Re-Living Room Sealed

Studio workings out to build and then seal the Living Room

Hermetically Sealed

A recent visit to the British Ceramics Biennial offered an unexpected gem. "After The Death Of The Bear" by Phoebe Cummings sits in the centre of the room enshrouded by an element of mystery with large sheets of plastic covering the entire piece creating it's own micro climate inside. As you step into this space you enter a magical landscape which has been taken from one of Spode's plate design's ' The Death of the Bear '.

In truth, I wasn't as interested in the ceramic side of things as in the way the piece worked. From the outside, there was a sense of a crime-scene - a bit of land sealed off. The floodlights in the factory space shone on to the polythene sheeting and gave a silhouetted sense of the inner scene. 

Then as you stepped inside through a slatted thick plastic door, the sense of breaking a seal, and entering  another, protected, venerated, archived place took hold.

This sense of a place being sealed off resonated with me - it was how i have been thinking about the many post-demolition former residential and work sites around the City that are now sealed off from human presence and interaction by a combination of rails, and heras and palisade security fencing.

In effect these plots, strips and patches of land have been sealed - or at least the attempt at a seal has been made, as the human is a resourceful and often disobedient creature - and exist with minimum management in a human vacuum.

hermetic seal has the quality of being airtight. In common usage, the term often implies being impervious to air or gas.

The word hermetic comes from the name of the Greek god Hermes, via the vocabulary of alchemy. The alchemists invented a process for making a glass tube airtight, which was used in distillation. The process used a secret seal whose invention was attributed to the legendary patron of alchemy, Hermes Trismegistos.

The St. Modwen Googlewalks

The St.Modwen Googlewalk

As a means of reconnaissance and walking as a post-modern cultural practice, I visited each of the sites comprising the St Modwen property portfolio in North Staffodrshire without leaving my house, or threatening the confines of each site.

The St. Modwen North Staffordshire Property Portfolio

St. Modwen describes the land that it owns and holds for future redevelopment as a Portfolio. It's North Staffordshire Portfolio comprises 7 sites.

Etruria Valley Business Park - Located in the heart of Stoke-on-Trent with direct access to the A53 and A500 urban expressway to Junctions 15 and 16 of the M6, Etruria Valley is part of Festival Park, the premier mixed use Business Park in North Staffordshire. Comprising major office and commercial development, retail park, leisure park (cinema, tenpin bowling, Waterworld) four star 150 bedroom Hotel, restaurants and housing. Covering over 300 acres, the latest phase of development has been undertaken in partnership with Tata Steel and joint venture company Stoke-on-Trent Regeneration Ltd, with a predicted investment value of £185m. Approximately 60 acres of land remains available for development and is allocated for major employment use. Within this, outline planning consent was granted in November 2012 for the next phase of 15.6 acres, to provide up to another 270,000 sq ft of mixed use office, manufacturing and storage space on site.

Hartshill (Shelton New Road) - The Hartshill site fronts on to Shelton New Road in the centre of Stoke on Trent, in a mainly residential area. A former industrial site of 11.25 acres St. Modwen is working in partnership with land owner, Dyson Industries Ltd to secure planning consent for the redevelopment of the site. Following a public consultation in autumn 2012, an application has recently been submitted for 110 ‘high-quality’ family homes that are much needed in the area, along with a local centre incorporating a small convenience store, parade of four small shops and a public house and restaurant. Some 220 jobs will be generated during the construction process, along with 75 permanent roles at the pub, restaurant and shops.

Fenton 25 & Fenton Trade Park - Located in the centre of Stoke-on-Trent with easy access to the A50 Stoke – Derby dual carriageway and Junction 15 of the M6, Fenton 25 is a development site for industrial and warehouse uses within an established industrial area. Part of the site has already been developed by St. Modwen for the Fenton Trade Park (a much larger site totalling 318 acres, the first phase of which has already been developed). Approximately 24 acres remain available for immediate development. This is a development by St. Modwen subsidiary, Stoke-on-Trent Regeneration Limited, a joint venture company between St. Modwen Properties PLC and Stoke-on-Trent City Council, (shareholding 81%/19%), formed in 1993 to bring about brownfield land development in Stoke-on-Trent. The development is managed by St. Modwen’s regional development team. The remainder of the site will be developed to market demand.

Trentham Lakes - Located within the southern part of Stoke with frontage and direct access to the A50, Stoke – Derby dual carriageway very close to the junction with the A500 urban expressway connecting Stoke to Junctions 15 and 16 on the M6, Trentham Lakes is a premier distribution, industrial, and mixed use business park in Stoke on Trent. Developed by St. Modwen, it is home of the Britannia Stadium, premiership Stoke City FC’s home ground, as well a hotel, restaurants, car showrooms, major distribution and manufacturing companies, residential development and a district shopping centre. The £235m site covers 400 acres with approximately 60 acres remaining for development with outline planning permission for B1, B2 and B8 opportunities, including an application by St. Modwen Homes to develop 300 new high quality homes.

Norton Park - The Norton Park is accessed from the A53 Leek New Road, the main road from the centre of Stoke on Trent towards Leek in Staffordshire. It comprises a total of circa 99 acres which has been reclaimed to create a large residential development site, with a District Centre development site adjacent and extensive public open space. All the residential land has been sold and developed for about 700 new homes. There remains 4.25 acres of the District Centre site, with direct frontage and access from the A53 Leek New Road, to be developed for retail, restaurant and associated uses, with recent sales made for an ALDI supermarket and a Public House. In addition, new walkways have been created through the Newford Valley linking the public open space, residential and District Centre.

Trentham Estate & Gardens - The Trentham Estate has direct access off the A34 on the southern edge of Stoke-on-Trent, 2.5 miles via the A500 / A34 dual carriageways from Junction 15 of the M6.Covering 725 acres, the Estate is a major tourist and leisure destination, attracting over 3 million visitors per annum. Centred on the famous Trentham Gardens, which have undergone complete restoration, the £100m site includes a mile-long Lake, major Garden Centre, Shopping Village, Hotel and other Leisure attractions including Trentham Monkey Forest. Detailed planning permission has been secured for a 70,000 sq ft final phase of the Shopping Village and 70 Holiday Lodges, between the Monkey Forest and the Lake at the southern end of the estate.

Victoria Ground - Located facing the A500, close to Stoke town centre, Victoria Park is the site of the former stadium and car parking areas of Stoke City Football Club. Covering some 15 acres, the first phase of development will deliver much needed executive family homes to the area and a planning application with Persimmon Homes, for 113 new homes, was submitted in December 2012. The project will also bring visual, environmental and economic improvements for the benefit of new and existing communities, including the creation of hundreds of new jobs during the construction process. The proposed plans will also include an acre of open space and children’s play area. Approximately 6.5 acres will remain for development, suitable for residential / appropriate main road uses.

Comparisons and Similarities

From the last two walks - Burslem and Trentham Lakes - some interesting connections...-

Plot 96, Barratt Homes, Churchill Park, Burslem, 2013

Bay 24, Car Park, Trentham Lakes, 2013

Sign, Barratt Homes, Churchill Park, Burslem, 2013
Sign, Trentham Lakes, 2013

The St. Modwen Walk

The area of greenland in the centre left of this image is known as Trentham Lakes, and is one of 7 sites of land owned by and waiting for purchase and development by St. Modwen, self-styled as the UK's Leading Regeneration Specialist. The land which adjoins the site of Stoke City's new football ground, The Britannia Stadium, is empty, largely brownfield, but some which has been turned in to car parking, used whenever Stoke City play a match - usually between once a week and once a fortnight.

Walking around the site, it was hard not to get a sense of waiting.

The site had been a colliery - Hem Heath - dating back to the 1920's, but had ceased production in 1992. The site, at its height, was inhabited by over 2,000 workers.

St. Modwen started buying the land in 1996, and by 1999 owned the whole land,  in partnership with Stoke-on-Trent City Council,
(shareholding 81%/19%).
Much of the site is currently home to distribution centres, and warehouses, and car showrooms - Pets at Home, Littlewoods, Screwfix Direct and Glen Dimplex, SEAT, Lexus, Ford, VW Toyota and Audi.

St. Modwen has submitted plans to Stoke-on-Trent City Council to develop 300 new high quality homes at Trentham Lakes at an extension to the existing popular residential area. The outline
proposals include a mix of house types to provide a range of housing choice. Fronting onto Stanley Matthews Way, the 30 acre site will also include public open spaces, children’s play areas and new
pedestrian and cycle links.

Approximately 60 acres remains waiting for development.

I was particularly drawn to a huge piece of empty land, adjacent to Sir Stanley Matthews Way. On one side of the road, land was now occupied by a series of businesses, as outlined above - but opposite the land was empty - brownfield land, quite marshy.

The St.Modwen Walk was a brief examination of the land, once thriving and at the heart of the city's industry, manufacturing and production, now standing empty, and waiting.

A Walk with Hazel

Towards the end of her 2 week residency at AirSpace, i went out for a walk with Hazel France, ostensibly to show her the site of the former Stoke-on-Trent Garden Festival, and the sense of being immersed within  a city centre rural idyll.

The walk continued northwards through Grange Park and in to Burslem. The return walk was instructive as we passed a set of new builds. It seems that the house-building hiatus in the city which followed the collapse of the Pathfinder scheme and then exacerbated by the 2008 financial crash which saw the end of universal credit and 100%+ mortgages, is finally starting to show signs of ending.

There are small pockets of new house development emerging. These are the houses that are replacements for the staple northern workers' house - the utilitarian terrace.

I'm drawn to the newness, and sense of utopia. I'm drawn also to the lack of community analagous to that new, unlived-in-ness. And I'm drawn to the aspirational signage employed by the housing companies.

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New Art West Midlands, the Grand Union Bursary and thinking about New Work

In August, 2014, My work Walking in Circles Pt. 1 was selected for New Art West Midlands. NAWM is a Turning Point West Midlands(TPWM) initiative with gallery partners and universities in the West Midlands. 

The work of more than 20 recent visual arts graduates from the West Midlands’ five university art schools has been selected for New Art West Midlands 2014, a multi-sited exhibition designed to showcase quality, innovative work by the best new talent in the region.

The work has been selected by three renowned artists/curators:

- Mel Brimfield, Artist,
- Paul Goodwin, Curator, lecturer and urban theorist, Curatorial Director of 3-D Foundation Sculpture Park and International Residency, Verbier, Switzerland and formerly Curator of Cross Cultural programme at Tate Britain (2008-2012)
- David Harding OBE, Artist and Founder and Head of Environmental Art Department, Glasgow School of Art (1985-2001)

All exhibiting artists have graduated from one of the West Midlands’ undergraduate and postgraduate fine art degree courses in the past three years, encompassingBirmingham City University, Coventry University, Staffordshire University, University of Wolverhampton and University of Worcester.

The 11 framed photographs comprising Walking in Circles Pt. 1 will be exhibited at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham 14 February – 27 April 2014

Alongside this, I have also been selected for Grand Union's Bursary Award which offers £500 to make new work, and a series of mentoring meetings and opportunities with professional artists, as well as some studio space in Grand Union to complete works prior to the exhibition.

On submitting my work for NAWM, my hope was to be selected for a bursary, as at this stage, my interest is less in exhibiting existing works, but much more in the process of making new works, and to have a series of critical meetings and conversations running concurrently with this, is something that I have been seeking for a while.

The challenge so far has been in finding the time to dedicate to the NAWM process, new work for me is a 3 phase process - research and development, through traditional sources and also a series of walks, before the making and then reflecting and fine tuning. My challenge has been to find a way, alongside existing commitments, to make room in each week for this.

My early ideas for the NEWM bursary stem from a piece of work which formed part of Walking in Circles Part 2.  Re-Living Room, which I first realised in the window of AirSpace Gallery in 2012, is becoming a motif for an ongoing look at ideas of absence and presence and longing and belonging. Whereas in WIC Pt 2 the
Living Room set was installed in areas of Pathfinder housing demolition, my interests here are in land which has been bought up by land developers, and then "sat on" waiting for the right development opportunities.

The "sitting on" process invariably is characterised by a sealing-off of the land - usually with a mix of Heras and Palisade security fencing - designed to keep the public off the land. I'm particularly interested in this sealing off idea - a way of preservation through isolation, or maybe degeneration through neglect?

Moreover, questions about land use, ownership and access are raised.