Wednesday, 9 July 2014

BROWNFIELD - an AirSpace Residency with Andrew Burton

For the last 2 weeks, Andrew Burton has been resident at AirSpace exploring a city centre Brownfield site. The site had previously been a 3-Screen Cinema for nearly half a decade, but since being acquired by the Tesco group, has lain empty for about 10 years.

City centre land use is a particular concern for the Gallery, and Stoke has more than its fair share of emptied, former industrial/residential Brownfield sites. Andrew's focus has been on intensively exploring the site, thinking about the notions of "Brownfield", and suggesting a possible future for this one site in particular.

The results of Andrew's Residency, will be showcased at a special Showcase, to be held at AirSpace Gallery, opening on Wednesday 16th July and running until 23rd.


Brownfield or Buddleia Vale?
We have the capacity to endlessly idealise everything.
This artist’s residency is split between a ‘brownfield’ site and the studio in Airspace Gallery. The brown field is one of those places where urban Stoke has gone missing. Something else has taken its place. A cinema, a bowling alley, unwanted roads and pavements are submerged under a rapacious invasion of sorrel, wild pea and buddleia. ‘Nature’ has taken a grip, weed fighting weed to claim ground in this bricky haven, thriving amongst the rubble, masking potholes and looping over strands of wire. Delve into the foliage and you could nearly get lost in this landscape-in-miniature, with its deep ravines that plunge down from the sun baked tarry uplands.

For a few weeks at the end of June and the beginning of July, this short residency at Airspace has given me a bit of space to think about things. At the back of the gallery, my temporary studio is strewn with decapitated buddleias, now wilted and brown but still oppressing the space with their heady soapy scent. Some floppy xxx leaves are pinned out to dry on polystyrene sheets and there’s a tub full of a collection of excavated bits and pieces of broken fired clay, mostly unfathomable fragments that must have been left behind when ceramics moved on, or maybe dumped later. Twigs and branches are good for frames. Heaps of seeds and flower heads are being munched away by hordes of green beetley things: for days the place has been buzzing and crawling with insects that came in with the buddleia and can’t get out.

Back on site, Buddleia Vale seems quite bucolic today, the yellow pea is flowering like crazy and the ripening grasses and branches of tawny sorrel remind me of harvest time in India. There, in places, the harvest is still brought in by hand, with the heads of corn laid out on rocks to dry before being winnowed. And then the exotic buddleia is like graceful bamboo on the Li river. Strange that a place like this becomes laden with nostalgia when so much detritus lies around. Yesterday I was digging, a shamefully random archaeology. Scratching away at the hard brick strewn earth every meagre trowel full throws up a wealth of worthless scraps – broken plates and saucers, handles (lots of handles), tiny clay cones that are sometimes mysteriously embedded in lumps of clay.

The work I’ve been making is about the space, and it’s about the nature of the material I’ve gathered. What it reminds me of. The simple rule is only to use the stuff I find on site: growing, buried or dumped. (Glue is the exception, though given time and knowhow even that could have been stewed up from roots or leaves, or spirited out of the tar.) I’ve collected a lot, with worryingly little time to take precautions - according to Richard Mabey’s book ‘Weeds’, some of these intruders are so toxic a couple of doses could kill a man. Trouble is, I don’t know which ones. Certainly not much to forage here unless you’re into beetles and ants - the resident cat has licked the crisp packets clean and tins bare and the sorrel is long past being tender. 
But all in all, the place is a delight. That old cliché of the pastoral idyll in the city rings true. Pity Tesco is selling it off. There’ll be a car park here soon. 
- Andrew Burton

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