Transforming the Future Past: Issue One

How do you make sense of a place that has been transformed beyond almost all recognition in physical, economic, social and emotional terms? And what if it is still transforming before your eyes? How might a place move forward towards its future while holding sight of its past?

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These are the questions that the Longbridge Public Art Project (LPAP), conceived by
WERK, has been exploring since it began in September 2012 with incredible support from a wide range of partners including regeneration specialists St. Modwen. Following the closure and demolition of the Longbridge car plant (1905-2005) and after a long fallow period, Longbridge is in the midst of a massive (468-acre) and unique suburban regeneration scheme. The creation of a town centre for the very first time, the re-location of Bournville College and the construction of large-scale retail units are bringing jobs and footfall to the area – but this is a place in flux, coming to terms with an entirely new identity.

No single artist can hope to encapsulate one hundred years of history, let alone Longbridge’s current changes. WERK’s approach, therefore, has been to set up an artist-in-residence framework within LPAP – openings for artists to embed themselves within the community over a much longer period of time than other public art projects might typically allow.

As one of these artists, Stuart Whipps, notes – all art is public art; all art should be public artwork. Placing the public of Longbridge at the heart of the programme, and extended time for research and making work in Longbridge, allows each artist to get much closer to the core of the place and its population – its concerns, challenges and opportunities.

Sculpture, collage, photography, drawing, and more performative walks and interventions
have been presented for the past two years in public spaces, gallery exhibitions and as part of the Longbridge Light Festival. Workshops, talks, events and discussions allow for participation and the expansion of ideas. Collaborations between the WERK team, artists, community groups and Longbridge residents, including several key former plant employees who are involved with LPAP’s work on many levels, have been nurtured. It is in this exchange that the huge value of Longbridge’s heritage is being uncovered. LPAP is influencing Longbridge’s future narrative too. In some cases this has taken the form of artistic solutions to practical problems such as illuminating public walkways but as Longbridge is a place to which people have strong political and emotional connections, sensitivity is required at every step. This is living history.

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Cathy Wade, another artist-in-residence, has researched the physical remnants of
Longbridge’s heritage. As she describes, creating work in Longbridge provides the potential for the place to retain its industrial past as well as the creation of new markers or gateways for people to pass through – more reasons to value Longbridge at a time of change and uncertainty.

Working in conjunction with a wide range of partners, local groups and individuals, is allowing WERK to produce a project that is about the history, transformation, social capital and (re) creation of Longbridge. It is also a project, perhaps most importantly, for Longbridge.

This is the introduction to Longbridge Public Art Project’s new publication Transforming the Future Past: Issue One. The publication includes short essays I’ve written on each of LPAP’s artists-in-residence: Stephen Burke, Juneau Projects, Hannah Hull, Redhawk Logistics, Luke Perry, Cathy Wade and Stuart Whipps.

The publication is available to download and read in full here 

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