Artists re­spond to Ca­nary Wharf New District site

The Wharf - - Front Page - Olivia Palam­oun­tain

I’m in­ter­ested in places of trans­for­ma­tion, tran­si­tional places... cre­at­ing a di­a­logue with other artists Pro­ject leader An­drea Colt­man

As Ca­nary Wharf’s New District con­tin­ues to rise it’s be­com­ing im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore the tire­less ac­tiv­ity that will trans­form 23 acres of build­ing site into Lon­don’s most de­sir­able res­i­den­tial district.

But among the drilling, bash­ing and ham­mer­ing, work of a more es­o­teric na­ture is un­der­way.

The New District has spent the last six weeks play­ing host to an artists’ res­i­dency to com­ment on the de­vel­op­ment.

Be­lieved to be the first of its kind in the UK, per­haps even in the world, the pro­ject fol­lows a suc­cess­ful pi­lot scheme last year, run by artist and pro­ject leader An­drea Colt­man who en­gaged 16 artists to par­tic­i­pate in the cur­rent res­i­dency.

But what do they ac­tu­ally do? Dif­fer­ent from an artist in res­i­dence – where an in­di­vid­ual is com­mis­sioned to re­spond di­rectly to a brief – a res­i­dency doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily fol­low a tight brief and can in­clude a num­ber of artists, some­thing An­drea was quick to point out.

She said: “The whole idea be­hind this res­i­dency is as a re­source and re­search gath­er­ing process. I’ve been on site at least two core days a month for the past six weeks view­ing and ob­serv­ing the go­ings on and will al­low these ideas to de­velop or­gan­i­cally in the com­ing year.”

An­drea’s pre­ferred medium is paint and in­spi­ra­tion could come from some­thing “as sim­ple as a ceil­ing with some in­ter­est­ing pat­terns on it”, or from just look­ing at the site as a whole.

“I’m in­ter­ested in places of trans­for­ma­tion, tran­si­tional places,” she said. “And also cre­at­ing a di­a­logue with other artists.

“We all come from dif­fer­ent prac­tices, dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines and have been brought to­gether be­cause of this res­i­dency.”

The other artists on the pro­gram are an in­ter­na­tional bunch, of no spe­cific de­mo­graphic and from coun­tries as di­verse as China, Bel­gium and Sweden.

Ac­cord­ing to An­drea many of them have found com­mon ground in re­spond­ing to the lim­i­ta­tions of life on a build­ing site. It seems cre­ativ­ity flour­ishes in ad­ver­sity.

“We’re work­ing on one floor be­neath the ground, in what is es­sen­tially a con­verted meet­ing room,” she said.

“The light’s not great, and there are health and safety is­sues so you can’t just bring any old ma­te­ri­als in, mean­ing that most work is pro­duced off site.”

Fur­ther par­al­lels have been drawn be­tween the New District con­struc­tion site and the process of the res­i­dency.

An­drea said: “What peo­ple here are look­ing to achieve isn’t that dis­sim­i­lar from what artists do. They have to work with lim­ited re­sources, they have years of ex­pe­ri­ence and, in most cases, both a prac­ti­cal and tech­ni­cal knowl­edge base.

“You’ve got peo­ple who are ex­perts in con­crete and peo­ple who drive the cranes, and ul­ti­mately they all have to work to­gether. In a dif­fer­ent way that’s what we’re try­ing to es­tab­lish.”

It is hoped this artist res­i­dency will cul­mi­nate in a show – thanks to last year’s pi­lot scheme. An­drea al­ready has a fully formed body of work ready to present, in­clud­ing some paint­ings that will be ex­hib­ited next week.

“We’ve been given a lot of sup­port from Ca­nary Wharf Group Con­trac­tors who have done an amaz­ing job in sup­port­ing this ini­tia­tive and they are try­ing to fa­cil­i­tate a show”, she said.

“Now we’re also talk­ing about run­ning art classes and work­ing with com­mu­nity projects go­ing for­ward.”

Sur­rounded by cor­po­rate gi­ants this is one grass­roots pro­ject bring­ing a hu­man touch to the image of con­struc­tion.

“There are real peo­ple here ev­ery­where,” said An­drea. “But we want to make that more real than ever.” Go to cwn­dres­i­dency2017.­i­dency for more in­for­ma­tion

An­drea Colt­man’s work

An­drea Colt­man

Art on dis­play

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