Favourite Forms and Lesser Known Treasures

Harlow is certainly blessed with many amazing sculptures. Even a brief shopping trip around the town centre will bring you into close proximity with works produced by some of the world’s best known sculptors such as Henry Moore and Auguste Rodin.

Not living in the town, but getting to know it better over the course of my virtual residency at the Gibberd Gallery, I have come to appreciate that there is a deep connection between Harlow citizen and Harlow sculpture. Judging from the number of comments I’ve read and heard recently, many people feel a tangible affinity to one or more works, be it through everyday observation or childhood memory. Perhaps there are also subconscious connections for those who look but don’t necessarily see the many fine sculptural forms located around the town.

An article published on the BBC Essex website suggests that “Harlow’s sculpture collection has become as much part of the social history and human geography of the town as its housing, public buildings and open spaces.”

Back in 2012, artist Amanda Westbury encouraged Harlow residents to vote for their favourite sculptures which then featured in her work “The Glass Bead”, currently displayed on the ground floor of the Civic Centre. At that time the top nine were:

  1. Family Group (Henry Moore) Civic Centre
  2. Donkey (Willi Soukop) Pittmans Field
  3. Solo Flight (Antanas Brazdys) First Avenue
  4. Energise (Clare Bigger) Leisurezone Carpark
  5. Pisces (Jeff Watkins) Water Gardens, Town Park
  6. Boar (Elisabeth Frink) Water Gardens, Town Centre
  7. Contrapuntal Forms (Barbara Hepworth) Glebelands Housing Area
  8. Shenzhou (Simon Packard) Addison House Courtyard
  9. Eve (Auguste Rodin) Water Gardens, Town Centre

But what about lesser known and possibly overlooked works?
Through my Facebook page, I invite readers to share with me their favourite Harlow sculpture, particularly if it is not on the list above. And if you have the time and inclination, please do tell me why you like it.

portrait-figure-cropPicture of ‘Portrait Figure’, F.E. McWilliam, Bronze, 1956, located West Walk.

Harlow Early Growth Indicators

As part of my research into the Harlow post-war collections and new town legacy, I’ve been looking at some of the statistical data used to track the growth of the new town economy (population, houses, jobs etc). Collection of statistics was an important element of managing growth and anticipating change for the Harlow Development Corporation right from the beginning, with greater sophistication of analysis developing over time.

An early, rather ‘rough and ready’ analysis of the new town’s demographic make-up likened the age structure of Harlow ‘to that of a developing country’, 20% of the population were under 5, 40% were under 15. These were easy-to-digest figures that chimed with the Daily Mirror moniker for Harlow at that time, ‘pram town’.

Taking a step back from the detail, a couple of things strike me, firstly the sheer scale and quantity of data that was collected and remains available to this day, for example at Harlow Museum. Secondly, the entirely visceral speed of urban growth that these statistics bear witness to: in terms of houses built, school places fulfilled, square metres of shop and factory floors created etc.

I’ve been playing around with a selection of the key indicators to see what they look like when plotted side-by-side over time, an infographic if you like. Data and quotes taken from “Harlow: The Story of a New Town” by Gibberd, Harvey, White and others.


Portals for Mortals installed

Portals for Mortals exhibited over the weekend of August 20th and 21st as part of the Park Tales festival at Thorpe Meadows, Peterborough. The installation was received with enthusiasm by participants despite gusty conditions and the occasional heavy shower.

richard-daviesPicture by Richard Davies.

Reframe Virtual Residency

I’m pleased to announce that I have been commissioned by the Harlow Art Trust to undertake  a virtual residency at the Gibberd Gallery, Harlow, culminating in an online interactive art work to launch in November 2016. The commissioning strand is called ‘reframe’ and I’ll be posting thoughts using the tag ‘reframe’ until as and when I think of a better name for the final work! Essentially, I’ve been asked to ‘reflect, challenge and celebrate the Harlow aesthetic, its post-war collections and the unique and utopian New Town values.’

Having been over to Harlow only briefly to discuss the commission with staff at the Gibberd, I thought I would visit today purely to get my ‘feet on the ground’ and find out a bit more about the way the town as it is came into being.

Harlow was one of the ring of new towns built around London in the aftermath of the Second World War when strategic planners attempted to cater for and manage population growth and movement rather than let it expand organically. Harlow was unique among the designated development areas in that its original population was particularly low at 4,500 being chiefly dispersed between small hamlets and villages. Perhaps this unique situation was thought of as a  particularly ‘blank canvas’ by town planners led by Frederick Gibberd, namesake and forefather of the Gibberd Gallery.

“The design of a town – like the design of a car – is based on function. It has to work smoothly and efficiently. But, as with a car, we like a town to give pleasure to the eye, to be beautiful. So the history of Harlow’s design is also concerned with art, with the imagination that has been put into soving the practical problems.” Frederick Gibberd, quoted in ‘Harlow the Story of a New Town’, 1980.

The process of creating a new town such as Harlow was certainly imbued with idealism. It had to be as there were no immediate comparable precedents that had proved succesful although the earlier Garden City Movement was certainly an influence. The pre-war development of new housing estates outside of London, such as at Dagenham, was seen as problematic due to lack of local infrastructure and employment opportunities. Conversely, the post-war development strategy was to create self-sufficient, self-employing new towns that would attract industry and be able to provide for themselves.

It seems unthinkable now that central government would have the audacity, let alone the political will, to commission the planning and development of new towns designed for 70,000+ inhabitants on green field sites.

1947sketch1947 sketch imagining civic life in the future new town of Harlow.

townHarlow today showing part of the cast bronze sculpture ‘Trigon’ (1961) by Lynn Chadwick.


Callout to Peterborough Musicians


Calling Peterborough music makers. Do you want to have some musical fun?!

I’m inviting Peterborough-based musicians, music makers and wannabe musos of ALL kinds to help devise and record a series of weird and wonderful fanfares.

There are four sessions available, with a maximum of 12 participants for each session:

  • 9/7/2016, 10am – 12pm
  • 9/7/2016, 12pm – 2pm
  • 23/7/2016, 12pm – 2pm
  • 23/7/2016, 2pm – 4pm

To see registery pages for all sessions, click here.

What is a fanfare? A short musical passage that makes us think of celebration, probably dramatic and possibly quite loud. Ta-daah!

Why does it need to be weird and wonderful? It doesn’t, that’s just a way of saying that any instrument and musical style can be used to create a fanfare, at least that’s what the project hopes to prove!

What’s it all for? The final recordings will be used as part of an interactive art takeover of a high-profile sculpture in Peterborough, details to be announced very soon.

Do I need to be a virtuoso? Musical talent is optional but certainly appreciated! More important is imagination and willingness to try something out with other music makers.

What kinds of instruments are suitable? Literally anything that you can bring down to the studio and plug in or that can be mic’d up, including your voice.

What do I do next? If you are interested in coming along to a local recording studio and helping to create a unique fanfare on either the 9th or 23rd of July 2016, simply register yourself for one of the recording sessions currently available. First come, first served, so what are you waiting for?

Nene Park Commission

I’m pleased to announce that I have been commissioned to create an artistic intervention at the Nene Valley Sculpture Park in August of this year. The Nene Valley Park itself is a lovely area of water, woods and fields that plays host to a variety of activities including dog walking, fishing, rowing, running, cycling and sailing to name but a few, let alone being a great space to simply wander round.


The sculptures themselves occupy Thorpe Meadows, an area close to the city of Peterborough, accesed simply by following the river Nene upstream. The majority of the pieces were originally purchased by the Peterborough Development Corporation which then set up the Peterborough Sculpture Trust in 1988 to manage the collection, incidentally which includes a Gormly and a Caro. More sculptures were commissioned by the Trust in the following years and many were relocated from outlying towns to the Nene Valley Park where they now stand, mostly in Thorpe Meadows.


Although they have their basic needs catered for (!) the sculptures are in need of a little TLC. Signage is generally overgrown. Some nearly floated off in a recent flood. One or two are in need of repair. One has been rather unsympathetically ‘re-plinthed’. Sadly, another was stolen. Many people who regularly pass by the surviving exhibits are not particularly aware of them and do not feel that they have much relevance to themselves. This is evidentally a situation so problematic that is has been turned over to a bunch of half-crazed artists to have a go at solving! Or at least that’s my take…


As part of a strategy to reinvigorate the sculpture park and re-engage the attention of the people of Peterborough towards this quite extensive collection, Vivacity, the not-so-long-ago outspun Entertainment, Culture and Leisure capability of Peterborough City Council, has awarded a series of arts commissions to be (mostly) realised at a weekend event it is organising to take place 20th/21st of August. The ‘Myths and Mini Beasts’ family friendly weekend will certainly help to pull in local families of the area.

But I think each of the five commissioned artists probably hopes to develop a more artistically interesting outcome and somehow create a more profound connection between the people of Peterborough and their semi-forgotton sculpture collection.

The other artists are:

Rich White, Lyndall Phelps, Kevin Green of Store Projects and Scottee.

Watch this space!



Sound Sculpture R&D

I’ve been investigating use of the Mogees contact mic system to sonify sculpture.

Talking Trees in-play footage

In-play footage of the Talking Trees of Chalkwell Park.

Hi Siri

Last Friday evening I was working with producer/writer/choreographer Lydia Fraser-Ward and dancer/physical actor Philippa Hambly at Rich Mix, Bethnal Green where Hi Siri was presented as part of the Women of Mass Destruction 3. Hi Siri featured pre-recorded and live interactive visuals created with the latest version of the Kinect sensor which is basically even better all round than the first version, in itself quite excllent.

Hi Siri is about a relationship between a woman, Iris, and her phone, Siri. It begins with Siri being plugged into the ‘flat OS’ thus giving her control of all domestic services, signalling the start of a general takeover bid by Siri upon Iris’ life. The interaction design follows a trajectory from Siri being a jumble of curves and lines to a recognisably human (albeit digital) form.

It was great to work within the performance environment for a change. After a lot of pre-design I only had to press a few buttons on the night, but obviously they still had to be the right buttons in the right order! That 20m USB extension finally came in handy. Thankfully the perfomance went well and congratulations are due all round. A couple of stills follow…

Hi Siri

Hi Siri


Play Table: Iteration 3

Now that the dust of the summer holidays has settled, I’ve had chance to edit some video of the Play Table R&D project as it appeared at FACT, Liverpool, in August.