URBAN GARDENERS ARE HEROES 2019

This exhibition was the culmination of the MA in Fine Art that I completed in August 2019. I achieved a distinction and was awarded the Steele Art Prize for the exhibition.

The artwork represents a snapshot of the love and dedication that urban gardeners have for their soil. Preston growers buried a square of 100% cotton in their top soil and left it there for 6 to 8 weeks. This tests for biological activity; the less cotton there is at the end of the test, the healthier the soil. 

The ‘geography’ of these pieces of cotton, laid out on the table of soil, sketch out some of Preston’s valuable dirt, and give information about the soil and the health of its ecosystem. 

The recorded interviews reflect the gardeners’ relationships to their plots of earth.

Soil is one of the most diverse habitats on Earth, a teaspoon of it can contain more organisms than people on earth. 

In a single gram there may be millions of individuals and several thousand species of bacteria, several yards of invisible fungal hyphae, a few thousand protozoa, and dozens of nematodes. There will be worms and many other creatures within the thriving and complex ecosystem beneath our feet. This ecosystem is essential to the health of the soil, and therefore to human life.

Healthy soil acts as a massive carbon sink, storing three times as much carbon as the atmosphere. Degradation of the soil leads to increased carbon emissions and speeds up climate change.

It is easy to assume that the soil is abundant and until recently its complex living structure has not been fully investigated nor understood. The fact is that, although 90% of food is grown in the earth, very little soil is available, and globally it has been largely devastated by human efforts. Urban soil especially is being obliterated by our efforts. Over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and this figure is fast growing. So as urban dwellers, these Preston gardeners are exceptional.

Sharing the results of the cotton burying tests serve as a means to consider the question of care and the overlooked; how the foundations of human life can be overlooked in plain sight, and then neglected.

The degeneration of the soil globally is one of the two main areas I have observed, the other being the obscurity of the role of artists in March of the Artists (2018).

Both the soil and the work of artists are used to sustain human beings, but they themselves are not being sustained adequately. There is a lack of care taken in relation to both.

Long live urban soil heroes.

I’d like to thanks growers 

Tony

Erika

Julie

Abdul

Trisha

Chris

Olivia

Annie

Also Let’s Grow Preston, Jenny and Annie

And a big thank you to Elaine for her support and guidance and to Magda Stawarska-Beavan for helping me with editing the interviews.

The March of the Artists – 2018

 

 

 

In August 2018, Lauren Sagar, together with artists Eve Robertson and John-Paul Brown walked 250 miles from Manchester to London in 25 days. Inspired by The Blanketeers, a group of impoverished Lancashire textile workers who planned to march to London to petition the Prince Regent in March 1817, March of the Artists was a political act, which sought to start discussions about the visibility of artists within our towns and cities.

Honouring Manchester’s radical history, March of the Artists drew connections between current transformations of the urban landscape and the massive changes wrought 200 years ago by industrialisation. The recent transformation of cities such as Manchester, due to intense property development, is having a huge impact on artists’ access to space – spaces to live, work, create, meet and organise as communities. The impact of this has highlighted the obscurity of the role of artists and the contributions that they make to the places in which they live and work.

Armed with their own artist petition, the artists discussed these issues with individuals and groups in towns and cities along the route. Instigating creative activities in public spaces such as libraries and in exchange for accommodation, the artists relied upon the hospitality of the people that they met, and slept in canal boats, a cricket club, over a sweet shop and in artists’ spaces. Their petition evolved further thanks to these conversations, and on 25th August, under the statue of Millicent Fawcett in London’s Parliament Square, they read it out publicly.

Lauren came across the March of the Blanketeers while working on her project Call For Cloth. The year long project, which invited people to share their stories of cloth and clothing, was commissioned by wewioraprojects for their touring exhibition, Tall Tales. Sixty people from four cities were involved; London, Manchester, Rochdale and Glasgow and three new blankets were created, one of these travelled to London with March of the Artists in solidarity with the Blanketeers.

 

March of the Artists Petition – Phase 1

The March of the Blanketeers

In 1817, the March of the Blanketeers planned to draw attention to the problems facing local unemployed spinners and weavers. Thousands of protesters met in Manchester to start the march to London, hoping to hold meetings and gain support along the way. Each would carry a blanket, (hence Blanketeers) to keep them warm at night, and to indicate to others that they were textile workers. They would each have a petition for the Prince Regent fastened to his arm. The petitions contained a request that the Prince would take measures to remedy the wretched state of the cotton trade. They were attacked by soldiers almost as soon as they set off; in Stockport several received sabre wounds and one man was shot dead.  Around four or five hundred got as far as Macclesfield and Leek; most of them were turned back at the Hanging Bridge over the Dove as they were about to enter Derbyshire. Only one ‘Blanketeer’ managed to reach London.

 

HMP Styal Blanket

HMP Styal / National Trust Quarry Bank Mill

Commissioned by Quarry Bank Mill, central to this project  was the collaboration between two artists; one in prison, and one out of prison – me. We worked together to create two pieces; one to be exhibited in A Woman’s Work is Never Done and the other to be exhibited and donated to, Her Majesty’s Prison Styal.

As the lead artists, one of our aims was to reach out to other women at HMP Styal to encourage their participation and their contribution. In our conversations, we found parallels in what we experienced as women, prisoners, and artists, when confronted with limited resources; we are very practical, creative and productive. We found that this experience often went unnoticed both by us and the larger community and created a gap in the full picture of what we contribute.

I was told that women in prison are incredibly creative with one of the free resources they have in prison; sanitary ware. They created a list of some of the uses, and we made artwork out of the resource.

Here is the list they made for the exhibit;

•  Used to create sheep for an artwork

•  Used as insoles in boots and shoes

•  Used on windows and doors to stop them from banging

•  Used to put foundation on

•  Used on the feet when cleaning the floor

•  Used on mirrors for a streak free shine

•  The insides used with rizlas to make filter tips

•  The insides used as snow on the windows at Christmas

•  Used to revive a broken lighter

•  Used to apply blusher

•  Used to dress wounds

•  Used on partitions to stop coats from falling

•  Used on windows to block out light

•  Used to spin a taper

This was an important example of the skilfulness and adaptability of these women. The various uses are skills passed on from woman to woman as they come and leave the prison: decorative, useful and sometimes essential. We decided to use sanitary ware as our art material. It created no risk to the prisoners we were to work with. It would illuminate to the women their ingenuity and creativity. It became the thing that reflected back to us the gold thread that we each have within us but can easily forget, the work we carry out that is just what we do, not paid for or recognised externally.

This artwork was site specific and is now part of Quarry Bank Mill’s collection.

The second artwork is a blanket created with designs that the two lead artists created. It now lives at the prison.

Here is the prisoner’s response to being involved in the project;

“I appreciated and benefitted from being involved in a different way of making art – it’s not just about drawing and painting. I think it will influence my artwork in the future.

It was exciting having something exhibited in such a public place. I especially liked the idea that the exhibit created debate because of its medium – sanitary ware. We didn’t make this obvious so people had to work hard to find out what it was about and it stirred many conversations when Lauren and I were installing.

I enjoyed the collaboration with another artist and would do this again.”

The artwork highlights and celebrates this rich vein of resourcefulness demonstrated by women, be they mothers, artists, prisoners or scientists.

Artist Pam Armstrong also kindly contributed two pieces that she created from tampons. One was integrated into the piece at Quarry Bank, and the other exhibited at HMP Styal.