Once a sited artwork is made it can look deceptively simple. But making a piece of public art in collaboration with others is a complicated, uneven, messy, unexpected and protracted process.
The best appears as if it was always there, because it makes sense of/with a space. And then – as importantly – the artwork develops a life of its own in the intersections between the reshaped place, the
people who take it over and their engagements with it through time. The seeds of a creative idea come from a multitude of places. For Our Space, Will Nash began to formulate and interconnect his list of thoughts. In the process the school community became simultaneously; the raw data – an accumulation of lengths and heights; participants in multiple associated activities; the audience for, and commentators on, the design process; and the inhabitants of the finished piece in it’s courtyard. This was not merely a consultation, this was a seedbed.
It is easy to assume that ideas just ‘grow’ into a solution. No, they have to be wrestled with, translated, adjusted, thrown away and then found again. This is a process artists and designers often keep to themselves. But Will and his colleagues not only generated a huge amount of data relationships and potential patterns, they also showed what they were doing at every stage – painstakingly imagining and representing variations on themes, opening up the work and letting it be nourished by others, as well as nourishing all those involved. For me, nourishment is all about creativity; creativity as “a process that recognises and accepts challenges, with a confidence borne out of skills, knowledge and reflection, that results in a transformative outcome.” Making the final selections of individual’s heights/lengths for the pavilion and juggling them into place to make a coherent whole, is not just an art, it is a craft. Concentrated, repetitive and thoughtful readjusting were required to generate a final piece that works functionally (for people to occupy together, to stand up in, to be protected from elements); that looks ‘right’ and is pleasurable to use; that could be assembled elsewhere, brought to site and constructed to budget; that can be integrated into the school curriculum (break-time, meetings, teaching, evening events) and procedures (health and safety, maintenance, security). All this takes time and effort – creativity is fun, but not necessarily easy. The dishes had to be properly aligned and given structural rigidity. The uprights had to hold the dishes firmly, but not intrude on sitting, or feel too cluttered. The gabion seat had to form a solid base for the structure and support plants. And all the dimensions had to fit the human bodies of everyone in the school community, both individually and as groups. This kind of growth is not a linear process but a complex geometric game. As we sit beneath the canopies we don’t need to know any of this history; we can engage with the structure as it stands, be part of its new life and future. Is this what makes good public art, something which brings coherence and resonance to a multitude of different variables, which quietly resolves the complicated and unexpected processes of its making and which does more than just get looked at? Our Space was itself an offshoot from previous projects, and has had many branches in its development. Now the pavilion is made and in use, it starts to generate many offshoots of its own. As the process goes on, it too can continue to be captured, discussed and give nourishment. Creativity is never finished.
Senior Research Fellow, Learning Spaces
Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching,
University of Brighton