Wednesday, 18 May 2011


Today was the installation day for 'Flood' created by me and Jane Lawson on the bank of Chorlton Brook, for Chorlton Arts Festival's Big Art Walk.  After weeks of planning and making, it is finally up and it looks great.  We are hoping it will survive for the 10 days of the festival, as it is very vulnerable to vandalism!

The piece refers to the history of Chorlton which is situated on a flood plain of the Mersey River. Chorlton Ees, now a nature reserve, was used as a flood meadow until the river defences were built, which ensures  that the Mersey no longer overflows.

For the installation, we turned a tree into a giant flood gauge by cladding it in a knitted sleeve made from copper wire with bands marking the levels of contemporary and historic floods. The floods we have represented are one local historic flood, the 3ft flood that overflowed Chorlton Brook in 1961, and three recent floods, the 6 ft flood in Sheffield in 2007, the 8 ft flood in Cockermouth in 2009 and the 10ft flood in Pakistan in 2010.

By showing how high the water rose in these recent devastating floods, the audience has a glimpse of the visceral experience of seeing familiar landmarks underwater, and it brings into peoples consciousness the real impact of flooding. We used copper electrical wire to make the connection between one of the causes and one of the effects of climate change.

On Saturday we will lead a group of people on a flood walk from the installation through Chorlton, following the contours of different flood risk areas, showing which areas are currently vulnerable to flooding according to the Environment Agency, and how flood risks may increase in the future. We will be assisted by local climate change experts.

It has been a great experience working with Jane, one of my closest friends, and I think the piece looks fantastic. It is up until May 30th, so go and see it if you can.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark - Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, New York 1970's

Not the most catchy title for an exhibition, but the show is pretty diverse.  The exhibition covers the work of the three artists from the beginning of the 1970's to Matta-Clark's untimely death in '78, and includes installation, drawing, sculpture, and performance.

The artists were peers during a difficult period in New York's history, when the city was struggling with poverty and violence.  New York represented danger and risk, and it was a long time before the 'I heart NY' tourist campaign began to transform people's idea of the city.

The other side of the economic meltdown, was the availability of cheap space for artists, dancers and performers who moved in en mass, turning the city into a laboratory for new creativity. Trisha Brown, a dancer who moved to New York from California in 1961, took dance out of the studio, for example, in 'Roof Piece' which stationed dancers on rooftops across the city, performing a synchronised improvised dance, or in 'Woman Walking Down a Ladder' where she walked horizontally from a water tower on the roof of a building, suspended by an invisible rope.

Three of her performance pieces are shown in the gallery, all involving an element of arial work.

Matta-Clark, an architect by training, was interested in the fabric of the city, as well as it's inhabitants.  After helping to design and build a loft space for dance and performance, he established a cafe called 'Food', which was both an extension of his artistic practice, a flexible employer for freelancers and a place for artists to gather and socialise.  Amongst his other work was 'Splitting', which involved dissecting an entire house.  The four corners of the house's roof are presented in the gallery as sculptural objects, complete with chimney, roof tiles and wallpaper.

Laurie Anderson's sound pieces stretch from the domestic, 'Duet for Door Jamb and Violin' where the sound of the bow hitting the door frame as the musician stands in the door way creates a precussion for the piece, to the monumental, in 'Stereo Decoy: a Canadian-American Duet' which sees a piano suspended on a crane across the River Niagara.  All her work is illustrated with beautifully executed drawings, showing the skill that got her work as a political cartoonist while still a student.

The exhibition is fascinating, and has particular resonance as we enter a new economic crisis. It is an example to artists of how we can use even the most dire situations to create exciting and innovative work.