Art + Place

The unexpected, edgy, challenging and ephemeral often characterise art with the greatest impact. How best then to integrate influential art into the far more permanent, risk adverse world of property and development? This was a subject of discussion at Art+Place, a Place North West talk for the Buy Art Fair 2015, chaired by Paul Unger.

Shared experience united hundreds as a flash mob flooded Trafalgar Square in 2002, using traditional London umbrellas to create a fluid structure. This ‘happening’ was the Office of Subversive Architecture’s first UK project, realised by discussion panellist Karsten Huneck, and Bernd Trümpler. It tapped into Karsten’s desire to induce an experience and alter people’s feeling about a place.

Art’s ability to alter perception and feelings about a place can be harnessed and used as a powerful precursor to development. Planit-IE’s proposals for Liverpool Waters, presented by Managing Partner Pete Swift, looked at opportunities for the outdoor display of Tate Liverpool’s collection, but it was the impermanence of meanwhile uses that appeared to offer the freedom for bolder expression. The derelict graving docks and monumental granite gateways are a far cry from the safe world of civic statuary adorning many of our city centres.

Fellow speaker and Director of Manchester’s Castlefield Gallery, Kwong Lee, has also explored transient opportunities for art. Kwong took advantage of spaces and buildings that were temporarily available during the market downturn, to form display space. This has included use of Federation House in Manchester to provide experimental exhibition, work and training space. Typically paying a peppercorn rent, he brings artists together to create bespoke pieces for a specific location over a limited timeframe.

A period of austerity and severe lack of funding has proved surprisingly fertile for the arts – adversity is the mother of invention and despite restrictions, to many, art is a life essential rather than an optional extra. So can the advantages be realised for wider benefit, now and for future generations?     

By its very nature development offers transformational change – the breeding ground for experimentation – and the place/space for artistic expression. However, this is infrequently realised, much to the frustration of artistic communities. Encouragement through amendment of commissioning development consultants; funding; early artistic involvement; and planning conditions were all discussed. Whilst such interventions may provide a steer, a wider appreciation of how art can be integrated into the built environment to enrich our daily lives is clearly required.

This awareness is gaining strength through a growing body of artistic enterprises and alliances. From grassroots community initiatives through to extensive regeneration plans instigated by large-scale institutions and civic commissions, the value of investing in art is being recognised.

One such example is the integration of artwork within the soon to be completed Sadler’s Square, at the heart of the Co-operative’s historic estate. Designs for kerb stones, floor plates and signs, through to intricate fretwork set in towering lighting totems, draw on the original architectural splendour of the site’s surrounding heritage. Creative collaboration between Landscape Architects Planit-IE, Graphic Designers United Creatives, and sculptural metalworkers Chris Brammall Ltd has focused on craftmanship to embed artistry into the very fabric and material of the place. This expression is set to permeate throughout the NOMA neighbourhood – a physical benchmark of quality and enduring manifestation of the initiative’s values of equality and public benefit. 

The artist’s ability to create art that enriches everyday people’s everyday lives is an amazing gift, but just as much creativity is required to create the conditions and opportunities to achieve this. We love the challenge on both sides. The prize? The opportunity for art to touch the lives of many within a truly public realm.