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How can we develop a more sustainable public art practice?

How can we develop a more sustainable public art practice?

Increasingly we are all becoming more conscious about how the choices we make every day impact on the environment.

Published date: 06 December 2021

The recent COP26 Summit in Glasgow has certainly played a part in this and we are now finding that our project partners are demanding we give greater consideration to sustainability than ever before.

With a heightened awareness of this issue, our conversations with developers, builders and artists are focusing more and more on how the materials and processes used in our projects can take environmental impact into account. Chrysalis Arts are an organisation we stumbled across while working in Yorkshire. They offer a Greening Arts Practice Guide for artists and arts organisations who want to develop a more environmentally responsible arts practice. It’s also something we touched on in a recent podcast conversation with one of our lead artists, Katayoun Dowlatshahi. While we recognise we still have a lot to learn and some way to go on our sustainability journey, we will look to pioneering organisations such as Julie’s Bicycle who mobilise the arts and culture to act on the climate and ecological crisis.

This past month we were delighted to oversee the installation of The Loop – a sculpture made from willow by Julia Clark at the stunning lakeside homes development and country park, Conningbrook Lakes in Ashford, Kent.

This artwork is one of a number that are planned for the site – where we were previously selected as consultants to produce and deliver a Public Art strategy and programme. As part of this piece of work, we identified three themes, chosen to embrace of the rich experience of nature and wildlife at this beautiful location. Last year we wrote about Tim Norris’ sculptural bird hide that is currently being developed for installation in the coming months.

Dwell, Explore and Interact… have provided a framework around which we have commissioned artists to produce a variety of pieces to complement the setting and views.

To capture the Explore theme, Julia’s sculpture uses Willow in a circular structure – framing a stunning view of the lake and inviting visitors to interact with the artwork and landscape.

Willow was considered a sustainable natural material for this project as it grows fast, has a dense structure (reducing wasted space) and doesn’t need perfect ground to grow on, this all adds to its sustainable qualities. Willow is also a simple plant to grow, not requiring much attention and it decomposes naturally over time.

Julia’s approach to her sculptures is to explore the site first and create artwork that will aesthetically suit its surroundings. She likes to create pieces that will encourage people to look at the space around them and explore and enjoy the area they are in.

Julia is highly experienced in working with willow. She felt that it was a fitting material choice for this commission given the abundance of sustainable willow growing locally.

Talking about the inspiration for The Loop, Julia explained, “There is a lot of willow on the site because it’s very wet naturally. There are also lots of birds and wildlife so I felt my work would fit well here. After spending a week onsite, drawing the spaces and shapes created by the plants, birds and people I decided to create a piece that would embrace and relate to the tranquillity of the lake and surrounding park, encouraging people to EXPLORE, move from the houses out to the lake and natural areas.

I would like visitors and residents to interact with the sculpture, and enjoy framing various views of the lakes and parks around them. The Loop is an abstract form, handwoven from large willows on a steel frame and is to entice you to explore further into the rest of the park.

The willow I have worked with is from Coates English willows in Somerset, who have been growing and selling in willow since 1819. Traditionally used in basketry and sculpture it is grown for its strength and flexibility. I hope by using willow the sculpture fits well with the surrounding area, both in colour material and form.” says Julia.

We are delighted to see The Loop, take pride of place in its new home by the lake and have enjoyed working with Julia Clark to create such a fitting piece of art. As you can see on our website, this is part of a larger ongoing project where we have produced a public art strategy and are still working on a programme with other artists including Kerry Lemon, Tim Norris and Outdoor Studios, along with our project partners Chartway Group, Ashford Borough Council and local community engagement groups.

We look forward to the future commissions being unveiled in 2022 and 2023 and sharing more about these with you in the new year.




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