change: Old Fire Station

Change:

When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge…

Barbaresi and Reynard
With Brooke, Day, Dexter, Ellard, Gardiner, Mannion, Osland, Quirk, Slamon, Wheddon

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I was lead artist for this commission by Arts at the Old Fire Station and Crisis to create a public artwork for the newly renovated Old Fire Station in Oxford. I collaborated with artist Emma Reynard, and we worked with ten artist participants who were recruited from homeless projects across the city. Based in Oxford University’s beautiful Botanic Garden, the artists took part in six workshops led by Barbaresi and Reynard.

The richness and diversity of plant life in the gardens provided inspiration for the artists who explored ideas under the broad theme of ‘Growth’. Specimens from the University’s Natural History Museum also provided starting points for our work. The artists worked experimentally with a wide range of processes including stenciling and spray paints, felting, printing, drawing, painting and photography.

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The breadth and scope of the work produced during the workshops reflects the range of personal and creative experience brought to the project by the participating artists. Some were building on existing skills and finding new ways to develop these. Others were making initial steps into the visual arts. Each followed their own path during the course of the workshops, exploring aspects of the garden that interested them, and developing a portfolio of work. For one of our participants, this portfolio enabled a first step into art education and she is now studying sculpture at Camberwell.

The resulting artwork reflects this diversity of interests and the personal responses of the artists. Themes that emerged include the plant’s defences such as bark, prickles and textures and camouflage, the reproduction of plants, visible in flowers and seed heads and cycles of growth and decay. The artists and participants looked at change in nature, studying the way pattern and growth occur through mathematical sequence. They observed the garden closely, at micro and macro levels, and from different angles, capturing details that are often overlooked.

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“It was clear from meeting some of the participants at the opening that this project has had a significant effect on them. What has impressed me throughout the project is that it has achieved genuine participation without compromising on the quality of the end result – something which many in the arts argue isn’t possible!”
Tammy Bedford, Arts consultant and member of the project steering committee

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Our aim throughout was to enable an independent portfolio to be developed by each participant, but to guide some outcomes which could be integrated into the final work. We wanted participants to see something they recognised as their design within the installation. For those who are vulnerably housed and whose lives are transitory, having a mark in a building, something which can be returned to, has special significance. The generous time allocated to workshops enabled us to achieve this successfully.

Barbaresi and Reynard worked with each design, developing  vector drawings which were lasercut out of stainless steel.  These diverse elements have been integrated into an overall design which flows up the atrium wall, reflecting the energy and positive sense of growth which was experienced by those who were involved in this project.

This work has come to symbolise the ambition of the Old Fire Station – supporting the professional development of artists, giving homeless people opportunities to develop skills and confidence and enhancing the public realm for everybody to enjoy.

Supported by Oxford City Council
This project was managed by Lucy Phillips on behalf of Arts at the Old Fire Station
The project was documented at http://artistsofs.blogspot.co.uk/