Show: Constellation of Signs. Alan Dunn & Re-Dock (2008-2011)
Tell: “Constellation of Signs is a composition of 117 specially-designed signs installed onto the canal bridge at Linacre Lane in Bootle. It is a collaboration between myself, the artist collective Re-Dock, Linacre One Housing Association and Paul Kelly, working between New Heartlands and Liverpool Biennial.
“In April 2008 I had a conversation with Paul Kelly about the possibility of working in relation to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal towards some form of public realm intervention. I had collaborated with Paul since 2001 on various projects including tenantspin at FACT, 36 Compositions for a Woolton jukebox and Motto for a future St. Helens.
“I was really interested in how Re-Dock were using technology to redesign workshop scenarios, making them part of the creative process rather than a means to an end. I proposed that Re-Dock carry out some workshops across the Sefton Borough and although at this stage the partners were using the word ‘heritage’, we were interested in adding some forward-dreaming into the mix. Together we came up with a framework for working on this research which we called ‘Canal &’ (that is, the Canal plus something) that would look at people’s connections with the canal towards forming imaginative suggestions for its future.
“The canal had been a key artery for the transportation of goods from the docks in Liverpool across the North West. Heavy industry had dominated the environment around the canal and had become redundant over the course of the past hundred years. An important part of the discussion was to tease out ways in which this underused and largely neglected space could potentially be developed for new uses.
“Through Re-Dock’s collaborative mapping activities in shopping and community centres near the canal, people began to recall tragic and joyful moments from its past – broken hearts, childhood horrors, schooldays fun or everyday comforts. The workshop process enabled participants to smoothly glide from memory into thoughts of reinvigoration, from ambitious plans to film a Bond movie on the canal or having Jamie Carragher bless the muddy waters through heartwarming proposals for alien theme parks, Venetian bridges, giant cleaning hoovers or tunnels of love.
“After a long series of workshops, we framed some of these suggestions as permanent outdoor signage for the canal and presented them, as had originally been arranged, to British Waterways. However, by this time, their priorities had shifted towards a more national perspective on canal signage, rather than simply the Sefton stretch. As their change of plans emerged, another door opened with the suggestion that the project could morph into a permanent artwork to celebrate a new bridge being designed to cross the canal at Pennington Road. This next phase was to evolve into Constellation of Signs.
“A series of sketches and drawings were reworked by myself, Sam Meech of Re-Dock and the illustrator Chris Rodenhurst into 117 traffic signs to be fabricated in aluminum and affixed to a wall adjacent to the new bridge. The design was vibrant and full of slow-burning ideas suited to everyday viewing and all seemed well, until the following day. The new bridge had inadvertently created a blind spot that allowed any group gathered there to tamper with the wall undetected and ten signs were prized off and skimmed along the canal. In November 2012, once we were happy more signs would survive in a new, more visible location, the 117 were installed where, to this day, they remain unscathed. The strength of visibility in public art is enormous and a lesson learnt, even for experienced practitioners.
“Discussing the work more recently, we agreed that this project more than any others flowed and shifted through a huge amount of phases. The collaboration between myself and Re-Dock has been a hugely valuable experience and we’ve worked together since. I see some of our later projects as extensions of Constellation and sometimes these are the most exciting, perhaps the most ‘true to life’ projects to work on, full of new collaborations, twists and turns and disappointments and highs.”
Info: Alan Dunn lives and works in Wallasey, UK. He was one of four nominees for the Liverpool Art Prize 2012.
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