Wonders of Weston: Playground of the Future

Got back from the Wonders of Weston.

It was the first time I had been to Weston-super-Mare since 2004 on a Drama trip to watch a production of The Cenci in the Playhouse Theatre. We basically spent the day playing on the beach and visiting the pier.

Emerging from the station in 2010, into an overcast Weston-super-Mare, my first port of call was the Information Hall. This as it happens was in the Quaker friends meeting room, which created a bizarre juxtaposition with the subversive machinations of Wrights & Sites. Here were artefacts, photographs and information from and for each of the works dotted throughout the town. A model of Tania Kovats’ sculpture Holm, a model of Ruth Claxton’s scultpture And My Eyes Danced, textual fragments from Tim Etchells, visual fragments from Wrights & Sites and a video featuring interviews with the artists involved.

With time to kill, I left the warmth of the Information Hall and headed southwards along the Marine Parade. Eventually, I found Ruth Claxton’s sculpture And My Eyes Danced, a fascinating piece that looks like it is fact emerging from the former Model Yacht Pond. The odd yet beautiful colours that appeared in the sky that day were redoubled in this sculpture, through their reflections on to the shimmering water.

Nearby and further along the parade was Tim Etchells’ Shelter Piece a welcome place to shelter from the wind and the drizzle. The clear glass on three sides provides a wonderful Weston vista, a watchtower to observe the world. The masterstroke of the piece though comes in the form of textual fragments engraved into the panes of glass themselves. Barely perceptible from a distance, these fragments are scenes witnessed by Etchells over a twenty-four hour period in Weston. They give the viewer the opportunity to in a sense, annotate the landscape in front of them, manoeuvring themselves in different ways to locate the same text in different places. These scenes do not become then bound to a specific location but become part of the vast sea of memories. Photographing them was a lot of fun.

Leaving Shelter Piece and heading northwards back to the Information Hall, I saw some local youths taking part in some free-running, running and somersaulting over the wall onto the beach. I had to resist the urge not to join them as it looked like a lot of fun. I’ve actually been researching Parkour and Free-Running recently in fact, and am keen to do a bit of it around Exeter (as there are a lot of structures I’d like to climb there).

At the Information Hall, I downed a cup of tea and waited for the next piece to begin, a brief drift with Wrights & Sites on their project Everything you need to build a town is here.  As Stephen Hodge highlighted in his opening speech, although this walk would adopt the format of the tour, there is no specific trail that has to be followed for this piece. The artist/writer collective have affixed a small sign post in over forty locations dotted throughout the town. Each one designed to change your perception of the Weston that exists, existed and could exist. Each sign is also a part of the eight themes or layers that have been chosen by Wrights & Sites: The Panoptic, Foundations, The Great Architect, The Amateur Builder, The Botanical, Light, Time, and Ands. Cathy Turner compared these layers to stratas of rock, which reminded me of the Extended Cloister project I worked on in Torbay during the summer and the geological mapping of that area. Cathy also illustrated why they decided to not create a series of trails threaded throughout the town, as the signposts would have to be closer together in a bid for a route to be easily followed, which would consequently limit the scope of the project. Simon Persighetti added that these signs are not Wrights & Sites vision of Weston, but are there as a means to encourage a change in perception of our vision of this place. We were then given our own blank signs in which to write our own ideas about future architectures.

And so we began our walk, our first port of call being that of the Atlantic Toilets on the seafront. Phil Smith stood outside and referred us to the signpost (in the layer of ‘Ands’) which concerned the undersea telegraph cable which began here and ended in Newfoundland. Since then, he has realised that the sign is inaccurate, and his speech concerned him ‘making the best of a bad job’ highlighting the ever changing nature of signs (He highlighted an example of a sign for a nearby B&B in which the decimal point has fallen off, meaning that it costs £2250 to spend a night there) and how in the art world we attempt to establish a line of connection, but it may end up elsewhere. Blank postcards of Weston were then handed out for us to write on our ‘ideal utopia’, to keep safe, to stumble upon one day and post if such a utopia is achieved.

From the public toilets we moved to a Carlton Street Car park, where a sign (in the layer of ‘Time’) encouraged us to envision the houses that were here previously. Here, Cathy asked Phil to get a parking ticket, which was then affixed to the arm of one of the group, a reminder of the fact that the occupation of space here has a cost. Cathy then produced various homely objects for us to hold, and we all grouped together closely, to sustain the impression of rebuilding a house, within a rainy car park.

Monsoon season kicked in as we reached our next stop, Dolphin Square Car Park (in the layer of ‘The Great Architect’). Here Simon, brought our attention to the Great Architect of Weston, and what they had envisioned for this particular place. A cardboard model of a building featuring a small picture of the architect was produced with a small peephole, and we were encouraged to look through and see what the Great Architect saw. Stephen then gave us each a blob of plasticine, and we braved the downpour to the last sign on our journey.

Walliscote Primary School (‘The Great Architect’), the sign influenced by the Dada musician Erik Satie who once wondered what sort of music the four year olds now will make in the future. Here Wrights & Sites have taken that notion and applied it instead to architecture, with Stephen producing a architect’s model of a future school designed and created by his four year old daughter, complete with a commentary as to how all of its varying facets worked with one another. He then produced a map of Weston converted into a chessboard and asked each of us to create a building of the future out of our plasticine and to place it on a square.

Due to overrunning slightly, I only caught the tail end of Tim Etchells’ reading and therefore unfortunately, I cannot comment on it.

With dusk setting in I grabbed some tea and cake from the conveniently placed VW vans (which were dotted throughout Weston as part of the event) and walked northwards, bumping into two locals who had a background in site-specific art. It was really interesting getting their perspective of it, having outside artists working on their own turf.

Walking up to Madeira Cove, we happened upon Tania Kovat’s sculpture, Holm, a wonderful hulk of white polished concrete modelled on the island of Steep Holm which can be seen in the distance. The first thing everyone did when seeing it was to touch it, to read it with their fingertips. It makes quite a striking image, placed in this small garden like a lone iceberg, a piece of icecream or clotted cream, an island that has become an inland. Entertaining the group of people circling this sculpture were a local orchestra, who played an eclectic mix of music (ranging from Bryan Adams to Glen Miller).

Afterwards, I walked across Lara Favaretto’s Without earth under foot, a causeway flecked with shards of phosphorescent material. Obviously its effect became more pronounced, the darker it became, revealing what I can only describe as a cosmic path of stars and wisps of galaxies, that create a strange sensation that is only realised when you leave the path behind and return to earth.

Leaving the path behind, I had some time to kill before my train, so I decided to re-evoke some of the memories I had of Weston-super-mare. I walked to the section of the beach where six years previously I and my college mates had crafted sandcastles out of sand and mud. I then ventured over the new pier, recently opened, a whirl of arcades, screaming children and bright colours. Purchasing the obligatory seaside fish and chips I waited for my train to arrive.

So ended an afternoon and evening of sculptures, sign posts, etchings and childhood imaginings.

I’m yet to write my postcard. My sign post reads: The architecture of the future shall be my playground.

Coincidently on the train to Exeter I actually bumped into one of my college mates who was on that trip six years ago, she enjoyed it as well.

An interesting blog chronicling reactions to public art in Weston can be found here.

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3 thoughts on “Wonders of Weston: Playground of the Future

  1. Pingback: Wonders of Weston: Playground of the Future « Remap the Map « Stumblingupwards's Blog

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