Whose land is it anyway?

park

public park and green space, benefits everyone

Despite the known benefits for physical and mental well-being,  and a positive impact on house prices and  local economies,  our public parks and green spaces are under-threat and in decline.   This fact was the main conclusion in a recent report from the Communities and Local Government Committee who have called on  Councils to develop a strategic approach for the management and development of public open spaces.

However, many new public open spaces are the result of planning  regulation.  Councils will require the creation of parks and open space as part of green infrastructure within new housing developments.   Whilst this gives rise to  the creation of new public space, they remain outside the control of the local council.

Historically open spaces have been adopted by the local council with a sum of money from the developer to pay for maintenance ‘in perpetuity’. More recently, developers have argued that councils have been unable to maintain the open spaces to the desired standard, seen the money as a tax on their profit. and have  set up management companies to service the developments.   Crucially these management companies, which represent a cost benefit to the developers, are funded by the property purchasers in the form of annual fees. Fees the council would not currently be permitted to charge.

But if Councils don’t adopt these new public amenities, to whom do they belong? When is public land not public land? The answer seems to be when it’s part of a new development that uses a management company. Finding out who the land belongs to is difficult, and accessibility to the open space is not clearly established with some owner occupiers regarding the open spaces and parks as their own.

One example that illustrates the problem is ‘Merrington Place,’ developed by Campbell Buchanan. Highly regarded within its village, it boasts contemporary architecture, landscaping with elements of public art, a public pocket park, and a public footpath.  Seloc Asset Management Company have recently taken over upkeep of the public open space. The residents pay for for this landscaping service, and they also pay the community charge to the council.   Notably, the owners who part-buy as shared owners, and the tenants of the affordable housing, contribute financially through the housing association, but have no right to participate in the resident decision making process. This is not unusual, but it is certainly undemocratic and divisive. The clue is in the title – asset management – but whose asset? There’s the rub. The publicly accessible open space is private land with a public right of way. The public artworks sit on privately owned land.

merrington_Place

public art, private land

The Land Trust has a different model.   Established as a charity to hold in trust land polluted by former use as part of the northern coal fields initially it was government funded but is now independent.   The Trust invested funds and created public park-lands, bringing both social and economic regeneration to the areas. Since then the trust has grown and taken on new housing developments. The crux of the difference seems to be that as a ‘not for profit’ organisation it is open about it’s resources, it’s aims and its accountability. The focus is on community building rather than profit making for individuals.  All residents of all the tenures, have an equal stake in the management of their neighbourhood.

This model seems to be so much more than a profit making estate management company. But the issue of residents paying twice remains. Is this acceptable? Perhaps, if the residents choose to buy this service. An alternative would be to allow the local council to make these similar charges, and employ local people to maintain these areas. It would be a more democratic and accountable approach and enabling all our urban areas to be improved.  Public parks, green spaces and play areas cut across gender, ethnicity, age and socio-economic group helping to build social cohesion. The benefits for our health and economy are already demonstrated. The mechanism for achieving these benefits is less obvious.

CB1 still a work in progress

The Station Plaza at Cambridge Station,  is noted for finely detailed buildings, discreet brick work, tiled elements, intricately laced balcony treatments which are subtle and tasteful. It’s also noted for being bland and having lost the impact of arriving at a particular destination. There is no sense of arrival in Cambridge.

As the redevelopment reaches its conclusion, there is a void. It is a box without tricks and the public art is an unconnected series of pieces that are mostly invisible to people passing through. Artworks that invite interaction give that element of surprise and fun that make a journey positively memorable. The public art here is a series of pieces that need signposting. The artworks are so quiet, so subtle that they are obscure and ignored.

Just because art is outdoors or in a public place, does not necessarily make it accessible. The point or success is however, judged by the public. Does it reflect local identity? Does it create a sense of place? Does it perhaps reference an historical connection? In a civic space there is an opportunity for artworks to comment, to make statements about who we are, where we are, and to reflect what we are about.

As far as referencing the history of the area, the historic ‘Ceres’ bronze by William Boyd was renovated following its re-discovery in Spillers Mill. The renovation of the Mill is one of the most successful, combining the form of the industrial building with a streamlined street scene that complements the surrounding new architecture and the station building itself. The ‘Ceres’ sculpture however, is rather isolated located in a courtyard to the rear of the building.

To the front, Dryden Goodwin has a series of portraits, embedded in the pavement around the bus stops. The miniature portraits etched into stainless steel discs, the material has

the dryden-goodwinappearance of service covers, and most people queuing at the bus-stops are unaware that they are there. This isn’t surprising as it’s difficult to get close enough to see the portraits without causing a trip hazard. There is a mismatch of design elements, material, scale and location that is disappointing.

 

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‘Continental Drift’ by Troika, is not very public installed in the entrance to the cycle park. Antoni Malinowski’s ‘Transparent Drawing’ – located on an elevation opposite the bus stops is well above eye level, too discrete to catch the attention. The less said about Jem Finer’s ‘Super Computer’ the better.

 

The curved bench by Partridge cb1benchand Walmsley is the most successful piece to date. Elegant and functional. It’s a high status bench in an area where seating is really quite limited.
Doug Alsop’s ‘Reflective Editor’ is a geometrical work designed as a gateway piece. The highly polished surfaces reflect the form and movement around it. It Image result for troika cambridge stationinvites interaction but is most useful as a perch seat and closely resembles an architectural design element. How many people notice it as an artwork is debatable.

One piece has yet to be installed. Gavin Turk has been commissioned to create an artwork for the central space; there is a definitely a need for something dramatic, inviting interaction, filling the void. Curator is a most overused word at the moment, and as a curated space this is sadly lacking in any commentary. The voice of the storyteller is silent. Maybe the Turk piece will bring it all together. Currently the most exciting part of the station area is the movement, the dance within the plaza, created by the travelling through of people, taxis, buses and bicycles. It’s worth visiting to watch the drama unfold, but if your interested in the artworks, you’ll need a pair of binoculars and a map.

The article was first published in January business pages of Cambridge News

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

What happens when the public are invited to participate?

The David Attenborough building is the new home for The Museum of Zoology, (University of Cambridge) Cambridge Conservation Initiatives, and public art by Ackroyd and Harvey.buildingPublic engagement is a mantra for contemporary art. At the recent exhibition ‘Conflicted Seed and Spirit’ by Ackroyd and Harvey,  interaction was at the forefront of the works and presented a number of challenges.
conflicted_seeds_and_spiritThe ‘Red List’ of endangered species was faintly printed on a 7m long canvas, and the public were invited to choose one species, look it up on a tablet and then carefully write over the name. This process revealed the species both on the canvas and in the minds of the participants. As many of the species are obscure with names that tantalise, curiosity was quickly aroused to establish whether the choice revealed an insect, reptile, bird or mammal. Unfortunately, one person got rather carried away and instead of carefully tracing the script started in huge letters and then crossed it out, using the permanent marker pen provided. Other visitors to the exhibition were spotted investigating the pots of soil to find the seeds of the endangered trees. The beautiful crystalline whale skeleton was not exempt as another visitor started moving crystals in order to photograph them. It seems that where interaction is invited, the public take it to another level.  If the exhibition is a metaphor for the planet, then the clumsy and thoughtless behaviour of a small number of visitors is surely representative of humanities lack of regard for the planet.

images-1For Ackroyd and Harvey the process is important, the text work ‘Seeing Red ..Overdrawn’ is not completed and the data is always changing, as species become extinct and new ones are discovered. The work will be updated, reprinted and housed in the new building as an ongoing engagement.

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The permanent artwork for the David Attenborough Building consist of two slate walls. It doesn’t sound very exciting, but the detail revealed is elegant and refined. The slate has been sourced directly from mines in Wales as a waste product. Each piece hand cut to an exact measurement, and laid edge to edge in stacks to create the artwork. Representing the sedimentary process that creates slate itself, each piece is positioned like a series of repeated drawn lines to reveal patterns. These patterns are archetypal shapes that can be read in different ways. One wall reveals the shape of a nautilus shell, the other reveals organic growth, reminiscent of ancient crinoids, unfurling fern like shapes. The cut, nibbled edges refract light giving the images a 3D effect. Within the slate are carefully concealed boxes for bats, and empty snail shells for solitary bees.

CCI is an interesting assortment of academics and practitioners brought together to develop innovative collaborative programmes addressing major challenges in conservation, biodiversity and ecosystems. It’s the first time there has been a clear interface between academia, business and local communities with local knowledge. This last element is the most important and represents a shift in attitude that will bring sustainable benefit to communities as well as ecosystems. It may well prevent some of the clumsy approaches to conservation in the past.

There is a synergy of artists and organisations in the choice of Ackroyd and Harvey to work with the CCI. If the basis of conservation is ‘right plant, right place’ then this is surely a case of ‘right artists, right organisation.’ The Ackroyd and Harvey involvement with the Botanic Garden, and CCI continues, who knows where the drawn line will take them this time.

This article was first published in Cambridge Business, part of the Cambridge News group, August edition.

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?

jptrain

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!

 

 

 

New Sculpture for Beaulieu

IMG_20160129_134940867_HDRThe maquette designed by Matthew Lane Sanderson for Countryside Zest and LPQ is now on view in the show house garden at Beaulieu.  If you are in Chelmsford it is well worth a visit.

The sculpture will be located at the end of the linear park as a focal point terminating the view.  At 8 meters in height it will be spectacular, but the massing of the buildings and distances involved make that scale appropriate for this piece.

Matthew has taken the theme of the historic deer park and jewellery details associated with royalty and the Tudor palace and created something very beautiful. Some of the detail of the base is still in development and its likely that the base will sit up on lions paw feet, to continue the theme and firmly link the supporting base to the rest of the piece.

As the commissioner its important for me that all the details fit with the wider scheme, the architecture, the landscaping and artworks by other artists.  The aim here is to include some poetry texts through the landscape and so some element of this will also be added to the base of this sculpture.  It’s a pleasure working with Matthew and the Countryside team on this development.

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.