focused around the Bandstand, where Stan had told me about the swing bands from the early part of the 20th Century. I thought about repopulating and reviving the Bandstand - decorating with flower boxes, and bunting and organising for a brass band to play - trying to recreate the heyday of the park - and inviting the public to come along; bringing their deckchairs with them, and maybe even having a dance.
The second idea was in response to the Chartist's who used to campaign in the park early in the 20th century. George Howson, who gifted the bandstand to the park, was a Chartist. In the current political climate it seems relevant to utilise the methods used by the Chartists, who campaigned for electoral reform. I was thinking of creating a new character, 'The Candidate' who would have a soap box, a megaphone and campaign rosettes; and would go about the park delivering speeches, calling for reform of the way that arts and culture are integrated into developments in the city - becoming an advocate for the arts.I can't decide which one to work on, but perhaps I need to go with the one which can happen prior to the day (rather than the performance) so that I can focus on managing the programme over the two days.
I have been looking into the history and design of the park as well, and love the fact that Thomas Mawson designed it as an arts and craft park (from that era) and that the design follows those traditions. This makes it ever sadder to look at the state which many of the parks assets are in - broken terracotta, damaged lighting features, disused and boarded up pavilion, closed toilets, shattered paving.
In many ways having this arts event in the park may help to draw attention to the plight - I hope to consult the public on what they would like to see happening in the park as part of the project - and see this process as an investigation/consultation in itself. The public reaction to the artists and the art works will say a lot about what can and needs to be done. I feel that the spirit of neglect which hangs over the park explains the continuing vandalism and indifference. If there was a sense of pride and ownership over the park, perhaps people would be more likely to use the park - and take more of a stand against the vandals. I was asked last week if I was worried about the art works being vandalised. This is of course a concern, but will also be part of the investigation - if art works (and artists) are not safe over one weekend - then there really is a major problem which needs to be addressed.
I hope to ask the artists to try to record the public reaction and response to their presence - writing down comments made, and interactions experienced, as all of this will form the discussion around the vision of the park as an art park - within the document which we will produce.
Here are some of the features we came across which could become sites for intervention:
The Pavilion: one of the park buildings which are now boarded up, and cannot be used by the public. This building has asbestos problems, and would take quite a bit of cash to put right - but we think it could make a fantastic art gallery, and community workshop space, with a cafe attached.
The Pavilion is on a platform, reached by these steps, each of the three lots of steps have the distinctive terracotta brick, which was an important part of Mawson's design. The white vases were a gift to the park from William Henry Goss, a local pottery owner (owner of Falcon Works, Sturgess Street.) Most of the original vases are gone, and some have been replaced (as here) with reproduction copies, while others are missing altogether.
Looking towards the south from the pavilion we can see the damaged steps, and the bandstand. The bandstand is in reasonable condition, but could it do with some hanging baskets, and a band?
Some of the planting schemes stood out - dead palms surrounded by bawdy annuals. I somehow feel like this could do with some kind of attention?
The bridge linking the two sections of park, and crossing the Cauldon Canal, represents one of the most historically significant features of the park, and should be a demonstration of the regions industrial heritage - Mawson used local terracotta and had local firms make the beautiful red brick and tile feature. Today it is in a dreadful state - and in dire need of rescue. The scaffolding holding it up has been there for a number of years now.This small opening under the bridge looks like it could have sold ice cream - or been something to do with the large bowling green in front of it (no longer kept as a bowling green, and generally used for Frisbee and ball games today.)
There was a discussion about what may have previously been sited here: a sculpture of some kind, though I cannot remember what it was - was it a large sphere? This could be an interesting site for a proposition.
The lake and lake house. At various stages the lake house has been used as a cafe (apparently you could get egg, bacon and toast for £1.50) and the boat house used to hire out pedalos.
Here is the boat house mooring point. Could something happen here?
Above the mooring point is this ornate bracket - perfect spot for a hanging of some kind.
There have been various improvements over the last few years, for example the wooden lake side walkway, also used for fishing. Some of the damaged terracotta features close to this part of the park have been repaired over the last 5 years, but then vandalised again. This demonstrates that it is not just about fabric renewal, but that more needs to be done to increase pride in the park, or give a feeling that someone is caring for the spaces.
The games courts are always really busy, there are basketball, cricket, and tennis courts. We discussed setting up a table tennis game over the weekend, and maybe having a tournament. We really feel that the concrete tables which are popular in Berlin could work in our park, and that the temporary game could act as a proposition for development of the idea.
This is one I photographed in Berlin last year. There are a number of them in the city. I saw one area where there were a collection of tables, and lots of mini tournaments going on, a real community event, and we think relatively cheap to build and maintain, being made of such sturdy materials.
This little feature could do with a clean up - the structure was originally sited on the Garden Festival Site in 1986.
This is an area of the park which has really seen some noticeable improvements over the past year. Various community groups have worked on this particular area (SAFE and young people from the YMCA that I know of, but I am sure there must be others.) This was a bit of a no go area, it was swampy, and overgrown, and had become a bit of a drug den. It has been opened out and planted, and now has the feeling of a little hidden woodland walk.
This building has something to do with park maintenance, not sure how many people are employed at the park - this is something that I would be interested to find out.
The toilet block is all boarded up - I was told that there is a public toilet somewhere on site - but this could potentially be a problem when organising an event designed to bring people in to the park - and must be an ongoing problem for park users as it is. Perhaps we can try to draw attention to the lack of infrastructure within the park.
The view from one side of the park to the other, across the canal. Possible site for delight?Here is the park map - we will create a map for the weekend event - using this as a template, and plotting on where the art interventions will be, so that the visiting public can negotiate the park, hopefully visiting areas they would usually miss and discovering the park and the art works for themselves.

Talking City Poster Trail Selection and Site

During March I was guest editor on the Longhouse website, which was an amazing opportunity to carry out an online residency. I instigated Talking City Ezine and got a number of threads off the ground. I wanted to provide a few opportunities for other artists within the project - so set up 4 commissions and also an online exhibition space - which I then went about finding a physical space in which to show a selection from the online exhibition.

I got in touch with Kevin Bell, Stoke Town Regeneration Manager, as I had heard some good things about the work going on in Stoke. He was in principle interested, and we arranged to meet around this time to make the selection and look at a site for the posters.

I went this morning to meet Kevin and his team and to talk about the project. Kevin also put a number of questions to me regarding my views on the impact of art and cultural activity on regeneration(and specifically how we measure that impact within projects). He also asked me about my views on the public response to artists using empty shops - which is not always entirely positive. I really can see why the public can at times be sceptical about arts role in a dieing high street. I can really understand the frustration felt by business owners, and others - saying we don;t need artists to move in, we need more businesses. I agree. But there needs to be an understanding that the artists are not replacing the business - but filling in a gap in space and time - and it is always preferable to see the visionary uses that artists can bring to a space which would otherwise be empty, ugly and perhaps a site for crime. Interestingly, later in the day I had a conversation with David Bethell (AirSpace Gallery) about the way that Conjunction '08 (visual arts festival) utilised empty shops. One of the venues used on Piccadilly Hanley was visited (during the arts festival) by a couple who later took on the lease of the building - saying they were pleased to be able to visit the shop and see it in use. I think that is a positive example of a space having a temporary and productive use.

Anyway, the main point of the meeting was to go through the selection of posters. I stated that I did not want to select myself - as I really wanted to remain impartial within the process, and was actually quite interested to see what Kevin and Joel would select.

They selected the following:
Kate Lynch's Green ManMark Brereton's Box ticking

Hannah Wiles' Pin Stump
Hannah Wiles' Moss Beads
Ann Kopka's Talking Pottery
Paul Stanley's Deletia Poster

After the selecting was complete we went around to have a look at the site - which I was pleased to see. It is the hoardings of Caesars Health Spa (a former massage parlour) and ideal for activity of this kind. I will create a poster which explains the project to go up alongside the 6 selected images - and might include thumbnails of the other posters - and perhaps carry out a quick public consulation on the site - asking people what they would have selected - and also what they think about these interim uses for empty shops.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010



WHO: All artists across multiple art forms and mediums, for a location specific arts project, which involves creative responses to a city public park.

WHAT: Common Ground is a weekend long arts event based in Hanley Park, Stoke-on-Trent, organised by AirSpace Gallery Studio Artists. The project invites artists to make site-responsive works for the public to discover. The art works will aim to work with the historical and physical reality of the site, and possible future vision for a public park in need of activation.

Common Ground has been commissioned in response to a recent public consultation project, Quality Streets, where the public expressed a desire to see activities and events taking place within the park.

Common Ground will see artists intervening in public spaces; loudly, quietly, secretly or overtly, in a manner which questions the use of public parkland in the 21st century. The works should last the weekend, be sensitive to the place they are situated, and should aim to create a place or event individually and collectively.

We are particularly interested in works which engage the public, but this is not a prerequisite, as all innovative and interesting responses will be considered.

Common Ground questions the ownership of public space through event, exhibition, happening and response.

Common Ground will be carefully documented, and a publication will be produced which sets a precedence for artistic and creative responses to public realm space in Stoke-on-Trent.

WHEN: Saturday, June 26th and Sunday, June 27th 2010.

PAYMENTS: £100 per project including expenses.


APPLY: 200 word proposal, stating what you intend to do, how and why. Please also send a C.V. and any web links.


Deadline: 19 May 2010

Organiser/employer: Anna Francis


contextual info about Hanley Park:

Fancy it? Why not put in a proposal?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Hanley Park: Art Park

I have been working on a project called Quality Streets since last August. It is a participatory appraisal project which was commissioned by Staffordshire University, Sanctuary Housing, Staffordshire Police Service and the Council to find out what the people living and working around Hanley Park like and don't like about the area, in order to feed back to the service providers, and target resources where they are most needed and wanted. The Participatory Appraisal (P.A.) approach necessarily leads to CHANGE, and is not just about consultation for the sake of it.

There has been a lot of consultation in the particular area over the years - and there is due to be yet more, as the UniQ developments (education led regeneration) really get underway. This means that many of the people that we wanted to speak to may have been consulted on previous occasions, and may, therefore be reluctant to give their views again - in particular if they had a bad experience last time, or did not see how their views were implemented. P.A. uses creative tools to break down barriers, and at times the process of consultation can feel like an end in itself - giving people the opportunity to use new equipment or pick up skills. This may explain why people were more willing to talk to us than if we had gone out there with clipboards. Additionally the first job in the process was to recruit members of the community to become the research team - they then received training in P.A. methods and carried out the research.
At first I found it quite funny being part of the project - I have used what look like P.A. methods within my practice previously. This has usually been a performative activity designed to LOOK like consultation but with a different investigation going on beneath it - using the tools to critique the tools. Therefore it was interesting to be involved in this project, and learn the science behind it. Creative tools were used to engage people in discussion, and I really feel that the different tools which I now have in my tool belt might come into play in the future. For me though it was strange that life seemed to be imitating art. It has been very interesting to see the P.A. approach in action from the inside of a project, and to see how it not only opens doors with the public, but that councils and public sector workers seem to engage with activity of this kind. The Quality Streets report has now been written, and there are recommendations for each of the partners as to how they can implement the changes and ideas which have come out of the research, and I am shocked to see the impact that the research is already having. A number of outcomes are already in place, and I can really see how P.A. can lead to action.

One of the findings from the project involved the way that people in the area feel that Hanley Park is an important community asset, but that many people do not wish to use the park, as they don't feel safe there, both in the day and at night. People said that they would like to see more activities and events happening in the park, which would bring more people in, and make it safer. As a result funding from the Targeted Support Fund (Advantage West Midlands) has been found to put together a number of community engagement activities in the park.

And now we come full circle: I have been asked to use some of the funding gained to organise art events in the park.
The amount of funding is not massive, and I pointed out that trying to have 'events' would have little impact, as each event would have to be small. So instead prefer to spend all of the money on one weekend event, but use it as a platform to demonstrate how arts activities could be significant in the future of the park. (More research is planned over the next couple of years - to look at what can be done in the park.)
The idea then is to hold an event over one weekend in June, with AirSpace Gallery Studio Artists (and friends). Each artist will be given £100 towards materials/costs and will produce an intervention somewhere in the park. A map will be created which will locate each project for the public. People will be given the map on entry to the park, and will be able to orienteer around the park, discovering the art works. As AirSpace studio artists we will see it as an opportunity to have an outdoor exhibition, and hopefully people will be encouraged to come and visit the park over the weekend to see the works.
The documentation of the projects will be very important, as Phase II of the project is to create a document, which sets out that the weekend event is an action research project - finding out through doing how viable and successful arts activities might be within the park - and perhaps offering a creative future for a public space in dire need of a vision. A small book will be made, which will be an important document for the artists (in terms of professional development - inclusion in a publication) but also will be important for the city. We will send copies to the council, and all of those involved in Quality Streets, and demonstrate through doing just how powerful arts activity can be in reactivating a place.
We had our first meeting as a group last night, where we discussed how we wanted to go ahead. We feel it is important to come up with an overarching theme for each artist to respond to (thinking caps on). We will also decide how to involve other artists. There are 20 projects planned in total - and there are 10 of us. I would also like to offer 2 of the opportunities to students, as this has come about through a University project.

Next stage is for each artist to carry out a research visit, and then put together a short proposal, which we will discuss at the next meeting in two weeks time.