I’ve just finish an intensive three day action research project in West Bromwich looking at linking the High Street to the beautiful Dartmouth Park. Myself and five other artists spent some time exploring the route, meeting with various folk and brainstorming ideas for artworks which could be created to highlight and enhance the journey from the High Street to the park.
West Bromwich is under-going major regeneration works at the moment - mostly due to Europe’s largest Tesco being built on a site that is pretty much the same size as the adjacent town centre. A previous ‘regeneration’ saw a dual carriage-way bypass (the A41) cut through between the town and the park making it difficult to get to - which is something the Tesco development hasn’t really taken into account. The above plan shows the routes that I have plotted that lead to the three bridges that span the bypass providing the only access from the town. This plan is post-Tesco, by the way.
I went on a walk to all three bridges to see what it was like to make the journey. It was confusing. Granted the development is currently in progress but the routes to the north and middle bridges will be fairly similar as there is not much scope for going through the site even after it is completed. I started off trying to get to the north bridge via the roundabout but found it impassable due to the works taking place. I followed the edge of the site (hidden by the blue hoarding shown in the above image) to make my way to the bridge. It felt like the hoarding was guiding me - particularly due to the red stripe along the top edge which drew my eye.
So I developed a scheme of strips which would wind there way through the streets above head height, leading you from the centre of the high street to the bridges, following the routes I had mapped on the plan. They would not be continuous - they would break for road junctions, and also not span the complete length of a street, so you would see the next section over or down the road and know which way to go. And of course they wouldn’t hover magically in the air! We were so pressed for time I wasn’t able to draw supports in - but I envisage a very simple square column with a 45degree arched top and a plate to which the strips would be bolted or riveted.
The colour comes from the Broom (pictured above), the plant that West Bromwich is named after - it’s domesday book reference describing it as ‘the little village on the heath of broom’.
I also felt I was on the right track when Johnny (one of the other artists involved) and I found this boat. It’s the last surviving boat from when boating was allowed on the park’s lake (something which may be returning). The boat is in a state of disrepair but had recently been repainted a wonderful yellow. I really like these kinds of coincidences.
I was looking for a symbol or form that could represent the park in the High Street at the beginning of the trail, and my initial thoughts for this were to find out what the draw is at the park - what brings people to it?. The boating used to be the thing that people went to the park for so, for the purposes of the presentation I used the idea of the boat. Some kind of sculpture based on the boat would sit at this point with the curving strips emanating from it, bringing a part of the park into the town and guiding the way.
There is more to add to this project - I even had in mind a scheme for the three bridges - but we simply ran out of time. It was a great experience - a very exciting way to kick off the development of a project. Hopefully this won’t be the end of it.
Coming soon: West Bromwich Connections. A short research project looking at reuniting the town centre with Dartmouth Park.
The project is run by Multistory and involves six artists. We will be looking at ways of improving the connection between the two locations through public works, waymarkers, signage and other interventions.
Work for the Public Inquiry is taking shape. After having spent a day collecting and assessing information from people I discovered that although people didn’t initially like The Public many have now come to love it. ‘I hated it at first but now it’s growing on me’ was one of the responses that stuck out. In response to this I decided to make something grow on The Public - a kind of happy fungus.
After a bit of trial and error I have developed a series of ‘spores’ made from heavyweight paper left over from Will Alsop’s piece for the exhibition. These are being clustered underneath the walkway that snakes through The Public.
Here is the progress so far.
Today I went to my new studio space for the first time, to meet the other artists and choose which part of the 32200sqft building was mine.
Everything inside the marked pillars is all mine. It’s very exciting.
I’ve started the year with a whole load of projects and events lined up. Let’s hope I can keep that momentum going:
First off is ‘WOW: The Contemporary Art of Knit and Stitch’ which opened on Friday 13 January at the Gallery@Rheged in Penrith, Cumbria. I was commissioned to build a sheepfold using Thermafleece - an insulation material made from sheep’s wool. The show is on until 15 April.
I’ve got myself a free studio space for a year through Departure Foundation. I’ll be sharing a 32000sqft warehouse on a trading estate in Southall with nine other artists. I haven’t had a studio for so long (since 1998!) it’s going to be quite exciting to see what happens.
I’ve researched and written the Snapshots section of February’s a-n magazine. Pick up a copy to see what I’ve recommended.
Next comes ’OpenAIR - Effecting Change‘ on 11 February. OpenAIR is Artists’ Interaction and Representation’s inaugural forum for artists, taking place at firstsite in Colchester. It will be a day of dialogue and debate looking at how we can best work to effect change and encourage better living and working conditions for Artists. I’ll be part of a Q&A panel during the afternoon.
Straight after that is ’The Art of Architecture‘ at The Public in West Bromwich. I’m going to be building a work in response to people’s thoughts and feelings about, and around, The Public. This will occur over three days from 13 February.
On 17 April Rosalind Davis and Annabel Tilly’s exciting new venture ZeitgeistArtsProjects has it’s first exhibition: ‘Collectible’. I’ll be attempting to make a small work for inclusion in the show.
Finally, Daniel Hoffmann-Gill’s play ‘Our Style is Legendary’ begins a short run at Nottingham Playhouse. They will once again be using the moving truck scenery I designed.
’Rich drew on his strong architectural sensibilities to respond to the ex-dairy warehouse space with ‘Nest’ - a suspended human sized nest made of discarded objects and bits of debris, that totally charmed visitors with its intrigue and excellence of execution.’