Saturday, 16 August 2014

AirSpace Gallery Summer Residencies - #1 Brownfield by Andrew Burton

Over the last 7 weeks, it's been Residency Season here at AirSpace Gallery. Traditionally, a slow time for Gallery visits, as people take the chance to get away from it all, for the last two years we have programmed two short consecutively running 3 week residencies.

Each one has been targeted at a specific area of interest to us here at AirSpace, and we have seen Natasha Rees examine ideas of Advocacy both within and outwith her own practice, and Hazel France spent her time documenting the City Centre Park ahead of its soon-to-be successful Heritage Lottery Renovation Award.

This year, we had the pleasure of hosting Andrew Burton, and London Collective, Vulpes Vulpes.

2014 Residency #1 - Brownfield by Andrew Burton

We tasked Andrew with an exploration of a neighbouring Brownfield site - once housing a large 3 screen cinema and bowling alley, but latterly laid bare, for a decade, following demolition by new owners Tesco.

Andrew worked tirelessly on the site and in the Residency Space, over his 2 weeks, scouring the land, searching for evidence of a past, in the form of shards of old pottery and bone and becoming increasingly beguiled by the ubiquitous Brownfield inhabitant - the Buddleia. Each of the sculptures and, in fact the whole installation was made from material found on site, and ultimately included up to 5000 buddleia heads.

Halfway through the week Andrew wrote a small piece for our blog, reflecting his thinking about the sate. And reflecting it's clear that at this point his thinking about a final resolution for the residency started to formulate.

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

I just did a residency with AirSpace Gallery, which was brilliant. They wanted an artist to reinterpret a 'Brownfield' site - basically a demolition site strewn with thousands of old bricks and lumps of road which had been chewed up and dumped - it was an old cinema before. But it turned out that what interested me was not the bricks, but the buddleias that were growing there. They were just coming into flower. We picked thousands of them and they formed a kind of base for a set of small sculptures made out of wood and stones. Buddleias don't stay that amazing zinging purple colour for long - they turn brown and sort of shrink up in a few days. That deterioration from purple to brown, insects crawling out, and nature retreating and changing was a kind of involuntary performance.source: 


For us, the importance of this work is in the representation of the possibility for portions of urban space to be given way to natural green space - and space for people to linger. Provincial City Centres are at risk, as an emptying out process due to a change in shopping habits, means that Planners are going to be tasked with reimagining the point of the urban centre. We have to find reasons for people to stay in our centres once they have come.

Through this residency, Andrew has shown that by harbouring the before-our-eyes successful example shown by natural reclamation, beautiful managed city centre green spaces can be created. City centre Land is expensive. This site is up for sale now for £400,000. Land Use of this sort may not make money in and for itself,  but maybe if they help attract people to the centre, and crucially, give people a reason to stay longer than a quick determined visit to the shops, then they can have a slow release economic benefit to the benefit of lots of surrounding shops and businesses.

Not to mention a sense of cultural, social and pastoral benefit and well being.

Really interestingly, Andrew's Residency and his Presentation has kickstarted a determined conversation about the possibility of a community buy-back for the site - whereby, we might stop its conversion to another shop or car park, and find a greenspace future for it. The chances for this may be slim, but who knows?

It was great to see how Andrew was able to work in a new way, with new materials, to the brief in such a short residency, and still push his practice, despite his long working  experience, when it might have been tempting to play it safe. And the resulting majesty of his "Buddleia Vale" was wonderfully evocative, suggesting a real possible solution for a future for the Brownfield site - and a testament to his skills and endless endeavour.

When we designed these short residencies, we were unsure about whether the short time period might inhibit work of any scale or depth. This residency proves what is possible, and the creative impetus that concentrated working can inspire.

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