the art of straw-plaiting

There is always a nugget of social history to uncover, and the cottage industry of straw-plaiting is just one example.   In the winter when the work in the fields was completed, the women of Sible Hedingham used lengths of straw to plait and make into bonnets and other items to sell.  This was not only for their own benefit, but the work was of such high quality there was a regular consignment sent to sell in London, forming an important source of income.  There are some beautiful examples in the local museum, and artist Tim Ward has used this as inspiration for railings commissioned as part of the Bloors housing development in Sible Hedingham.

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Railings referencing straw-plaiting cottage industry

 

The brown-field site formerly had industrial uses, including the Rippers’ carpentry company making windows and air-planes, whichever was required.  Tim has used this to create beautiful benches installed in the pocket park at the entrance to the development.

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Bench referencing Rippers carpentry workshop

The sweep of the top-line reflects the curve of the waterway.  Formerly piped, Bloors have opened up the stream providing a new habitat for insects, but also providing greater capacity to prevent flooding.   The waterway flows through the centre of the development and into public open space that was previously closed off by the factory.  It’s a very successful development made all the more memorable by the artworks created by Tim Ward.

Working in partnership with Bloor Homes

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walking the line

Nihill Place in Croydon has been named after the local race walker, Paul Nihill, and now the public art is installed the new development is complete.

Tom Pearman has produced a suite of contemporary pieces that reflect the tram and train network and this concept of moving along a line.   The tram and train system was crucial to the growth of Croydon as a major suburb of London.  The town grew quickly in the 1930’s and the art deco colours are used in the artworks.

A new development of blocks of apartments is difficult to navigate so Tom’s design includes signage for each of the blocks.  The signs relate each individual block to each other and the  ‘map’ at the entrance shows the arrangement around the inner street.  They are colour coded for easy reference and look very classy beside each entrance.   The colour scheme and repeated lines are taken from the main artwork, a panel of repeating lines representing the network of infrastructure and movement along it from station to station.   The piece although flat has a 3D effect particularly when viewed from different ends of the inner street – moving along the line and looking back the artwork appears to fold.

Tom Pearman has also completed another impressive commission for the Mayor of London as part of the ‘Clean Air Campaign’.    He has a very clear, often humorous, graphic style that is well-developed but always reflects the place and the community represented by the artworks.  This is the mark of a high quality public artist.

Working in conjunction with Bellway Homes.

The stones have landed

Will Nash (artist) and Global Gardens (landscapers) have completed the beautiful installation of ‘Tipped Discs’ at Wickhurst Green.  The design for ‘Tipped Discs’ arose as Will investigated the archaeological reports from the site.  The idea of reflecting the remnants of early habitation appealed to his sense of the romantic, and also to the themes from the poem ‘Ozymandias’.    Shelley lived in the area and the poem speaks of a traveller from an antique land.  The tipped discs and the etched columns of the way-markers are just such references of another time.   The images etched onto the columns have a storybook quality.  The columns themselves were salvaged from St. Marks Church when it was demolished to make way for a new road.  Since then the columns have lain un-noticed in a farmers field.   Now they have a much more elegant purpose and the polished areas of stone glisten in the sun.

 

scientific research and art collide

If you’re looking for works of art, it’s not hard to find.  Art is in public places, in galleries, museums and most commonly on-line.  There’s no need to take the trouble of visiting a gallery or museum, you can usually view all the exhibits on your computer, from the comfort of your sofa.    And yet, attendance at art museums has been rising over recent years.   Recent research helps explain why: people enjoy art more at the museum, they find it more stimulating, understandable, and they remember it better.

Psychological research illuminates perceptions of art

David Briimageseber and his colleagues invited 137 psychology students to view 25 artworks from Vienna’s Museum Startgalerie Beauty Contest exhibition – a series of paintings, photos and collages that explore self-image, sexuality and beauty.  The students viewed the works as part of a controlled experiment, either viewing in the physical space of the museum and from a screen or only in the virtual world.

The outcomes showed that the students found the actual art work at the museum more stimulating, positive, and interesting. They liked it more, compared with the digital reproductions.  Long-term memory of the artworks was also higher than works viewed on a screen.

Pmemory_studyart of the explanation for this might be that the physical layout of the exhibition acts as a mnemonic aid. When the students successfully recalled one exhibit, they also tended to remember other pieces nearby.

Taken together, the findings are consistent with theories of situated cognition:   there’s something about the physical space of a museum and an exhibition that changes how our minds respond to what we’re seeing.  This suggests that the physicality of a public place such as a park or a street may have the same impact on how works of art are viewed.

gallery Formalist art theory, the idea that the effects of art upon us are independent of time and place is contradicted.    There is the presence factor – of standing in front of the real thing that has an impact of size and colour.  A reproduced screen image doesn’t convey this.  Nor does it convey the power of the artwork that can provoke an emotional response.  This may explain why people are willing to commit to visiting museums, instead of taking inexpensive virtual tours.

So what does this mean?

The impact of works of art in  public places may well be because of their context, conversely the location is more memorable because of the artwork.  For public art in new developments, the physicality of the buildings and the relationship to works of art within the physical space may change the perception of the development as a whole. The power of the works make it more positively memorable, easier to navigate and more highly appreciated.  It’s an interesting piece of research that supports the power of the moment, the presence of the works in a physical place.

Bibliography:

Art affects you more powerfully when you view it in a museum

Brieber, D., Nadal, M., & Leder, H. (2015). In the white cube: Museum context enhances the valuation and memory of art Acta Psychologica, 154, 36-42 DOI: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2014.11.004

Bridging the Gap

The newly commissioned artworks for the development at Broadbridge Heath (Wickhurst Green) for Countryside Properties, uses the crossing of the river Arun,  the passing through physical and metaphorical thresholds as the starting point for two artists.  Having appointed Will Nash and Tim Ward last year, with this brief, it’s time to reveal part one of the designs that Nash has been working on.

Using the weighty tome of the archaeology report arising from site,  Nash has taken the patterns of post-holes and  evidence of early habitation and woven together a programme of workshops with the help of Maia Eden. Maia is sculptor of willow and tissue paper and led students at Shelley Primary School through the process of creating Mesolithic creatures.

tipped circlesNash has worked using the local sandstone,  and ideas about layers of habitation, hidden histories. The final proposal is for an installation currently called ‘Tipped Circles’ and  series of stones creating ribbons alongside footpaths through the site.

‘Tipped Circles’ references the circular form of early dwellings and is intended to be a sculptural landscape form to be situated in one of the smaller open spaces.  Formed to look as if its always been there, and as a play feature, linking the pre-history with the new development.

A series of stones, one of the local sandstone and one from the stone recycled from Christ’s Hospital, will be placed to form short trails along the footpaths and at pedestrian junctions.  The sandstone series will have polished top surfaces, with sides left rough revealing the sedimentary layers and ripples.

trail of rocksPaw prints and animal images  will be etched into the tops to be weathered,  like the blurred edges of a memory, half-glimpsed remnants of long-extinct animals.

The laser-cut designs for the stone from Christ’s Hospital use repeated images of animals used as food sources, such as geese and deer, and that are present around the site today.  The repeated imagery creating lace like patterns held within the circle.  The stone is a hard granite that will hold the crisp image as a counterpoint to the weathering images cut in the softer sandstone.   All the stones will be ‘perch’ height, to stop and rest upon, or for kids (of all ages) to jump across, bridging the gap.

The designs were well received by the AGM of the Broadbridge Heath Parish Council and will be shortly submitted for planning permission.

Nash currently has a solo show ‘Element’ at William Bennington Gallery, showing until 30th June 2016.

Will Nash Portrait13244655_10209642889295588_5005295883895293002_n

All aboard!

It ‘s not clear whether Josephine Pryde’s train will be featured in the Tate later this year, but if it is, then it may lead to the most excited audience yet for the Turner Prize nominations. Let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to ride a train round the gallery?

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Named after J.W. Turner because of his desire to support young artists, his own work was seen as controversial by his contemporaries. So the outcry that has surrounded the award in previous years is not a new phenomenon. The list of nominated artists makes for impressive reading. Many have gone on to achieve ‘national treasure’ status even if their work is not to the taste of everyone.

Whilst the artworks themselves may not make comfortable viewing for the home, the works often encapsulate something of the Zeitgeist. Thought provoking, definitely. Whatever the outcome it won’t be boring and will have brought contemporary art to the attention of a wider audience.

My own preference is for the work by Josephine Pryde, ‘Lapses in thinking by the person i Am’. Using a magazine style the subject of her photographs captures the lack of consciousness of our physical being while our attention is absorbed by technology or the presence of another. Given the current fashion for mindfulness, here the absence of presence, and the nature of identity associated with social media and the virtual world is captured. The train serves as a way of engaging the audience in the moment, a more memorable way to view the exhibition and definitely more fun than viewing it on a screen.

When is a plastic bottle a 50W light bulb?

The answer to this riddle according to Mike Stephenson,  is when it’s a ‘litre of light’.

IMG_20160217_142916398This amazingly simple technology is bringing light to thousands of otherwise dark homes, where dwellings are built side by side and back to back, without services.

These simple lights involve a clear plastic bottle filled with water and a little bleach (the latter is to keep the water clear).  The bottle is fitted into a hole in the roof, so that the top section is outside in the daylight, and the lower part of the bottle protrudes into the room.  (Sealant and the lid on the bottle help to keep it secure and weather proof). The refractive properties of water ensures that the light from the sun becomes omni-directional mimicking an electric light bulb and emitting the same amount of light as a 40–60 W incandescent bulb into the room.

Cheap but effective and means that people can live, work and study in previously dark rooms.  The bottles can also be fitted with a small solar panel that saves enough daylight to last 10 hours after sunset.

The E-luminate festival (Cambridge) this year brought the ‘litre of light’ workshop to St. Giles Church where the decorated bottles were used to create beautiful installations, effectively spreading the word about the project.   Brilliant!

 

 

 

Hammer and Tongs

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Some of the inspiration for the designs for the public art at St. Clements, Mile End, came through the community engagement activities. Peter Moreton of Applecart filmed some of the workshops and interviewed the artist Agnes Jones, to create this short film. It is delightful and reveals some of the stories and processes behind the artworks.  Follow this link to watch – I love the two gentlemen talking about being punished when they were young and very glad that times have changed!

https://vimeo.com/133155877

The designs for the artwork are currently being processed by the Tower Hamlets planning team, and will go into production in due course.  If you watch the film you’ll know why this post is called ‘Hammer and Tongs’, but it could also be called ‘ouch!’ ………. or similar – any suggestions?

Marking the Way

Designing the navigation of a place is fascinating and more than just pointing out a direction.  A spatial problem solving activity, finding the way impacts significantly on how people respond emotionally to the place.  Getting lost, finding signage  information confusing or inadequate gives rise to frustration and negative impressions of a place, so it’s important to get it right.   Not only serving to point people in the desired direction, marking the way has potential for adding extra dimensions,  revealing connections with the past, assisting in the wider exploration of the environment.  Way-finder objects can be sculptural and distinctive pieces of street furniture that add quality.

Templar’s Green, Witham,  for Bloor Homes

witham way marker

The Templar’s Green development, by Bloor Homes, in Witham, has  way-finders designed by Tim Ward (Circling the Square).  Part of a series of pieces, the enamelled flower symbolizes the market and importance of agriculture to the area.  Set at an accessible height and to facilitate use of the new pedestrian and cycle path from Maldon Road through the development to the public open space, the way-finders have a map and snippets of information about the area on one side and the name of the development and flower symbol on the other.  The development will be completed in the next six months when the final pieces will be installed and the new route opened.

The development is situated on the site of the old market in Witham.  Historically, King Stephen gave the manor at Witham to the Knights Templar and later, in 1153-54, a market at Witham was added to the lands belonging to the Temple at Cressing, now called Cressing Temple.  The way-finders and other pieces of public art to be installed help to locate the development as a distinctive area within the context of Witham as it is today, encouraging exploration of the site and making the public open space more accessible to the wider community.

The Bulmer Brick and Tile Company

Walking into the Bulmer brick works is a bit like stepping into a medieval world or a scene from the Hobbit. Greeted by dome shaped kilns and metal strapped chimneys the flanking temporary walls of drying bricks are regimented either side of an age worn furrow where the wooden barrows trundle up and down.  The site has been in continuous production since at least Tudor times and is known to have been present on the site in some form since the middle ages.kiln

Proper Bricks

The bricks themselves, dusted with sand, are objects of beauty drying in the sun before being transformed by the heat of the kiln to reveal the rich depth of colour of the baked clay.   Finest Red London Clay is the chief component dug from the surrounding land.  The bricks are handmade using the traditional technique and fired in a coal fuelled, down draught kiln. Today the bricks are mainly manufactured to match bricks from historic buildings for clients such as The National Trust, English Heritage, The Royal Palaces, as well as individual home-owners.   The bricks can be made to  any size or in any quantity of plain bricks, along with ornamental ‘specials’ of traditional or contemporary designs. Samples of these ornamental bricks are stored in the adjoining sheds and have their own stories.

A favourite is the heart shape encompassing the spray of wheat.  It is a tangible record of the straw-plaiting industry that was so important in the area particularly for women and children to earn extra money when not required to work in the fields.

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In Sible Hedingham these ornamental bricks were a feature of the vernacular style, and can still be seen in remaining early buildings. They are now being included in new buildings too as a way adding a unique feature to homes. Varied in design, from heraldic symbols to specially moulded cat faces, or date plaques for bespoke orders.

A similar brick works, the Cambridgeshire Tile and Brick Company in Burwell, was recommissioned about twenty years ago and is now supported by the team at Bulmer and the East of England Buildings Preservation Trust.   One interesting product are the mathematical tiles.  Originally devised  as a way of avoiding paying the brick tax levied between 1784 – 1850 the tiles are partly overlapping and in-filled with a lime mortar to form a flat surface that looks like either header bond or stretcher bond brickwork.  Rather than purely matching tiles for historic buildings, these tiles are potentially suitable as a skin for eco homes and certainly offer a contemporary look without resorting to timber or renders.

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New Old Bricks for New Buildings

New funding is being sought to update equipment and increase production at the Burwell site,  as well as developing installation advice to ensure that ventilation and roof pitch specifications facilitates the use of these traditional products whilst meeting current building regulations.  Given the shortage of bricks earlier in the year, making a local product may come some way to improve the supply chain to sustain levels of building required, whilst creating a sustainable business using local workforce and materials.