This project was modest in scale, yet it has achieved more than the sum of its parts. A personal and public art project, it involved balancing the context of the community with a new commission by John Newling.
One day, on return from holiday, I clearly saw the negative aspects of our down-at-heel, inner city area. Neighbouring districts seemed inviting. Yet when I reflected on the community, I reminded myself that we were already changing things. Many of us are involved with Sherwood Rise Residents Association; we run the Stuff of Life festival, which attracts over 600 people and is self financed. We get together regularly to make our area a good place to live in.
The former postal district of Sherwood Rise was the site of 5 suburban villas in 1850, including a market garden and an orchard. Until recently it was also the site of three bakeries. The area around Hedley Villas Park feels like an oasis in the city, but has its down side. Torched and dumped cars, fly tipping, sex working, drug dealing, a caravan parking have all been features of the landscape.
A long brick wall runs along most of Hedley Street, its street side a visual eyesore; most of the surface marked by an archipelago of decay and repair. The wall presented an opportunity to create a new place, and perhaps a sense of place, in the way Stuff of Life already has.
Many of us were aware that an artistic intervention in an environment is not only an improvement to the aesthetic of the street, or a means to question/reveal hidden histories/local contexts. Could it also help to fundamentally change the perception of an area?
Talking to friends and neighbours led to a to and fro-ing of talk around public art. Some had A dialogue opened up about contemporary and public art in the context of our street. Some had a fixed idea of what the work should be: that it would involve figures, or we could work with young people. Others rebelled against the idea itself: “a mural signifies inner city deprivation”.
A studio visit in 2012 to John Newling was good timing, as he had drawn together a collection of work from the 1970’s onwards for curators to view in advance of a major solo show. He talked about a project with Wellcome Trust, ‘Building a Piano in Spain’ where he had asked and recorded peoples responses to the question, ‘what do you do to make yourself feel better?’ As I was leaving, I mentioned the wall idea. Surprised that he did not know the area, he came and took photos with Ann, his wife. I sent him some thoughts and memories of the area I had been gathering with this project in mind, which fuelled his interest.
The idea of working with an international artist living locally, at a residents meeting and to the wall owners, and the project got the go ahead. I applied to Arts Council & to our local councillor for some funding. John was invited to the Stuff of Life Festival 2012 (facebook Stuff of Life), where he asked people what they valued, and wrote their responses on plaster strips in a notebook.
Over a few months he returned to the text, analysing and collating the responses into a single document, which became The Mould of a Good Place: Values 2013*. His proposal for the wall followed on: that four words be made in stainless steel letters and placed on the wall, opposite the park.
“…know you are loved…”
The phrase he chose was a version of one of the values gathered, and he says, the most direct text piece he has yet made. It reflects both his feelings about the people and the community, while carrying more universal meanings. The responses have been overwhelmingly positive: a combination of curious, questioning, interpretative, and amused. A teenager took pictures and it was on facebook within hours of installation; a young man said it would help newcomers from different cultures feel good about the area. Others, initially, saw it as too strong statement for a public wall, and it even was given a religious interpretation.
Six weeks after the opening event at New Art Exchange, the letter ‘k’ was stolen, resulting in a temporary …now you are loved…Whether it was a literary, artistic, or cash strapped thief is unclear, but it cemented the future of the work in an unexpected way. The letters were removed and re-installed further along the street, higher up on the wall of the former pyklet bakery, in time for a May Day event. The words stand out better against the brick, the message speaks to a wider area, and there is a consensus its here to stay.
We value (in different ways) what it means to work with an artist like John Newling, and to live with such a strong work of art every day, on our street.
The work turned out to be more personal, and more site-specific than we could have imagined. We feel more valued, and are looking at our area and ourselves in a slightly different way; so are others.
…know you are loved… was a project by John Newling and Kate Stoddart, and the work belongs to John Newling and SRRA.
- Sherwood Rise Residents Association – what we do – see NVA 10, p12
- Meeting John – see as above
- How project developed – see NVA
- New Art Exchange opening & street launch
- The theft of the K and the second installation