Thursday, 28 October 2010

#10 Hum by Liminal.

When we launched 'Futurescope' we felt, as we always feel, about all our work that we shouldn't stamp ourselves all over it, that we should share and not seek to carry the bill. We thought of it as a variety show that might have some guest spots, like Andre Previn appearing on Morecambe and Wise. So we made a call out for others to send us their ideas and a few people did! Mostly these ideas were rubbish but amongst them Liminal's proposal stood out. It picked up the trompe L'oeil theme we set out to achieve with 'sunflowers' but not in a way that either of us would have thought of. It also brought their preoccupations with urban soundscapes to Lingfield Point presenting as it does the drama of an image associated with aggressive noise in circumstances where it is mute.

At one time the building was anything but mute and as it happens the walls of the turbine hall are plastered with these posters.
of course these posters remind me of Peter Saville's fantastic 'Use Hearing Protection' poster for Factory records...
Its an image the 'bullhorn' I associate with alarm, with demonstrations, with control... and wierdly of seeing Mark E. Smith singing with one. It also (by dint of pure co-incidence in what is rapidly becoming a freak 80's time-warp blog entry) reminds me of the cover of my Penguin copy of George Orwell's 1984 (which covers alarm, control and demonstrations... in gruelling depth). Orwell wrote it as an uncannily accurate description of a postwar dystopia projected just ahead of the Millennium in 1948 the same year that Lingfield Point was approaching completion.
But enough of co-incidence its a change of tone for the project as it enters its second year and as the boom times of the last decade evaporate it seems really relevant... a silent factory calling for development and attention in a post industrial age. Its an image that collages the whole of the powerhouse wall and the circular image together. An image that is both urgent and eligiac. Although its so simple, so off the cuff, it has a really poetic character. That's why we loved it.

Frances from Liminal explains more about the thinking behind HUM! “As a collaborative arts practice that explores the relationship between sound and the environment, the Powerhouse and the circular image hanging on it immediately reminded us of an over-sized loud speaker. This, together with the image of the inside of a megaphone became the catalyst for HUM! As the Futurescope project has developed we noted that the image of the ‘Beeman’ made links to Paton and Baldwin’s original corporate logo of the beehive. So we called our picture HUM because its an onomatopoeic word for the sound that the turbine hall would have made; it is also the sound bees, which have been introduced to Lingfield Point as part of its sustainability ethos, make and the description of the busy workers who would have been employed in the building at its peak.”

The other thing the image calls to mind is Anish Kapoor's massively expensive 'Temenos' recently unveiled nearby in Middlesbrough.
Kapoor who emerged in the 80's alongside artists like Deacon, Cragg and Gormley is a sort of 'hole' master, an artist for whom surface is everything, an artist whose holes, like this one above in a private collection near Edinburgh, suck you in. Well here is another reason to like Liminal's proposal. This is punk rock to his prog rock. A digital photo - shot quick - printed big - stuck on a building and gone in three months.

It fits the the see it - think it - do it ethic we always wanted for the project. It comes right back at you.

In a really meaningful way it shouts.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

#9 Lingfield Lamb

When John and I first began to think about the project at Lingfield Point we were concentrating on ways of using the soft estate at Lingfield Point productively.

We had thoughts about establishing a tree nursery, growing biomass crops, grazing.... Sheep.... and right there the idea for 'Lingfield Lamb' was born. The idea of a named animal product associated with Lingfield Point. Because Futurescope isn't 'real' but exists as a rhetorical device it became a place to talk about it. We even thought about the idea of developing a brand for a product that didn't exist yet and putting that in the frame: more Duchy Originals than Fray Bentos we thought!

Despite the vast scale of the site at Lingfield, a very high proportion of the site is green or soft estate and there is a tradition stretching back to the 1950’s of high quality ground maintenance with promenading areas, playing fields and even an Italian sunken garden! This is especially apparent in aerial views of the site.

Dave Wilson who manages the landscape and who has previously appeared as the Beeman has a farming background and it seemed that there was something to think about. Marchday were interested in the ideas but we didn't really know how to develop them from nothing.

We felt that the business plans for the site ended at the perimeter walls of buildings. What was the business plan for the soft estate in addition to further development? Could it be possible to create new businesses producing food for consumption on the soft estate and altering and improving the ambience of the site for its workforce? This would be a 'city farm'.

We could see no practical way of opening a tree nursery, establishing a veg box scheme, establishing grazing or cropping other than to begin to use the device of Futurescope to produce images that made these ideas acceptable in what is a regenerating post industrial environment.

We are watching with interest an allotment project set as a partnership betwen Marchday and the Friends of the Earth as an experimental temporary growing space on the site and hoping that this can develop. Details here:

As for Sheep and Grazing. Those who know me, know that sheep and grazing get a frequent mention when I'm pitching a scheme for landscape and they have learned when to apply a gag to stop the pitch going bad! Here are a few selected examples.

I first explored the idea in a disastrous 'public art' proposal for the never to be realised Tyne and Wear employment site in 2004. At the prompting of Mick Marsden, soil association rep for the North East and formerly of Byker City Farm in Newcastle, this was transformed into a concept for a butchery business selling locally and responsibly produced meat and providing training outputs in the transitional labour market.... The gateway features to the site would be cattle grids I explained...

Stock control, fencing, stiles, tethering posts, ha ha's and self-closing wooden gateways would replace the tedious ubiquity of the standard suite of urban street furniture brushed stainless steel, granite and asphalt... A la Gillespies, BDP, Edaw et al and... ta da... there would be no need for mowing!

The heart of the idea was that it would look like 'the countryside', that the 'design' would be produced by management (revenue rather than capital spending) and that the projects would be sustainable providing:- employment, produce and income or at least defraying costs. One of the concept aims was to improve the ambience of the site for everyone. To try and do this with a business rather than a big stainless steel thing. The ambient effect of this activity would hopefully be appreciated and engaged with by the people who would later work there and hopefully form emotional attachments to the site.

It sounded good to me until I pitched it to the regeneration people at South Tyneside. That was a reality check. I suspect that they wanted a big shiny stainless steel thing that in some kind of non specific way would say... Forward with South Tyneside! They did conceed however that it would aid traffic calming if fibreglass sheep were installed around the site!

The grazed car park idea got another outing with de Matos Ryan's ( competition proposal for the remoddling of the Beamish visitor centre for which I acted as a public art consultant... how they must regret that! I don't think the car park was solely responsible for the pitch going bad but it is conceivable that it played a part. Nonetheless here is a visualisation of what the car park would have looked like if A. they had got the job and B. we hadn't been looked at as loonies! Stuff 'em I liked it and besides Beamish already own three farms. How straightforward is that!

Since then sheep have been 'proposed' to developers and local authorities one or two times.

The fact is however that Vista Projects has developed a Vegbox co-op in a scheme led by Lynn ( if you are interested) and I have kept sheep as pets - our children loved them. So I know in a personal way that these things can work. Of course not in the 'expert consultanty' way that offers reassurance to the key people who, if they were to adopt these ideas, could really make a difference to the sustainability agenda.

So the thoughts about lambs as a product and specifically a food product with the idea that lambs raised on the site could be butchered and sold as food and the idea of creating images of lambs in this environment was among those that we included in our original list of images.

We wanted to make the suggestion that even in a modern environment such as huge refurbished offices it would be possible to manage landscape using agricultural processes.

The idea was simple, to juxtapose this environment with agriculture by herding sheep through new offices.

We are hugely grateful to everybody who made this possible (by pretending to work as normal!) and those who helped on the day. Taking the photographs was a load of fun and I have uploaded a flicker show showing what went on which you can view here.

Interestingly, in the offices that we used, all the meeting rooms carry the names of manufacturing processes relating to wool, carding, spinning etc. etc. etc. here are a set of images documenting these:

In each room there are huge photographs showing the previous life of the factory and as we drove the sheep through the offices we were struck by the extent to which their presence in the building touched upon the heritage of the site as described to me by John and George Grindley which is documented in earlier blog posts

This building was always all about wool.

During the shoot we encouraged the sheep to enter an orange lined breakout/meeting area by waving milk at them and as they did so bright orange light reflected upwards on their white fleeces. From this accident of light we selected the shot that we are using as Futurescope #4 Lingfield Lamb.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

#8 Who loves the sun? Who cares that it makes plants grow?

Futurescope #3 'Sun' will be a photograph of the Sun made by photographer Thierry Legault.

When we proposed Futurescope two years ago we intended to put an image of the sun into it at some stage.

We hadn't really decided what image to use this quarter until a few weeks ago. Our interest was in making a connection between plants/green space and solar energy upon which plant life (and therefore all of us, depend). We were also interested in the idea of placing an image of the sun on a building created to burn coal.

Until relatively recent times each civilisation has only used the energy of the sun only once as it falls on the surface of the planet. Our age has been different: we have used this energy twice.

We have used both sunlight and the solar energy stored/captured in fossil fuels.

Our economy is heavily dependent on the supply and consumption of these fuels and we have established a dependency on energy profligate lifestyles. Lingfield Point's 'Power House' is a 'temple' to that although the expense of running it is too great to bear now. Emerging carbon trading schemes place our use of fossil fuels at an economic premium and until very recently the environmental costs of exploiting this kind of 'stored' solar energy has not been a consideration and certainly wasn't an issue forseen by Paton and Baldwin when constructing the Power House sixty years ago.

The idea of including an image of the sun is part of the unfolding narrative that links to Beeman and Sunflowers, the previous images to have appeared in Futurescope. It is part of a speculative projection of a future world in which we would not be able to consume energy without dealing with consequences for ourselves that were not understood when this 'dependency' was established.

This is a future in which landscape (especially urban and post-industrial landscapes like that at Lingfield Point) would need to be productive without the energy of oil.

So back to the Thierry Legault's photograph. This is one of a batch of photographs taken by Thierry, showing the transit of the International Space Station across the sun. The first group were taken from the area of Mamers (Normandy, France) on September 17th 2006 at around 1:00pm local time and show the solar transit of the International Space Station (ISS) and Space Shuttle Atlantis. Thierry's website contains his photograph showing the making of the some of the pictures. Transits such as this have given him a lot of subject matter.

We think that Thierry's image is an astonishing and significant picture and feel priveledged that he has generously given us permission to use it in this project.

Thierry documents the process of how these pictures began to be made here:

By any standards this account demonstrates that this is an 'extreme' photograph. The very idea of pulling focus on an object so far away takes some beating! The image is all the more remarkable because the photographer could never have 'seen' it through the camera instead relying on a series of assumptions. In someways it was taken 'blind' which makes its beauty all the more compelling. The sun is a wan lemony gold and the image of the space craft a minuscule dot silhouetted against the vast mass of of the sun which is over a hundred times greater than the diameter of the earth.

It has a quality of absolute authenticity that many other contemporary images of the sun do not.

When we decided to approach Thierry for permission to use the image, we had been looking at and negotiating for the use of images taken from orbiting telescopes whose imagery is not affected by earth's atmosphere. Thierry's image shows the visual effect of atmosphere in ways that the images produced by Hubble and the Soho project do not.
However having trawled through hundreds of such high tec tech images of the kind produced for release in the media we have become slightly suspicious of them and the pictorial conventions they observe. Thierry's image is astonishingly direct by comparison. It somehow matters that it was taken from the surface of the earth.

These other images are heavily produced to an extent where they might be regarded as a creative genre in themselves.

Hubble for example is perhaps best known for this image of the M16 'Eagle Nebula' NGC 6611, the so called: "Pillars of Creation." NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University). What is astonishing is the extent to which a knowledge of the history of the depiction of landscape is required to decide matters such as orientation, composition, colouring etc. in preparing an image for media release. When looking at this material we are looking at an interpretation of the material that is depicted. Not to mention the strapline 'Pillars of Creation' (they're only pillars because its this way up. Pinch yourself, remember there is no single downward source of gravity in the material that is depicted here! So 'pillars' is utter nonsense). It is well known that the universe is a volatile mix of energy, matter and time but still - crikey that's naff! Clearly they are not afraid of biblical hubris or undisciplined thinking at the University of Arizona!

Well if Thierry's photograph recalls anything for me it is Brueghel's masterpiece "The Fall of Icarus" which happens to be one of my favourite old master paintings. Icarus is to be seen upside down in the water a split second after 'splash-down' down legs sticking out of the sea having just fallen out of the sky (just below the ship in the bottom left in case you missed it!) The catastrophe that has befallen him has gone completely unnoticed by the farmer and everyone else in the picture!

It is a small incident that is shown as having gone largely unobserved by everyone except the artist.