Tag Archives: collections

Cardiff Public Art Collection

For my third UK public art collection visit I made my way to Cardiff. Cardiff Council speaks of having a collection of 200+ permanent public artworks. In contrast to Folkestone’s seven years of collecting the artworks in Cardiff range back over 150 years.

My first Cardiff public art encounter, seen as I crossed the road from my hotel en route into the city centre, were two giant grey fists rising out of the pavement. Consulting the information I have brought with me I find that this is an artwork called ‘All Hands’ (by Brian Fell). Later I find out from the artist’s website that the sculpture is sited above a enclosed canal that was once was a coal supply route down to the docks. The artwork being intended as a commemoration to Cardiff’s dockworkers. But what I notice on the street is the way a small crowd of people has gathered on the seating set around the sculpture, not looking at it but facing away from it. As I walk round to the other side I realise that the sculpture is really close to a popular bus stop. I wonder if any of these waiting passengers are thinking about dock workers or are aware of the canal beneath them?

Sculpture and bus stop. 'All Hands' (Brian Fell, 2001)

Sculpture and bus stop. ‘All Hands’ (Brian Fell, 2001)

The next artwork I come upon is sited in the pedestrianized area around the St David’s Shopping Centre and immediately outside the central city library. It is one of the newer artworks in the city, installed in 2009 as part of the St David’s Public Art Programme. It is certainly a big work (25m high) but it also has an ambitious aim. According to a plaque inlaid into the pavement nearby, ‘Alliance’ represents ‘the meeting of past and present and a new symbol for the city’s future’. I learn later from my Cardiff conversations that this two-element sculpture is referred to locally as the ‘Hoop and Stick’. It’s a good description. The Wikipedia entry for ‘Alliance’ states that the hoop is filled with a liquid that is programmed to rise and fall to mark the changing tide on the Bristol Channel (an intriguing detail, if this is still working). I go into the library to get a different view of the artwork and the public space around it. Looking down I watch the movement of people passing under the ‘hoop’: from what I observe it seems an irresistible climbing challenge for some young children.

'Alliance' or the 'Hoop and Stick', outside Cardiff Library (Jean-Bernard Metals, 2009).

‘Alliance’ or the ‘Hoop and Stick’, outside Cardiff Library (Jean-Bernard Metals, 2009).

These two works are my first introductions to the Cardiff public art collection. Over the next day or so of my visit I explore the city and its artworks further, focusing especially on the three areas mapped out in the walking tour maps sent to me by my contact in Cardiff Council: the city centre, the historic ‘Civic Centre’ and the redeveloped waterfront at Cardiff Bay. Just looking at the maps you get an idea of how different these three areas are spatially. The city centre map appears to shows its collection of artworks as inserted into a tightly packed streetscape, spread out in a string along the high street or marking significant street corners. The Civic Centre map meanwhile indicates a much more planned arrangement. Here the artworks are part of the mid 19th-early 20th century architectural design of the grand civic quarter, embellishments of the buildings themselves or set out as formal statues and memorials in the surrounding green space. The Bay map plots its own artwork collection against the blue and open backdrop of the waterfront and around Cardiff’s contemporary architectural symbols, the Millennium Centre and the Senedd (Welsh Assembly).

The following offers a sample of some of the artworks, spatial-visual confrontations and public art audiencing activities that I encountered and observed during my visits to these three very different areas of the city. (Artwork credits courtesy Cardiff Council’s Cardiff Public Art Register)

City Centre

Civic Centre

Cardiff Bay

Cardiff’s regeneration focused approach to public art commissioning, especially as centred on the Cardiff Bay development in the 1990s, has been the subject of much academic and social debate. For background history and critiques of Cardiff’s public art approach see for example:

Gonçalves, A. & Thomas, H., 2012. CASE STUDY: Waterfront tourism and public art in Cardiff Bay and Lisbon’s Park of Nations. Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events, (August 2015), pp.1–26.

Hall, T. & Robertson, I., 2001. Public Art and Urban Regeneration : Advocacy , claims and critical debates. Landscape Research, 26(1), pp.5–26.

 

 

 

 

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Milton Keynes public art collection

Over July and August I’m carrying out a series of research visits to three UK public art ‘collections’ as part of my PhD fieldwork. The first of these visits took me down to Milton Keynes. This is a place I’d certainly read quite a lot about in terms of its cultural geography [1, 2, 3] but never actually visited before. Milton Keynes is famous as the UK’s largest and, for some, most successful ‘new town’. It was built in the late 1960s to a radical modernist design that has been described as something of a meeting between the futurism of American architect Buckminster Fuller and the romanticism of the English ‘Garden City’. For some its original design (led by architect and town planner Derek Walker) is still seen as visionary, one of the great unsung projects of British post-war design. For others the town is a characterless, ‘brutalist wasteland’ [4], and a ‘Mecca for roundabouts’[5].

Unusually in the UK, Milton Keynes is also a town that actively promotes itself as having a ‘public art collection’: the reason for my research visit. This is a collection that encompasses some 220 permanent artworks located across the city centre and its wider area. I was only able to visit a small proportion of these during my visit, concentrating on the works located in the centre of Milton Keynes that feature in the city’s official ‘City Centre Artwalk’ booklet.

 

Milton Keynes Artwalk Map

Starting from the ‘Theatre District’ this route led me in a looping circuit around the central grid of Milton Keynes. This encompasses the town’s main commercial, retail and civic hub situated between the parallel tree-lined ‘Boulevards’ – the romantically (paganly?) named ‘Avebury’, ‘Midsummer’ and ‘Silbury’ – and their intersecting ‘Gates’. For a visitor, and public art researcher, like me one of the most striking features of this route is the way in which the public art walk threads between outdoor street space and the interior ‘malls’ of its main shopping centre ‘The Centre: MK’ and the adjoining (now listed) ‘Midsummer Place’. Two of Milton Keynes most locally popular artworks are sited within these malls: ‘Vox Pop (The Family)’ and a small herd of Liz Leyh’s original ‘Concrete Cows’ (sometimes cynically described as a symbol of MK’s all-pervasive ‘concreteness’).

'Vox Pop (The Family), John Clinch, 1988. According to the Artwork Guide Clinch's sculpture 'celebrates ordinary members of the public rather than the rich and famous'. It was 'originally intended to show the diversity of people needed to make Milton Keynes a great city'.

‘Vox Pop (The Family), John Clinch, 1988. According to the Artwork Guide Clinch’s sculpture ‘celebrates ordinary members of the public rather than the rich and famous’. It was ‘originally intended to show the diversity of people needed to make Milton Keynes a great city’.

Concrete Cows

‘Concrete Cows’. These are the ‘original’ concrete cows created by resident MK artist Liz Leyh and local schoolchildren in 1978. These are now corralled around the remains of the town’s celebrated oak tree in the middle of the Midsummer Place shopping mall.

Other mall-based public artworks include a humorous bronze ‘book’ bench by Bill Woodrow (outside Waterstones), ‘Circle of Light’ by US born kinetic artist Liliane Lijn (a work which I was looking for but somehow managed to miss in my walk round), and a series of fantastical bronzes by British sculptor Philomena Davis. These are located in ‘Silbury Arcade’, alongside branches of Carphone Warehouse, Claire’s, and Patisserie Valerie. Together these mall-sited works are striking examples of the way the viewing (visuality) of public artworks is often enmeshed within the urban retail experience: an ingredient of urban visuality and ‘aestheticisation’ that has been specifically highlighted in reference to Milton Keynes [6].

'High Flyer' one of three bronzes by Philomena Davis. According to the artist these works 'depict man's fantasy with flight and escapism'.

‘High Flyer’ one of three bronzes by Philomena Davis sited in Silbury Arcade. According to the artist these works ‘depict man’s fantasy with flight and escapism, in particular….that come to us in childhood and adolescence’. According to the on-site label the sculpture is modelled on one of the artist’s own children.

Exploring beyond the polished spaces of the shopping mall the outdoor streetscape of Milton Keynes felt like a very different material and visual environment for public art. Away from the brightness of the newer retail and leisure developments this is a less manicured and much more worn space. One that is open to the elements and that feels both concrete and green. The aesthetic here would seem to echo that of the sculpture ‘court’ or the ‘sculpture park’, albeit often on a pocket scale and in a rougher urban form. My public art route took me through a number of such spaces. A rather neglected public seating area/walkway between a branch of Wallis and one of the main Boulevards held an energetic (‘Vorticist’ inspired?) bronze by Michael Sandle: the radically titled, ‘A Mighty Blow for Freedom:****the Media’, while a trio of abstract and colourful sculptures by artist/designer Bernard Schottlander dominated the dried out summer lawn and patio of the park leading up to the City Church.

'A Mighty Blow for Freedom: ****the Media', Michael Sandle, 1988. The Artwalk Guide tells me that the work is a twist in a well known film company logo, here replacing the famous gong, with a man swinging an axe into a television.

‘A Mighty Blow for Freedom: ****the Media’, Michael Sandle, 1988. The Artwalk Guide tells me that the work is a twist on a well known film company logo, here replacing the famous image of the gong sounder with a man swinging an axe into a television.

Two sculptures from the '3B' and '2M' series. Simple forms which, according to the guide, are a play on the artist's initials: BMS.

Two sculptures from the ‘3B’ and ‘2M’ series. Simple forms which, according to the MK public art guide, are a play on the artist’s initials: BMS.

'The Object' Dhruva Mistry, 1995-7, tucked away in its own pocket 'sculpture park' near Milton Keynes Gallery.

‘The Object’ Dhruva Mistry, 1995-7, tucked away in its own pocket ‘sculpture park’ near Milton Keynes Gallery.

Beyond this artwork and once through the strange under-croft of the motorway Milton Keynes centre opens up into green space proper – Campbell Park and its outlook to the wider rural landscape beyond. This too contains a number of sculptures, many of these dating from the 1990s but also some newer works commissioned as part of the Campbell Park Public Art Plan . The latest of these is the ‘MK Rose’ the final artwork I visited as part of my Milton Keynes public art fieldtrip.

The ‘MK Rose’ by Gordon Young is designed as a new communal and commemorative space for Milton Keynes. It is a physical ‘calendar of days’ represented by 105 pillars each dedicated to a different day of celebration or commemoration, some national and some local to Milton Keynes.

The ‘MK Rose’ by Gordon Young is designed as a new communal and commemorative space for Milton Keynes. It is a physical ‘calendar of days’ represented by 105 pillars each dedicated to a different day of celebration or commemoration, some national and some local to Milton Keynes. The work was commissioned by the Milton Keynes Cenotaph Trust and the Milton Keynes Parks Trust.

References:

[1] Massey, D. & Rose, G., 2003. Personal Views: Public Art Research Project.

[2] AMH, 2006. Public Art in Milton Keynes Street Survey.

[3] Basdas, B., Degen, M. & Rose, G., 2009. Learning about how people experience built environments,

Learning about how people experience built environments – Dr Begum Basdas, Dr Monica Degen and Prof Gillian Rose

[4] Voices, P. et al., 2015. Concrete bungle : Exhibition of history of Milton Keynes fails to capture flawed urban experiment Milton Keynes deserves more than a PR version of its futuristic roots. , (July).

[5] Independent, S.T., 2015. Derek Walker : Architect and planner who designed Milton Keynes dies aged 85. , (July).

[6] Degen, M., DeSilvey, C. & Rose, G., 2008. Experiencing visualities in designed urban environments: Learning from Milton Keynes. Environment and Planning A, 40(8), pp.1901–1920.

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Timelines – onto ‘the conveyor belt of history’?

Sara Fanelli's timeline at Tate Modern. Source: www.sarafanelli.com

Sara Fanelli’s timeline at Tate Modern. Source: http://www.sarafanelli.com

In his article for Curator: The Museum Journal, (2013) US academic Steven Lubar argues that although timelines seem like a ‘natural’ approach to museum display, they present an over deterministic narrative structure. He warns that the timeline should be ‘used with care’ (p.169). For Lubar a new approach is needed that retains the usefulness and accessibility of the timeline but which opens it up to more visitor interaction and personalisation. In the article he makes six suggestions for how the timeline format might be expanded upon (p.185):

  1. use it to highlight key ‘decision points’ and pivotal moments;
  2. complicate it historically by intersecting with other topic timelines;
  3. make it ‘lumpy’ by focusing on defined periods;
  4. use it to connect events across the world, rather than in one place;
  5. focus it on geography, rather than on time;
  6. invite visitors to remix it to fit their own stories and personal interests.

Prompted by Lubar’s article, I’ve started to use the content curation platform Scoop.it to compile a collection of museum based timelines. This is to help develop my own thinking about how a timeline architecture and Lubar’s ‘six suggestions’ might be applied to my research into the public art ‘collection’ in Newcastle-Gateshead. Interestingly, as Tate is one of the timeline rejectionists of the 1990s/2000s that Lubar discusses in his article, a lot of these examples actually come from Tate. Here the timeline is fully present again, as artist designed gallery souvenirs, as in-and off-galley interpretation and as exhibition design – the new ‘Walk Through British Art’ display at Tate Britain.

Following my own initial data collection work in Newcastle-Gateshead I’ve been visually grouping individual artworks into a rough chronology using the free visualisation software Easy Timeline. I’ve also been researching other web-based ‘timeline’ applications. Some of these have the capacity to link time and place through image geo-tagging. In visiting other public art ‘collections’ (online or physically), it seems that it is through this frame of place and location that public artworks are more usually interpreted rather than through the lens of ‘art history’. It is the map, rather than the timeline, that is the ubiquitous form of presentation for a public art ‘collection’.

References and links:

http://www.scoop.it/t/timelines-for-art

Lubar, S. (2013). Timelines in ExhibitionsCurator: The Museum Journal56(2), 169–188. doi:10.1111/cura.12018 [Online. Accessed: 25 October 2013].

Note: the title for this post is taken from Nicholas Serota’s (1996 statement) quoted by Lubar in his (2013) article.

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Objects and icebergs

As a starting point for my initial reading and with specific recommendations from Chris Whitehead and my supervisory team I’ve begun to explore some of the literature around museums and ‘collecting theory’.

Material I’ve read or dipped into so far over the last two weeks includes: Susan Pearce’s book ‘Museums, objects and collections’ (1992) and her short piece ‘Collections and collecting’ in ‘Museums and the Future of Collecting’ (Knell, 2004); also Martin Wickham’s chapter ‘Ranking collections’ in the same book; and Samuel Alberti’s article ‘Objects and the Museum’ from the journal Isis (2005).

The following are some notes on my initial reactions and thoughts about how some of the concepts I’ve discovered here might relate to or help guide my future research around public art collections. (Note to readers: Please remember that this is only my fourth week on my new ‘PhD research job’, so these are very early thoughts. I’m bound to be returning to and reworking these notes, and perhaps discarding them too, as my research progresses.) Inevitably at this stage my notes are mainly questions.

Models for object study

Included as an appendix within Pearce’s (1992) book are  six alternative or overlapping diagrammatic models for analysing or interpreting museum objects as a stimulus or guide for future student study.  Pearce’s own model (1986) used with students at Leicester University sets out 8 levels for gathering information about an object: 1. Material – construction. 2. Material – design. 3. Material – character. 4. History – original and subsequent. 5. Environment – context. 6. Environment – location. 7. Significance. 8. Interpretation – social role. How far might all or any of these apply to a public art work? What might a new bespoke model for analysing public art work look like? Do any particular study models for interpreting and collecting data on public art exist already? How contemporary or flexible are these? Should designing a new model for public art works be a specific objective of my research?

The ‘iceberg’ view

This is Pearce’s 2004 metaphor of the heritage collection as an “iceberg” – 1/10 visible object that can be measured, compared, photographed, exhibited, but 9/10ths is below the water, invisible, the “dark side” of the collection, much more difficult to analyse or display. The stress here is on the people, the characters who have created or assembled the collection. Pearce assets that both elements should be equally recognised in the study  and understanding of meaning making within a collection – “…collections, like icebergs, inhabit both elements and the end result is an intrinsic whole, which has followed its own growth pattern and taken its characteristic shape whatever that may have turned out to be.” (Pearce, 2004, p.49) I rather like this image – should I be looking at the evolution of public art in the city in terms of a distinctive “growth pattern”?

Cultural biographies

This is Alberti’s argument for the exploration of objects as living entities. Things that can be studied in terms of their individual “careers”, their “key moments” or changing status and value in their journey from “acquisition to arrangement and viewing” within a collection and the accumulated “web” of collectors, processes and exchanges that have contributed to this. It’s an appealing viewpoint I think and an attractive way of writing about art works. Could you describe a public art work and its processes in this way? From commissioning, through creation, fabrication, installation, and continuing but changing public presence? What would this look like in terms of a temporary rather than a permanently sited work?

Ranking objects

The association of a tank museum with a public art collection is not perhaps an obvious one to make, but I thought that Wickham’s practical and “rational” approach to ranking or “grading” objects within a collection might offer an interesting tool for categorising public art works in the city. The mathematical “weighting” model takes things a bit too far for me but the key processes he suggests for designing such a system certainly seem valid for my study. Could I work collaboratively with other public art professionals to devise a similar list in grading works in the NewcastleGateshead public art collection? Is something similar already in use perhaps by local authority officers or company asset managers in relation to their own commissioned works?

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