It’s not often we get to install sculptures on our own doorstep.
But occasionally …
Last year we were invited to create and curate the first outdoor exhibition space for sculptures in the Baltic Quarter, home of our Liverpool studio. For the last six months, the plinth has been the temporary home of three large and very intriguing bronze cats, by London based sculptor Laura Ford. www.lauraford.net
The empty warehouses of the Baltic are being reenergised into a vibrant creative hub. Five years ago, with a number of pioneering creative businesses and art organisations already established here, plans were afoot to revamp a set of bland industrial steel buildings into modern, attractive and cool studio space. We were given a short term lease on one of those units while the plans were being drawn up. It was always going to be temporary and after a year we relocated to a large dilapidated but serviceable warehouse, just round the corner. Here we gained the space to fabricate the increasing number of monumental bronzes we were being commissioned to make.
Our old space was imaginatively transformed into Unit 51, the creative hub of the area and home to Baltic Creative who continue to successfully develop and manage the area under the guidance and dedication of their MD Mark Lawler:
“We were established to provide a business space and advocate for creative and digital businesses within the area. We’ve also played a key role in regeneration. What we’ve achieved, what our businesses have achieved, in the last five years is phenomenal. Whilst commercial properties in Liverpool have struggled over the past couple of years Baltic Creative is fully let and our tenants have grown their businesses and are out-performing many other sectors. Our success will only grow as 30% of our tenants joined in the last two years. The next step is to determine how we can grow further and continue to have a positive social, economic and regenerative impact of the spaces we work.” www.baltic-creative.com
Baltic Creative’s office and the glass fronted cafe in 51, look out over Jamaica Street, the main road that cuts through the centre of the Baltic. The cafe has become a popular meeting place and is always busy. The view featured an unused and ugly street corner formed by the back of two modern industrial buildings and a row of air conditioning units.
Mark approached us about the idea of creating an outdoor exhibition space to make better use of the corner and bring public art to the neighbourhood. It was also a symbol of how far Baltic Creative had come as it prepared to celebrate its fifth birthday and a chance for us to showcase some of the sculpture we make on right the doorstep. We agreed to design and curate the space with a new sculpture being shown every six months.
The plinth was designed by architect Cintia Prieto who works for Castle Fine Arts.
“The idea for the design was to create a neutral canvas, dressing the existing space as a backdrop for viewing the sculptures elevated on the plinth: a solid concrete foundation framed by a textured metal screen. Public sculpture forms a focal point. By incorporating seating into the design, the outdoor exhibition space becomes the place where the people can rest, think, meet, interact. The nature of temporary exhibitions requires a flexible space. The corner could exhibit sculptures or even be transformed as a stage for an artistic performance.”
The stepped concrete plinth was built by PHD1 Construction with Blok Architecture, who sponsored the project. Castle Fine Arts fabricated the steel framework and fitted the aluminium panels provided by Locker Architectural, which create the backdrop to the sculptures.
We invited Laura Ford to show her bronze cats, characters frozen in a moment of theatre from her major sculpture,”Days of Judgement”. She was happy to be involved in our pioneering project and came to site the works in November last year.
“Laura Ford’s starting point for the work was Masaccio’s fresco ‘The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden’. In Ford’s postlapsarian vision, however, the characters of Adam and Eve are reconfigured as a group of very tall, skinny cats dressed from head to foot in serious black clothing and cast, eternally, into Bronze. Pacing the floor they appear to be in various states of anxiety and distress. Part cat burglar, part cartoon characters they not only evoke Dr. Seuss’s absurdist Cat in a Hat illustrations but also conjure something of T.S. Eliot’s anxious office workers in The Waste Land streaming over London Bridge wracked with existential angst. Here in Liverpool we have three of the cats on a corner of the Creative Quarter still pacing and anxious and, like today’s bankers ground down with the worry of financial and social collapse, still finding it very hard to return to Eden.”
The space officially opened with a party at Unit 51 as part of the five year celebration and was dedicated to the memories of Claire McKeown and Paul Rice, founder members of Baltic Creative CIC “… two individuals who were instrumental in developing the vision for Baltic Creative which has had such a great impact on the regeneration of the Baltic Triangle.” The sculpture had impact too. Every time I passed the plinth somebody was taking a snap. I kept an eye on the space, anticipating the graffiti that didn’t arrive. The cats marked out and claimed their territory, but novelty soon looses out to familiarity and, in no time at all, the “Cats” are part of the neighbourhood. A fresh landmark in a changing landscape.
As I walk along Jamaica Street I give our “Cats” a passing glance. I’ve got used to seeing them standing on their plinth, but that brief glance lifts my spirits, reminding me we are involved in a pioneering process of positive change. To witness, in fact, a city regenerating before my eyes.
I imagine other works we can show on the plinth and how they would impact on the space. It makes me think of other sculptures we have made and what would work in the space. What story could connect the work to here. The reason why, if there has to be one. Perhaps the works should tell their own story, impacting our neighbourhood with their own piece of street theatre.
Soon the pioneering cats will be leaving Liverpool. They will be joining four more, the full set, in Laura’s show at Strawberry Hill in London, the first in that place too.
Its exciting to be pioneers.
As quickly as the “Cats” appeared on Jamaica St. they will be gone, to be replaced by …?
Watch this space!
Photos © Pete Carr 2014