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.