Workshop six - public art

Our final Shape My City workshop before the summer holidays focused on public art. For this session we were joined by welsh artist Owen Griffiths, who was working nearby on the Trust New Art project, Paradise, at National Trust property Tyntesfield.

Owen Griffiths shared his background, and the route leading him towards his current career as a public artist. He explained how his father’s profession as an architect, both instilled in him an interest for the built environment, as well as an aversion to it, leading to him pursue an artistic path. He extolled the virtues of an art foundation course – praising its variation, grounding effect, and contribution towards developing communication skills, as well as commending his current MA studies at Copenhagen’s School of Walls and Space.

The session then set about unveiling the group’s preconceptions about the term ‘public art’, and what they believed this involved. Given a mixture of images ranging from jam making to  the Exbury Egg, the group were given the task of deciding which projects fell into the ‘public art’ category. Having formulated two distinct piles, it was revealed that all of the images were examples of some kind of public art process, evidence of the diversity of public art practice.

Owen then continued his career story, describing the art-based social collective he formed in his home-city of Swansea after graduating. Since then he has been the brains behind cultural Olympiad project Vetch Veg, an initiative to transform a redundant football stadium in Swansea into a giant community garden. The project’s success acted as testament to the power of public art: bringing together people from all walks of life, united by their shared passion for gardening and food.

Owen tallked about his advisory work for the Welsh Government, where he has been a source of innovation in response to public space issues. He also discussed using art and architecture as a basis for community consulation in the regeneration of Llandudno, and his role in the CIVIC project in Swansea. These examples highlighted to the group the potential role of an artist as a problem solver, and the power of public art as a catalyst for social change – with an ablity to engage, involve and empower people, as well as challenge their perceptions.

Instilled with a new found insight into the impact of public art, Owen challenged the group to get their hands dirty making seed bombs, which they could use a a form of 'green city intervention'. This month's activity was more recipe than design brief, and the group adopted a somewhat trial and error approach, with the rough measurements: 5 parts clay, 1 part compost, and 1 part seeds (a mixture salad, herbs, vegetables and wild flower).

The group got stuck in, and were soon left with a batch of bombs to dispose of. Aware of a patch of disused space in close proximity to the Architecture Centre, and much to the confusion of passers by, the group perfected their long distance throw in the name of guerrilla gardening. The premise being that of an act of 'artistic and architectural intervention', finding under-used and under-loved places in the city to bomb in a bid to green the city and reclaim spaces for citizens. Owen picked this as an opportune moment to get out his ‘anti architecture' banner - certainly a provocative statement, in the midst of a group of budding designers, but something that embodied advice from many of the Shape My City visiting professionals, to always challenge the norm and to ask lots of questions.

With a few remaining seed bombs for the city-shapers to take away (to subvert the suburbs they live in) the session came to a close, with Owen off to put the finishing touches to his 'Green Room' work at Tyntesfield, and the group’s minds whirring with yet more career possibilities within the newly seed-bombed field of the built environment.

Find out more about public art:
Public Art onlinePublic Art Think Tank Ixia
Willis Newsom - Public Art and Health

At the end of this session the group bid a fond farewell to volunteer mentor Jess, who is relocating to Devon to work on social media for Riverford Organic Farms - further proof of the diversity of potential career options for architecture degree graduates! Since March Jess has made a hugely positive contribution to the project, sharing her passion and enthusiasm for design, sustainability and people, and she will be sadly missed when the Shape My City team reconvenes in the autumn.

Farewell, thank you and good luck Jess.