This month’s behind the scenes feature, focuses on the arts, with Matthew Jarratt speaking about his involvement and inspiration behind his designs, developments and working with Alumno.
‘One of the fascinating things about developing arts commissions with Alumno is that they have such a strong focus on using contemporary art to communicate the history and context of each site. Our first project was in St. Andrews, where I brought in poet Jacob Polley, who was based at St. Andrews University, and with Alumno’s backing he produced an epic poem which told the story of how St. Andrews was the first town to be documented by photography. We produced the poem across a series of granite seats in a great new public space overlooking the East Sands beach along with commissioned ‘lenses’ by glass artist Effie Burns.
Our next project in Aberdeen – the Granite City – saw sculptor Fred Watson commissioned to site one of this elegant ‘wrapped’ granite parcels in the public realm outside of Alumno’s new building.
Alumno’s Sheraton Park development in Durham is the largest commission we have produced with three international sculptures and a poetry commission produced across a fantastic new sculpture park. Working with Durham University I developed a theme of international pilgrimage and journeys which three artists were asked to respond to. The artists were drawn from three countries which have strong links to Durham University:
- Italian artist Fabio Viale is an incredible marble sculptor who uses the finest Carrera marble to produce works which are collected internationally. Fabio’s sculpture for Sheraton Park was developed from the shell symbols of the Saints Trails across Europe from the Middle Ages.
- Chinese artist Xiang Yiang produced an amazing journey of his own in 2015 when he sailed a sculptural boat along the Thames which was then moored as a floating sculpture by Tower Bridge in London. Xiang works in wood and cast sculpture and developed a sculptural ship for Durham based on the idea of the Silk Route.
- American artist Bruce Gernand uses 3D scanning, 3D printing and a range of technology in cast iron and ceramic sculptures. For Sheraton Park he developed a cast iron sculpture to convey an idea about a journey across the American landscape.
In Leamington Spa my research was focused around ‘Leamington Lad’ Terry Frost, who was born in the town and went on to become one of Britain’s finest abstract painters. With Alumno’s support we worked in with Terry’s son Anthony Frost as an advisor to produce a series of cast iron floor plates based on his paintings and specially commissioned poem by Bob Devereux. Alumno gained permission to name the new canal side area ‘Terry Frost Space’, which is a lasting legacy to the artist.
For Norwich, two fantastic, site specific histories came together – Alumno’s new building is near to where Pablo Fanque was born – Fanque was an English equestrian performer and circus proprietor, the first non-white British circus owner in Britain. For 30 years, in a period regarded as Circus’s golden age, Fanque ran the most popular circus in Victorian Britain.
Since then, Pablo Fanque has been mostly known because he is mentioned in The Beatles song ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!’ In 1967, the names and phrases of a Fanque travelling circus poster in an antiques shop spoke to John Lennon, and he made one of the first ‘found poem’ songs of the 20th century, conveying the energy of his spectacular life by language alone. By haunting coincidence, five years earlier, The Beatles had played their early and only Norwich gig near to Fanque’s birthplace.
We commissioned poet Ira Lightman to write a poem which tells the story of Pablo Fanque’s life and the Beatles/Sgt Pepper connection – to the tune of the Beatles song – which was commissioned as a huge poster in the building atrium along with a Victorian zoetrope which shows a performing horse that reflects Pablo’s fame as the finest circus equestrian performer. Alumno’s commitment saw the building named ‘Pablo Fanque House’.
‘Alumno are interested in design quality, contemporary art and placemaking – this is a great recipe for creating new spaces that have personality and atmosphere. As curator who is looking to develop new arts ideas and commissions, I have had great support from Alumno, and quality arts commissions which have created spaces that people enjoy.’
Matthew Jarratt spoke with Martin Gray