Water, Art and the City – An ongoing conversation

Our summer takeover of an empty unit in the Meadows was a great success.

We brought together the Chelmsford Creative Collective and the Council’s Waterways working group to come up with ideas for improving the concrete canalised sections of the river in the City Centre. Candy Joyce kicked things off with an inspiring call to be bold and creative:

“The way that I’ve been thinking about the purpose of today is that we eventually want to create masterpieces. Today we are at the sketch book stage. This workshop is a day for scribbling, discussing, making notes and putting forward ideas, even if they seem impossible…Please use the time this morning to let your imaginations run wild, then let’s come up with some promising routes for public art that we, and the people of Chelmsford are excited by and can be proud of.” (Candy Joyce, Chelmsford Creative Collective)

Sharing inspiring examples from elsewhere together with a walkabout by the river produced several key themes:

  • Importance of locally rooted/connected art
  • Using a wide definition of public art including performance spaces
  • Incorporating immersive or interactive elements
  • Using the water as part of the art
  • Respecting, integrating and connecting to nature
  • Art installation and creation as part of community engagement
  • Public and community-based art that engages with immediate surroundings

Image: Areas to be improved.

Potential Routes

 After lunch we selected six potential themes for more detailed discussion:

  • Projection/Lighting and Reflection: Light, Visual Images, Photos and Video, AR
  • Common Space: Achieve closer connection and access to the river e.g. by floating platforms. Remove access barriers physically and visually
  • Sound: Animating space and in conjunction with projection
  • Wall dressing:  2D and 3D spanning rivers – different media from visual art, wallpaper, fabric, weaving to green walls. Achieve better access points to view the river and installations
  • Interactive sculptures: Water sculptures 2D and 3D
  • Functionality of Waterways: Enable better navigation/use – Inform, Interpret and tell stories – Create/enable public involvement

A chance to join the conversation

We know the city’s green spaces and waterways are really important to residents and our local rivers and canal are recognised as a key asset. They are central to our cultural, agricultural and industrial heritage and support our aspirations as a city. So, we were keen to hear what people wanted from the waterways, what they liked and what they were concerned about.

Hosting one of our Ignite Chelmsford Inspiring Socials with talks from Canal Convergence https://canalconvergence.com and artist Sian Fan https://www.sianfan.com/ led to lots of lively conversation and idea exchange abou we could do locally.

Key themes from public feedback and suggestions

Following the workshop, the empty shop unit was open for four days for Sian Fan’s Current exhibition. Visitors were invited to look at her work, the inspiration boards and add their own comments.

Many of the themes in the feedback echoed those from the workshop.

  • Ideas related to art, music, lighting and painting
  • Making waterways more of a destination
  • Enabling water related activities/use
  • Informative and Interactive artworks
  • Improving access and signposting
  • Cleaning and conservation

Around 200 people visited the space and the conversations and comments showed widespread support and interest for making more of Chelmsford’s waterways.

Launch of Current-Digital Waterways

During the week we also formally launched Sian Fan’s new artwork based on Chelmsford’s waterways.

We received many positive comments including:

  • Like a digital pointillism! It felt dream-like-things only made sense from a distance and I fell off the river
  • Great to be inside the Artist’s head-the soul of a city
  • Such beautiful images-tech and art in perfect harmony!
  • Current-Immersive, dreamscape, contemplative
  • A wonderful presentation of the local locks and rivers
  • Immersive, interactive, new perspectives
  • So brilliant. So many images of ordinary objects captured in great detail!
  • Edgelands appear as a feature-the graphics feel like the zone where you hit the edge of a computer game. There’s an interesting intersection with the sense of canals and rivers being the edgelands of urban areas, liminal zones. There’s an element of danger there-a sense of ending, beginning, danger, excitement of possibility

Current is now live and available to explore: HOME | Current (currentdigitalwaterways.com)

Next Steps

  • We have prepared a report for the Council’s Waterway’s Working Group with our recommendations and next steps. We will be meeting with them in December to agree priorities and routes forward.
  • We are planning to hold an Ignite Creative Lab in spring 2022 on the theme of ‘How can we make the waterways even more prominent and accessible in the city centre?’
  • We are looking for ways to connect with public art ideas for the new Waterside development: Outline of new Chelmsford riverside community agreed by Council – Chelmsford City Life
  • We are reviewing the Monsters event co-created with Chelmsford for You to see if it can be further developed with a stronger waterways theme.
  • We are always interested in ideas to help develop the river as a destination, performance space and to encourage more art works of all kinds. If you have ideas get in touch! Katie.deverell@chelmsford.gov.uk   Marc.death@chelmsford.gov.uk 

 

Many thanks to Muhammad Ali Akbar for our Water, Art and the City image and photos of the Ignite Waterways social.