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In Search of Cinderloo

4 Mar

As you can read on the Here Here! blog, I’ve been working with Ted Eames, Pete Jackson, Jill Impey and a growing number of enthusiastic people in and around Dawley, Telford on the development of a community project to commemorate the Cinderloo Uprising of 1821.

This dramatic event took place on 2 February 1821 at the cinder hills in Old Park, adjacent to what was the ironworks of Thomas Botfield, now occupied by the Forge retail park at Telford town centre.  A confrontation between over 3,000 striking miners and the Shropshire Yeomanry left two men dead, many injuries on both sides and following arrests, one man, Thomas Palin, was hung in April 1821 for ‘felonious riot’. It has become known as ‘The Battle of Cinderloo’ or Cinderloo Riot.  Read more.

I was surprised to learn about the historic event only last year, but discovered that many local people were similarly unaware of it.  Following some research, I found the excellent Dawley Heritage website which did much work to bring this event and many other aspects of Dawley’s history to public attention.  There is a great opportunity to help start some activities to engage people and commemorate Cinderloo up to the 200th anniversary in 2021 so I began to get in contact with local historians and other interested groups.

Its been inspirational to meet so many enthusiastic and knowledgeable people who share a similar ambition to broaden recognition of this key event in Dawley and Telford’s history.

With my own artistic interest in how people interact with places, there are many aspects to be explored around mining and metals industrial heritage, physical changes in landscape and environment, political and social history, the influence of Non-Conformism and Methodism, social conditions, workers’ rights and social justice.  There are connections with contemporary issues, and it would be great to be able to use creative activities in intergenerational events, and in educational programmes with schools, colleges and community groups to build in work established by the Dawley Heritage project and the Heritage Schools programme set up with Historic England.

I have been making a few walks of the area to get a more detailed understanding of the geography, which has many layers of historical development revealing clues to its past.  It is hard to imagine how different the area would have looked 200 years ago when there were many mineworkings, spoil heaps, ironworks and other industries, and scatterings of dwellings and religious buildings.  The landscape today continues to evolve quite dramatically as brownfield land is reclaimed.  This combination of dynamism and link to the past must have an impact on the sense of place for people living here.

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Work starting on Lawley Common

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New development site on reclaimed land near Old Park

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Part of old cottage buildings near Lawley Bank

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One of only a few remaining workers’ cottages near Lawley Bank

There are over a dozen Methodist, Primitive or Wesleyan chapels in the area, mostly built after Cinderloo and some are now converted to residential homes.

I am now working with the newly constituted community group Cinderloo1821 to help plan and deliver a range of different initiatives, which will include art, poetry and music events.  I’ll post further news as things begin to happen or follow on Facebook

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Working Together

29 Dec

Over the last 12 years or so, I’ve taken part in several artistic collaborations, which have tended to flow alongside what I viewed as my main solo art practice.  This year, and, as I look ahead into next year, most of my time seems to be working on new projects with a range of artists and other people.  So my practice is transforming.

Working in teams, large and small, is integral to my experience as engineer/environmental consultant, but it has been a fairly slow realisation that collaboration is something I thrive on in an artistic sense.

Most artists collaborate at some point in their career, and there are famous examples like Warhol/Basquiat, Rauschenberg/Johns, Rauschenberg/Cunningham, Krasner/Pollock, Bunuel/Dali, Richter/Palermo, Abramovic/Ulay, Kahlo/Rivera and so on.  The work of some artists like Gilbert and George or Jake and Dinos Chapman is almost entirely one of collaboration such that the individual practices are indistinguishable.  One of my favourite collaborative partnerships is that between Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, which has produced some fascinating, mysterious installations and audio-visual works.

The artists can define their own “rules” or guidelines.  Sometimes, each artist produces their own work in response to a common theme, and the results are shown together.  Other artists work progressively or iteratively, each producing their own pieces but in direct response to the other artist.  This might depend on whether the two artists work in similar media or whether they take entirely different approaches.  Collaborations in which both artists work together to produce works that combine both their inputs can be very interesting because this often means that both artists have to move out of their comfort zone, take risks and negotiate.

That negotiation can be challenging.  Each artist’s work is usually a very personal expression, and so the collaborator gets to know the other artist and gains a little understanding of how they operate. One or both might feel that they must compromise in aligning input towards common goals.

For me, this is a stimulating environment because sharing work is when your art comes alive, open to response, re-evaluation, new interpretation.  Sharing with a public audience is important too, but sharing in a supportive space with a “critical friend” enables me to investigate work within a constructive dialogue.  It gives the work a sense of purpose that is difficult to achieve working alone.

Two of the collaborations I have been involved with in the past included the Cloud Gallery collective and my joint commission with Mairi Turner to document the development of new allotments at Coton Hill.  I enjoyed both collaborations.

At the time with the Cloud Gallery, in 2007, I was probably the least experienced artist in a group of 6 artists/Cloud Gazers yet all “team members” played a key role in delivering projects which included an eco-architecture camping weekend, a sculpture/installation and artist walk as part of the Greenhouse Shropshire exhibition in 2008.  Individual inputs were often fairly indistinguishable within the final output.  And it felt to me, that the synergy of all the artists enabled us to produce work that we may never have made as individuals.

My work with Mairi Turner also had a valuable sharing of insight, experience and skills.  In this case, though, each of us documented the project using photography in our own individual way without meeting on the site itself.  Our work was then combined together  in a book and in an exhibition.

A paper I read earlier this year describes a collaboration between two artists beautifully, poignantly.  The paper was entitled: “Heavens Above” by Andrea Toth & Judy Thomas, First published in 2013 by Art Editions North.  You can find it in Essays from the “On–Walking Conference” The University of Sunderland (June 28 & 29, 2013)  Conference was organised by Heather H. Yeung of W.A.L.K. (Walking, Art, Landskip and Knowledge)—a Research Centre at the University of Sunderland

Here’s a sample quotation which is very close to my way of thinking about collaborations, especially involving walking:

“…a collaborative art practice of walking together, merging experiencing, making, presenting, and social engagement. Our walks have become a platform to share ideas and make new work, providing not only motivation but also a safe space to explore themes of memory, space and spirituality, while being inspired by weather, light and the landscape.

The value of this relationship is huge. To be an artist is a predominantly solitary activity; to be able to have support and be supported gives great strength. Our combined experiences, thoughts and connections enhance greatly what might have been done individually. The collaboration is pushing us both to be more courageous and move out of our comfort zones.

Through a process of painting, photography and film, we are in a research phase, responding directly to the physical world, bridging to an inner spiritual world, through visual representation. The act of walking and getting into the landscape also gives us a chance to pause and reflect on our individual and collaborative work, which is an important and integral step in the creative process. Our ongoing questioning dialogue along with walking with others opens up thoughts and possibilities at a greater and deeper level than if done individually.”

Over the last 5-6 months or so, I have been working with artist/poet Emily Wilkinson on a couple of different ventures.  The first of these, involving walking with a groups of people to gather inspiration for creative writing and making collages, led to some pilot workshops during the November (Read more here on walking/writing and  collage).

During this time we also partnered with artists Ted Eames and Jamila Walker to form a new collective, called we are Here Here! aiming at collaborative, socially-engaged and participatory projects about place and community.

A second project with Emily involved exploring creative responses to a privately owned “secret woodland” in Shrewsbury, or as we termed it: a dappled glade.  We made work individually and in response to each other’s work. The woodland itself was quite neglected with a fair amount of fly-tipped material, overgrown scrub and ivy.  We decided to start a clean up of the woodland to make a small but tangible positive impact on a place that we felt a connection with.  Neighbouring landowners are generally in support of what we started and we might, perhaps, achieve something with a sustainable future in that community.

It remains to be seen whether Emily and I can capture some of our creative responses and work in the woodland in some finished pieces of art.

So what else might I be collaborating on.  Quite a lot it seems:

  • Ted Eames and I are partnering with the Lawley and Overdale Local History Group and numerous enthusiastic supporters to initiate a series of art projects/walks to raise awareness of a significant historical event that happened in Old Park near Dawley in the early 19th Century;
  • I am participating in the Encounters event, organised by Ted Eames and hosted by the Shropshire Visual Art Network, which puts artists together with poets in order to create collaborative work for an exhibition in Spring 2018.  I am working as visual artist paired with author/poet Kate Innes, and as a writer paired with painter Paul Baines;

At the launch of Encounters at the VAN Gallery

  • I have formed a collaboration with Ursula Troche, a UK based German artist/psychogeographer.  Our work (Ursula’s poetry and my painting) will feature in the Encounters exhibition and we are also developing an outline scope for a collaborative project involving walking;
  • I have recently started developing ideas and a scope for a very exciting project with Gareth Jones, an artist/academic based in Osaka, Japan.  The project will research experiences of walking in virtual spaces and real walks in our respective locations.
  • I have been accepted onto an international arts collaboration exchange which could lead to some very interesting work about place, and opening out to new audiences.  I’m just awaiting to hear further details about that.

Its early days to predict what, if anything, might emerge from these collaborations.  But then that is the exciting part of it – we have to work together to make it happen.

 

 

Your Perfect High Street

15 Sep

As part of last weekend’s Heritage Open Day events, I was delighted to be invited to run a workshop at the Unitarian Church on Shrewsbury’s High Street.  According to the inscription on its frontage,  the Unitarian Church was built in 1662 and was where Charles Darwin came to worship.  And I had a beautiful old room with stained glass windows above the street to work in.

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The suggested theme was designing a perfect High Street.  Arguably, Shrewsbury already has one, and so in preparation for the event I began to explore by taking a series of photos of details along the street.  Details that may go unnoticed unless you really slow down and look.

Participants helped create a collage of my photos as a grid during the workshop, and then people added their own thoughts, ideas and memories on sticky notes within the grid:

 

 

 

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My preparations also included a pen drawing of the elevations of both sides of the street, which became quite addictive.  I completed it in about three days, although certainly can’t vouch for its accuracy of detail.  It was interesting to see the differences in scale of the buildings and see them without the dominating colours and branding of the retailers. The Unitarian Church, which can seem quite an impressively large facade from street level, actually appears to be one of the smallest buildings along the whole street.

 

The workshop was aimed primarily at families with children aged 8 and over, but many adults dropped in and got involved too.  There were around 35 participants over the course of 3 hours.  Besides the photo collage, the activities began with thinking about the kind of activities that might take place in the High Street and which are more important.

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I made a few initial suggestions, and quickly realised just how many different activities already go on in our High Street.  Participants then added their own ideas, moved activities between “important” and “not important” and voted with red dots for the ideas they agreed with.  I deliberately missed out quite a few activities like shopping and gambling to see if there was any reaction, and surprisingly only one person added “ice cream shop”… and this was in the “not important” zone.  Someone else added “independent businesses” as important.  Hear hear!

The activities ranked in the highest zone of importance/votes were (approximately):

  • Homes for living,
  • green space,
  • learning,
  • seating,
  • street art,
  • a litter free environment,
  • having a strong community,
  • independent businesses,
  • walking/strolling/wandering,
  • healthcare,
  • theatre/street performance,
  • exercising democratic rights local political issues and public debates.

I think we can guess at the kind of social-demographic I was dealing with.  Other suggestions I really liked included:

  • Temporary closure of streets to create play/community areas,
  • interacting and co-operating,
  • installations and performance platform for local artists (obviously).

Most of the workshop activity revolved around building a scale model of a High Street using card boxes and hand drawn frontages.  Participants could use my pen drawings and a montage of architectural design considerations as inspiration.  There were some really lovely buildings.

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Finally, as an activity to take away, I produced a sheet of some of the architectural details to go and find somewhere in the High Street.  You can download a copy and have a go yourself by clicking this link:  Look Closely

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Darwin’s Childhood Garden

27 Dec

As if managing our own garden and an allotment, and various other projects wasn’t enough, I became involved with the restoration of part of Charles Darwin’s childhood garden earlier this year.

Darwin was born in Shrewsbury in 1809, and he lived in the family home on the Mount until 1831.  Darwin spent much of his childhood in the garden, part of which was a woodland adjacent to the River Severn.  This was where Darwin’s interest in the natural world was kindled.

Much of the garden was built on in the 20th Century, but part of it remains as an overgrown woodland on the steep bank leading down to the river.  It is a beautiful location, and with a wealth of flora and fauna, it has an aura of its own.  Since I stopped walking to work at the Business Park in the Summer, it has become part of my new “walk to work” as I return from dropping my daughter at school and walk around the loop of the Severn from Doctor’s Field past the Darwin Garden via Frankwell and back home.  I had noticed the progress of initial works to restore the garden.  Its only five minutes from my house so it makes sense for the family to take part in the restoration.

The land was acquired by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust in 2013.

and further details of the plans for restoring the garden for public access can be found here: Darwin’s Childhood Garden and at a Facebook page.

Some work to begin clearance and install some timber steps had already been carried out by the Trust and a team of volunteers.  My first involvement was in answer to a general invitation by Sara Lanyon to help clear a larger area and to create an artwork on the somewhat functional fencing along the perimeter adjacent to the river path.

The plan for the artwork was to construct an interpretation of a sketch of the “tree of life” taken from one of Darwin’s notebooks using branches found on the site, and in the nearby area known as Doctor’s Field.

This work took place on 15th August 2015 and was completed by a small group, including my wife, Julie, and daughter Eliza.  In fact, there was a small opening ceremony in which Eliza and another girl cut a ribbon into the garden.

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The branches were painted:

before fixing onto the fence:

There is scope to add plant specimens and other artefacts from the garden into jars fixed to the “tree of life” over a period of time.  Here is an image of the full length of the art work as we left it.

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A bug hotel was added:

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I participated in both the art work and clearing of vegetation.  It was good to be part of a long term community project, which will hopefully engage with a wide range of people.  I don’t expect to contribute a huge amount of artistic input or even engineering/environmental knowledge but I’m sure I can play a useful role.

Here are a few more photos taken on the day, including some shots of the overgrown ice house.

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In a later work day on 10th October 2015, a different group gathered to clear another area of the garden in preparation for the construction of some additional timber steps.  The steep, sandy bank is quite treacherous.  It will be quite a challenge to stabilise this, and then to create paths and planted areas of the garden.

Here are a few photos from that day: