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Opinion: Art in estates

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Opinion: Art in estates

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities

art on estate art on estate

By Laurie Nouchka, artist

As an artist I’m interested in putting beauty back on the agenda - beauty that exists all around us, in the everyday.

A while back I found myself walking through a local housing estate. While the grounds were well kept and the atmosphere seemingly peaceful I couldn’t help but feel that having to walk out every day faced with what was a brutalist grey landscape can’t do much to put a spring in your step.

I was on my way to the Tate that day. I sat in front of the vast Gerhard Richter paintings where the naked physical presence of colour is seen as the essential material of all painting. It was then that I was struck by a deep sense of sadness; a sadness that emotive and uplifting work like this couldn’t be appreciated more readily, like in the places we all live.

Our mornings set the tone for the day and our nights take us in to the positive or negative state of mind for the rest that follows. This begins and ends with our homes. Our ‘locale’ as the Spanish call them, the areas we retreat back to feel safe and warm. I decided that if Richter couldn’t come to us, then we will use the inspiration of Richter to make something ourselves.

‘Art in Estates’ was born out of this day. For many years I had been working as a Youth Arts Producer at London’s Roundhouse. Always a visual artist, I wrapped up my knowledge and experience in working with communities and combined it with my skills as an artist.

Art in Estates argues that making a direct contribution to the aesthetics of our surroundings can be a positive means to help build stronger communities, safer spaces and brighter places to live.

The idea was to work with ready-made communities, namely housing estates, and to create work for their communal spaces - work that brightened and lifted using colour, pattern and form. Part of the process would include a visit to galleries to observe artists like Richter and his use of colour, admire Jean Helion’s use of form and ogle at Kandinsky's use of visual mathematics.

We would combine this with a general enquiry and observation in to the everyday patterns found in the existing beauty of the surrounding area. Using references from the artists we had observed to help draw out the found patterns and colours in interesting and arresting ways.

The first project, run in partnership with Peabody Trust, involved over 30 participants from more than 10 different nationalities. I had approached Peabody with the idea and, enthusiastic from the onset, we set the wheels in motion to make it happen.

It encouraged constant feedback from residents, including Shirley who took part in the project and said: ‘‘It’s important for people to feel bright, uplifted and energetic. If we can create something and give people a good feeling as they come in and out of the estate it becomes very meaningful for all the people living here.”

As another resident and project participant, Amber, reiterated: “It’s important for the people living here to feel bright, to feel energetic, every time we walk in and out. If we can make people feel good at the beginning of the day and welcomed when they return at the end it becomes very meaningful for the people who live on the estate.”

The creation and display of art can inspire, uplift and create a sense of community and place where it is most needed. The way we express ourselves collectively through our environments, the choices we make in relation to our architectural surroundings, all have an impact on the quality of our everyday lives. Well commissioned artwork can play a key role in creating a sense of place; it can help to define the character of a building or a space. The project supports the housing trusts’ ethos of providing good homes, improving residents' quality of life and strengthening neighbourhoods.

The process incorporates residents from consultation, research to idea development and includes visits to major art institutions to delivery. The beneficial value of the project is significant for both individual participants and communities but also has long-term impacts culturally, socially and economically. Proven outcomes of Art in Estates include; a direct impact on the physical and emotional well-being of those involved, a reduction in anti-social behaviour across the estate, the reinstatement of fun in learning in the community, cross generational integration, increased social cohesion, access to creative opportunities and the promotion of a wider community’s sense of pride in their surroundings.

For the first project in partnership with Peabody Trust I recruited residents on their Kings Cross estate to create site specific works of art on walls using local, historic walls as inspiration. The artwork reflects how the old and the new happily co-exist within the area using the found pattern, colour and texture in the old walls to create aesthetically pleasing and uplifting works of art for the estate's more contemporary environment.

I worked with the community to examine walls both on and off site that are often overlooked or undervalued. The work encourages the viewer to consider their surroundings with fresh eyes and appreciate their environment from a different perspective. Guiding participants through a process of image research, artistic referencing and visual development they explored and re-interpreted this visual aesthetic for their own spaces before collectively deciding on an appropriate montage. The project culminated in the creation of the final piece: an abstracted collage painted onto designated walls within the estate. (see images xx)

An audio addition to Walls on Walls titled 'If walls had ears' is now in development in collaboration with sound artist, Tullis Rennie. The partnership involves the creation of an audio 'app' as a platform to create an immersive, audiovisual experience. Through field recordings captured around the creation of the walls and the surrounding environment we will work with residents interested in music and sound to create an audio podcast which can be heard alongside the artwork thus creating a more rounded sensory experience for the viewer.

Ranging from sculpture to sound art Art in Estates now seeks to grow into a wider curatorial project which works alongside the housing trust's management to curate a selection of the best art for designated sites on the estates. Involving a committee of residents is also crucial to this process in ensuring that the end results reflect the wishes of the residents themselves.

By spending time on the estate with the community through drop-in sessions, consultations and ideas sharing we explore the potential of the communal places and the scope for more creative use of space and artistic possibilities. The project encourages participants to consider the wide range of artistic practice and reflect critically on what curating public art means.

Participants contribute to the creation of artistic briefs, researching artists, putting out call outs, commissioning work and crucial decision-making. Art in estates will in turn create opportunities for inspiring and innovative emerging artists to create new and experimental site-specific work in the heart of their communities. The project stimulates a positive engagement between local artists and neighbouring communities, increasing access and active contribution to the arts.

By collectively creating and commissioning works of art for communal housing spaces the project makes genuine and mutually beneficial connections between these local groups, and the community as a whole, whilst increasing the value of the properties both in social and monetary terms.

The project will continue in partnership with Peabody Trust across many of their estates around London. The focus for the future is to build on this and form long term partnerships with housing trusts like Peabody who are interested in engaging projects which add a real long term social and economic value to their estates. My plan is to realise Art in Estates across the UK brightening up worn down estates and empowering residents to contribute to the places they live.

For further information or to get in touch with Laurie please email info@laurienouchka.com or visit www.laurienouchka.com.

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