Longbridge Public Art Project (LPAP)
- Artists: Stuart Whipps, Cathy Wade, Ian Richards, Stephen Burke, Famed, Luke Perry
- Location: Longbridge, Birmingham
- Date: 2012 – 2018
- Produced by: WERK
- External links: WERK, Longbridge Public Art Programme
The enormous 468-acre Longbridge car factory had previously dominated the physical, social, economic and visual landscape of the area for nearly a century. The surrounding communities were devastated when production ground to a halt in 2005 and more than 6,000 workers at the Birmingham plant and many others in the region lost their jobs. While some of its existing communities were still making sense of the loss, the construction of large-scale retail units were underway, designed to bring new jobs and footfall to Longbridge. WERK believed that artists, contemporary art and socially-engaged practice should be at the heart of such a complex and evolving development.
How do you make sense of a place that has been transformed beyond almost all recognition in physical, economic, social and emotional terms? And what if it is still transforming before your eyes? How might a place move forward towards its future while holding sight of its past?
These were the questions that Claire Farrell, Director of WERK considered in late 2012 when devising the Longbridge Public Art Project. No single artist could hope to, or would even want to respond to one hundred years of complex history, let alone the sheer might and subsequent ramifications of the regeneration process itself.
WERK’s approach, therefore, was to set up an artist in residence framework within LPAP – openings for 10 long-term artists to embed themselves within the community over a period of time. Artist briefs were simply site and context-specific situations that provided public platforms for artists to explore the relationship between their practice, art, the built environment, communities and audience. Although titled Longbrigde Public Art Project the continuum commissioning model was set up to challenge traditional notions of what public art is, and specifically what the role of an artist is within the context of urban developments.
With its commissioning model of short-term, medium-term and long-term Artists-in-Residencies (AiRs) and projects by 54 ‘guest’ artists the Longbridge Public Art Project (LPAP) built upon extant community-led activity, shaped an arts programme and contributed to research-in-practice. It developed the relationships of public art, artists, heritage, open space and community development in a local area regeneration context. Sculpture, collage, photography, drawing, walks and interventions presented in public spaces, pop up gallery exhibitions, workshops, talks, events and discussions took place.
With its commissioning model of short-term, medium-term and long-term Artists-in-Residencies (AiRs) and projects by ‘guest’ artists the Longbridge Public Art Project (LPAP) built upon extant community-led activity shaping an art programme and contributed to research-in-practice. It developed the relationships between artists, socially engaged practice, heritage, urban planning and design and community development in a local area regeneration context. Working along a continuum model of commissioning, the AiRs platform and the rolling out of a wider programme of research, activities and events through partnership development, provided Longbridge with a catalyst for arts development of commissioned permanent and temporary works of art.
The project’s biannual Longbridge Light Festival was developed as a mega-event within the LPAP public engagement programme, taking place twice during the project in 2014 and 2016. The festival, proposed in the strategy development phase (2012) was created in response to a community who felt that the new town that was emerging on the 468 Brownfield site was alien to them and that permission was needed to visit the development. “Are we allowed up there?” was a recurring response received from numerous members of the community over a six-month research and consultation period to develop the project.
The public engagement programme engaged Bournville College and local schools, existing interest groups and social groups e.g. members of the social clubs or banner- makers associated a church group. Participation and partnership was at a hyperlocal level from the community, education and business sectors. e.g. the heritage of British car manufacturing in Longbridge and the social history contexts that enveloped it. In this way LPAP also provided a research framework acting as a host for artists’ commissions and project development. LPAP’s key research area focused on how relationships between physical space, social history, heritage and public art commissions could contribute to ‘place-making’ for an audience of people from the local residential population and communities.
The below permanent site specific works created by the artists each evolved holistically over a long period of time within the projects artist residency programme. The briefs were open specifying at times either a geographical area to work in and signposting people to initially contact for a cup of tea. All briefs included the heritage context of the area and the project aims.
Cathy Wade, Lighting and Planting Scheme, 2015
Working closely with St. Modwen’s urban planning and design team the artist sought to rethink the future of public and private space in Longbridge. Wade created a planting and lighting system for the new town centre within the planning stages of the development, whose ideas came through a 2014 iteration of a temporary light work intervention for Longbridge as part of the artist’s long term residency. Programmed lighting and a series of multi-stemmed birch trees transform a hard landscaped space into one that can be explored. This is a work of art with a practical and social function that will subtly alter according to season, time of day and the natural growth of the plants. Wade’s vision is for this work to metaphorically and physically connect aspects from different moments in the timeline of Longbridge to help pedestrians navigate the new walkways and publicly accessible areas, and to offer an alternative, nuanced perspective of the current site development.
Ian Richards & Cathy Wade, You Have Arrived 2017
Formed from fifteen new signs installed on Platform 1 & 2 at Longbridge train station, the artists have subverted traditional station signage by introducing a series of conversations between the two platforms. Wade and Richards’ work, derived from long-term residencies in Longbridge and many engagements with local community members, others a response to the site that explores how they and we might use, view and reconsider a place as familiar to us as a train station. The phrases that are introduced into the signs beneath the name of the station are taken from a multiplicity of sources. They have been edited from a collection of over two-hundred phrases. These include snippets of conversation heard in and around Longbridge, some of the phrases make reference to geographical characteristics of Longbridge such as “Changing Landscapes” and “The Hidden River” which look to celebrate these aspects, while others offer a more emotive or poetic response to the area. It is important to Wade and Richards that the phrases enable the station to be read as a kind of corporeal character in its own right, as a figurative echo chamber that has been animated through millions of conversations and thoughts for nearly a century. It is a space that lays dormant and begins to wake each day, living and breathing with the people that pass through it.
Industry of the Ordinary Thousand Trades, 2016
3,000 club members names were engraved on to stainless steel encased doors at the entrance to Greenlands Select Social Club. Chicago based artists Industry of The Ordinary worked with the committee and club members at the Greenlands Select Social Club to develop a permanent artwork titled ‘Thousand Trades’. This title comes from the central role Birmingham played in the Industrial Revolution and the plethora of trades that were once present in the city. Greenlands represents a living monument to the history of the region in this regard, as many trades people have passed through its doors over the decades. This work pays tribute to the concept of social club members, the camaraderie, unions and unity of a wealth of skills, craftsmanship and tenacity that enabled the clubs independent existence. This is a story that is echoed across the UK, social clubs have been significant contributors to the fabric of society for decades, some are declining, but all are defiant.
Cathy Wade, Star Map, 2015
When Lord Herbert Austin visited the old print works in Longbridge on 4 November 1905, a leap of imagination was required – this was the site he had selected for the Longbridge car factory. Underpinning Cathy Wade’s ‘Star Map’ are some of the intangible factors that brought Lord Austin to this particular part of southwest Birmingham. Rather than focus on the history of the plant per say, Wade’s sculpture is a carefully researched visualisation of the night sky over Longbridge, at its signature longitude and latitude, at the time of Lord Austin’s visit. Constructed from stainless steel, with constellations cut through to reveal points of light, this is a monument to an auspicious moment. ‘Star Map’ echoes the flux, energy and power of machinery within the ever-changing face of the skies above us.
Heritage Map, 2018
Local resident, historian and ex-factory worker John Baker has been one of a few integral community contributors throughout the duration of LPAP. He has supported the invited artists, artists-in-residence and the project overall to develop work through his extensive archives and comprehensive understanding of the complex heritage of the site. Baker’s knowledge of the site, through his archives, website and maps that chart the layout of the factory year by year of which became a critical starting point for numerous artists over the course of the project. Although the former factory remains as fresh in the minds of many of the ex-workers and residents today as it did decades ago, it had become a historical shadow silenced by the new town as it emerged. In late 2014 John Baker proposed a physical and visual presence in the form of a ‘Heritage Map’ to celebrate, to remember and to inform the next generation about the incredible history that has come to pass in Longbridge. Baker’s large scale layered stainless steel map depicts the site in 1985 at a time when most of the buildings that made Longbridge Car Factory still stood. Later on, various buildings were no longer used and some were knocked down incrementally, prior to the complete demolition of the site.
Stephen Burke, Longbridge Archives: This is the Spot, 2018
‘This is the Spot’ is a
digital site-speci c museum. Six ‘Rover red’
heritage plaques designed by the artist physically demarcate di erent areas of the former car factory. The plaques have QR codes embedded to enable access via smart devices to real time photographic archives of the area that the viewer is stood in.
The design of Burke’s plaques are based upon a red plaque recovered from the former factory site now displayed in the British Heritage Motor Museum. The six plaques physically punctuate former factory locations which are now lost, such as K Gate, North Works, Foundry and No 5 Machine Shop. The plaques enable access to a digital archive relating to the individual sites by scanning the unique QR codes that have been set into the plaque moulds. This archive will not only include additional factual data but also quotations, memories and stories from Longbridge residents and former workers that describe aspects of that place. The webpages can be accessed anywhere in the world and a comments section invites further contributions from members of the public to the dialogues about these places.
Stuart Whipps, The 1979 Mini Restoration Project, 2018
As part of his long residency with LPAP, one of the largest projects Whipps has undertaken is the restoration of a 1275GT Mini, which was made in Longbridge in 1979. This has been possible with the help of several former plant employees including the late much loved Keith Woodfield. Many of the processes of stripping down and replacing or repairing the parts were viewable for twelve months in a glass-fronted cabin-come-workshop in Longbridge Town Centre. The car was also exhibited in various galleries across the country as part of Whipps’ participation in the touring British Art Show exhibition. The (dis)assembly of the Mini provides an echo of the changes experienced by Longbridge itself. The display of the car in various states of repair showcased the signi cance of this part of British manufacturing heritage to a wider U.K. audience
Stuart Whipps (UK), Longbridge Colours 1979, 2019
In the artist’s first permanently-sited public artwork Whipps has produced a new sculpture series that will be situated under A38 bridge in 2019, a site significant within the former factory as one of the gateways for the factory and where unpainted cars were moved across the A38 road to the paint shop. As part of the redevelopment the artist has designed ten arch-shaped individually painted steel sculptures. These forms catalogue some of the many colours of body paint used for cars made at the plant during 1979 and will be painted using the same spraying process as car bodywork. The houndstooth pattern used within the works re ects the popular use of this pattern within car upholstery during this period of car manufacturing. Whipps interest in colour has arisen from the nostalgia that many people have for their first, or previous cars owned. Oral research conducted with local residents and former factory workers revealed that colour plays a big part of this emotional connection.
FAMED (GER), We Resemble Our Times More Than Our Parents, 2018
A public realm installation by German artist duo Sebastian M. Kretzschmar and Jan Thomaneck who work together as FAMED. The work is formed from a series of consecutive illuminated letters, which are set into the ground of one of Longbridge’s new walkways which stretches between Austin Park and the Beefeater restaurant. After multiple visits to Longbridge between 2014 - 2016 FAMED were keen to develop a work that would be directly embedded into the ground in Longbridge – one that has a literal and physical connection to the strata of the earth within this place and all the changes that have taken place here. The artist’s experiences, conversations, research and observations have been distilled into one work made from LEDs, toughened glass, acrylic and steel installed on site.
As you walk along the length of the work, the narrow bright white letters spell out a sentence which for the artists, is indicative of their experiences of and research into the varying nature of the Longbridge site. The sentence reads: ‘WE RESEMBLE OUR TIMES MORE THAN WE RESEMBLE OUR PARENTS’ and it is revealed and read only by walking backwards, tracing the line of the work that mirrors architectural site lines. The arrangement of the letters thereby begins to introduce ideas of history and the passing of time, while the words themselves equally call upon ideas of the role of living history in the shaping of our identities, favouring the in uence of the present moment above the impact of what has taken place before. The sentence itself comes from a line by the French philosopher and Situationist Guy Debord, whose works are of great importance to the artists. The openness of this statement aims to ensure that the work will remain critical, poignant and relevant to Longbridge in the years to come.
Luke Perry (UK), Longbridge Street Signs, 2014
Perry developed and installed a series of steel road signs in four sites across Longbridge in 2014. The words on each sign are phrases taken from conversations with numerous former plant workers, like much of Perry’s public works, directly re ecting the thoughts, experiences and emotions of people about place. One sign reads ‘I slept to the sound of the hammers’a particularly evocative statement about the audible and emotional reach of the plant. Perry’s series of street signs are subjective and open to interpretation, acting as meditations on and interventions within the landscape. It is signi cant that Perry manufactures each of his artworks himself, often using processes that have been used for multiple decades. This set of creative skills and knowledge connects his output directly to those of the Longbridge site. Perry’s working processes, as a maker of public artworks, consistently involve collaborations and discussions with communities.
Friends of Longbridge Open Spaces (FLOS) 2014
FLOS group members are representatives from the community and businesses in Longbridge. It was set up as part of LPAP in 2014-2015 to provide a mechanism for the delivery of future community- led events in open spaces that could be sustained beyond the then current facilitated LPAP public engagement programme. A ‘FLOS Coordinator’ was appointed by LPAP in its first year, which is a role that is now funded by St. Modwen. Since its inception the FLOS legacy has included dozens of facilitated community led activities including farmers markets, food and music events, annual community remembrance occasions and recently outdoor theatre in Austin Park.
Partners: St. Modwen PLC, Birmingham City Council, Bournville College
Supported by: Section 106 CIL (555,000) Arts Council England, Birmingham City University, Bournville College