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Further up in the air

Information for Artists


'artists/writers in residence between Spring and Autumn 2002'

Project proposal researched and written by Leo Fitzmaurice and Neville Gabie

Setting the scene

"In 1998 there were something like 70 tower blocks in the Liverpool area. Current predictions suggest that within 5 years there will be as few as 15 to 20. This visual transformation of the urban landscape might be possible to imagine, but what are the human implications of so radical a change. The 1960's saw many of the run down centres of population in Liverpool, the old Victorian terraces, demolished, to be replaced by tower blocks and making way for 'new - town' developments such as Speke and Kirkby on the outskirts of the city. Tower blocks were seen then to be the solution to overcrowding and poor living conditions. The post war optimism imagined new homes for everyone with all the mod cons. Although the motivation might have been laudable, the implications of devastating established communities was not considered and the consequences are still evident. The new - towns have taken years to establish themselves, to rebuild social structures and the population of the city itself has shrunk by half leaving whole areas derelict and unsustainable.

Forty years on, the same city-wide process of regeneration has begun again, and this time it is the tower blocks that have become a byword for all that is bad. Signs of their poor state of repair are easy to see, but what of the people who live in them? The majority of the residents of Sheil Park are retired, many of them having lived in the buildings since they were first commissioned. What are the implications of such a traumatic move at this stage of life? The whole issue of an ageing inner-city population and how best to involve them in a dialogue is not unique to Sheil Park. It is a typical aspect of the more general problems facing some of these inner city areas. Located in North Liverpool, a historically working class community, the blocks have only been half occupied in recent years. With their demolition the same population can now be housed in ground level accommodation on the same site. What remains unanswered is just how to revitalise these areas' long-term future."

Neville Gabie, Up In The Air Catalogue


Work is now well underway to demolish Kenley close leaving Linosa Close to be Liverpool's highest build, a solitary beacon in this part of the city. What unfolds now, with the imminent demolition of Linosa is the final phase of Sheil Park's high rise history. For many residents it marks the end of more than three decades of high-rise living. Its demolition, in some way, not only represents the erasure of memories but also the physical spaces where people have lived.

"As I roamed from floor to floor I became preoccupied with memory as I moved between unlit corridors and rooms containing suitcases, umbrellas, cutlery and discarded toys and clothes. Memory that was not of the quasi-factual kind as in the elephant account, but memory as triggered by the way that objects were left, often placed as if the integrity of domestic display should remain intact whatever. Flats that had not been 'interfered' with were compelling in ways that were different to artist interventions, an acute sense of intrusion was felt as I entered the rooms but it was accompanied by a voyeuristic hunger to see what was left behind. It was like sorting through the personal effects of a dead relative. On the twenty-second floor I encountered a printed mural of grand (kitsch) proportions depicting a woodland scene in the living room. The format was accompanied by a much smaller vista of a tropical beach in the kitchen. The quintessentially pastoral scene contrasted with the exotic, against which everyday objects competed for attention, heightening a sense of geographic and cultural difference."

Russell Roberts, Up In The Air Catalogue

up in the air

The story so for.

With the show at Kirkby Gallery still a recent memory for the participating residents it would be fair to say that many of them look back on the 'Up in the Air' project with fond memories. Not that memory will be the only way of assessing the project as a commissioned short film of the making of the project will testify. In addition to this a fifty page colour catalogue, with essays by two well know writers, portrays not only the artworks made during the project, but explores the context of the project and depicts the richness and complexity of the whole process. More than anything I think it represents a developing relationship between host organisations, residents and artists not always found in public art commissioning. 'Further' will take that further and build on the relationships between different interested organisations within the city and beyond. As a direct result of the first project for example, the Tate Gallery has now developed an education programme with LHAT specifically for their tenants.

A Developing strategy

In relation to this proposal, the 'up in the air' project can be seen as a model research process, although that was not it's original intention. It has transpired that, from all the hard work, good will and risk taking by all parties, a model for a different, more organic form of public art commissioning may have been arrived at. Thanks to LHAT, NWAB, CDS, Sheil Park Residents Association and UITA we have all gone into unknown territory. This process could be seen as ground breaking in the sense that the site research was intrinsic to the art project. The project grew out of the artists developing relationship to the site, the residents and each other. The reason we believe this to be ground breaking is that very few commissioners would be prepared to take what they perceived to be very real risks of commissioning artists purely on the basis of their practice and with very open ended proposals. However being an artist led project, there is a clear purpose in the choice of artists in relation to the overall objectives thus mitigating the risks. The previous project clearly evidenced this given its success socially and critically. 'Further' will develop out of the success of the previous project engaging artists of very high calibre and building on the relationship between the residents, LHAT and other partners. It offers the opportunity to expand the original brief, be more ambitious with the selection and invitation of artists and most critically, to develop the project over a longer time-scale with clearer objectives regarding a sustainable legacy. It is also a unique opportunity for creative thinkers with different skills to exchange ideas with a single focus in mind.

Benefits for partners and residents

  • Enriching the quality of resident's lives.

  • Chronicling an area of the City and its population that have been largely neglected.

  • To bring national and international artists to live and work in Liverpool with regard to this location.

  • .To create an environment for the production of artistic work/research of the highest calibre.

  • Raising press and public interest ( through the profile of 16 national/ international artists) in LHAT and their regeneration partners.

  • Developing international links for the residents within the block by inviting artists from abroad.

  • LHAT through this project would be seen as credible research organisation within the Art world by allowing artists to develop their own practice within a specific context.

  • Helping LHAT and other partners to develop links with arts organisations locally and nationally.

  • Exploring the phenomena of high-rise living regionally, nationally and internationally

  • Exploring issues of urban/community design and architecture in respect of regeneration.

  • Establishing a forum for debate between artists, residents and professionals involved in physical regeneration and community development.

New opportunities

Given the success of the first project there is clearly the goodwill amongst the residents, staff and hosts [LHAT, CDS] at Sheil Park to develop and expand the relationship introducing a range of new artists and approaches including those from an architectural and literary background.

One of the great successes of the first project was being in the position to accommodate artists on site. This afforded us the opportunity to invite artists from further afield than the UK. Although in the last project only one artist came from abroad, there is now an opportuntiy to expand that. Artists already shortlisted include residents from Germany, Italy and South Africa as well as across the UK and we would hope to build on that. Viewing the city through the eyes of those who might never have visited before gives an interesting insight to the things easily missed or taken for granted. It is also an opportunity for tenants of the block to establish relationships with people they may not have ordinarily encountered.

Another success has been LHAT's funding of a film of the project by the independent company Red Weather. There is now a strong possibility that one of the national television channels will commission a film of the second project. Ann Pugh of Red Weather has established contacts who have already expressed interest based on the rushes of the earlier film and will actively pursue this over the coming weeks.

In the previous project, artists developed a relationship to the site throughout the period of the residency. That gave the work grounding and a focus, which was its success. Without wishing to jeopardise that natural evolution, there were clearly several directions for work, which remained largely unexplored. Our focus is now to consider some of these approaches. Some of these overlooked possibilities form the criteria for our selection of invited artist writers/ creative thinkers.

Possibilities (what artists/ writers could work with)

  • The Sounds of the building
  • The residents stories
  • The structure of the building
  • The space in and around the building.
  • New technologies Web etc
  • Music (writing and performance)
  • The building as a receiver of information.
  • An individual residents move.
  • Surveillance around the building
  • The phenomena of High-rise living.
  • 'Utopia' and the realities of urban design
  • Regeneration and the 'New Build'

Thank you for your interest in the 'FURTHER' project. We are asking interested Artists/Writers to send slides/video and or other details of your work. You do not need to develop a specific proposal or have worked in a similar environment before.

The selection will take place with residents involvement. Two artists will be selected to join 14 other artists/writers already committed to the project.

Residencies will be about four weeks in length and will take place;

Spring 2002, Autumn 2002 and Spring 2003 with a publication and Launch in Autumn 2003.

The fee is £3,000 Plus a materials budget.

Please send details to either: Neville Gabie or Leo Fitzmaurice.