Out n About in Colchester Firstsite & Cultural identity
By damekor, Aug 8 2014 10:08AM
ART AND CULTURE POST: DAME K'S ON HER TRAVELS...
By OFH, May 9 2014 09:06AM Published on Off The Hook Magazine
This week I've been treading the historic Roman streets of Colchester, or as the Roman's named it, Camulodunum (which is actually a Celtic name), back at the end of the 1st century BC. Along with Ipswich, Thatcham, Newstead, and Abingdo Colchester claims to be the oldest town in Britain. It’s amazing to walk around it’s fascinating historical surroundings, including: red brick ‘Jumbo’ the largest remaining Victorian water tower in Britain, Colchester Castle, built by the Normans in the 11th century (which has just reopened after a year of closure and a £4.2 million re-development) and its 23 surrounding acres of park, the Balkerne Gateway built by the Romans in AD 49, and remnants of the Roman Wall built in AD 60 after Boudica and her gang the Iceni tribe, burnt Colchester to the ground. Reported to be one of Britain’s fastest growing towns, it’s only an hour or so away by train from Liverpool Street, London. It is also a very important Garrison , currently home to the British Army’s 16th Air Assault Brigade and the Military Corrective Training Centre. Not only that, but back in 2011 it had a £225,000 injection from the European Union to boost its cultural identity.
Now, I really didn’t think Colchester would have so much to do and see. I’ve really been happily surprised with the visits I made, the Murcury and Lakeside Theatres, The Natural History Museum, Hollytree’s Museum with its Georgian portraits. I took a mooch about The Minories Gallery, currently there is a show (running till 10th May) called USE / A Miscellany of Collections, more of a display in my opinion, consisting of everyday objects in different shapes, colours and sizes from different eras, an array of coat hangers in a single line run around one wall and a multitude of buttons on another and hooks and whisks on another, and all ordered according to either size or shape or material. With this logic and order it’s quite pleasing to someone with OCD, but I was in and out in ten minutes. The Minories is connected to the Colchester School of Art and an MA course runs from the building upstairs, the shop is cool sells work by artists including past students and teachers. I enjoyed a nice cranberry, brie and bacon sandwich with a coffee in the café and can imagine in the summer it’s a cool place to chill, especially if you fancied sitting in the garden area. It also boasts a zoo, university, football club and Colchester Jazz Club one of the UK’s longest running having first formed in 1956. Fifteen Queen Street (fifteenqueenstreet.org) is a community lead space, with a network of creative’s, and is funded by the Arts Council, Haven Gateway Partnership, co-founded by The Creative Co-op in partnership with first site. Creative Co-op’s brief was 'create a community owned space that connects people and helps creativity flourish at grass roots in Colchester'. There seems to be many opportunities to work on projects, collaborations, with many events each month and lots of creative people operating there. I met Jack, who works there and also runs a board game club, attracting families and hard core gamers alike. Not only that but Jack also runs The Coffee Darkroom, instead of using chemicals to develop photos, Jack uses coffee! Check him out on Facebook ~ The Coffee Darkroom & the Waiting Room...
This brings me to someone equally passionate about art and creative development... Jack’s wife, Bethan whom I met at first site. She kindly showed me around her very exciting up and coming project ‘Voices of the Quarter’.
Bethan says... ‘It’s a micro social history project, and the idea is to create a History Achieve for the quarter, helping to create a new identity. It works like a modern digital library, except you don’t take something you leave something. There will be a phone, and people can leave their story, and it will be available for other people to listen to on a radio’.
The décor in this Micro library is 70's style. How did you decide on the style?
‘the wall paper went up first, then I found some ducks that I thought would go well with the wall paper then I found some curtains that I thought would work well and it just grew’. I say look out for this, because I think it will be fun to get involved with and experience.
So, firstsite. It caused much controversy and up roar amongst the locals, not least because they lost their old bus station to this gallery, but it took five years to complete and cost £28 million instead of the original £18 million budgeted, it was funded by the Arts council, Essex County Council, Colchester Borough Council, East of England Development Agency, University of Essex and foundations, trusts and private sponsors. £28 Million is a lot of money and many people would argue there is other, maybe more important things for the people of Colchester to have had this money spent on. Hardly in keeping with the image of this old Roman town, is first site a mass of glass with a steal frame clad with a gold colour copper-aluminum alloy, sloping curving walls like a banana, high ceilings and lots of natural light flooding in. I instantly thought of the Curve Theatre in Leicester, and sure enough I found out that the very same man designed both buildings, the award-winning Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly. The curve was yet another building that went ridiculously over budget, costing £61 million, instead of the budgeted £26 Million. Still I guess this structure adds more diversity and modernism to the landscape, the firstsite building lies on Scheduled Ancient Monument land with archaeological artefacts buried beneath! One of which you can see at the heart of the site, on permanent display, the Berry field Mosaic, originally unearthed in 1923 and dates back to 200AD, apparently it would have been an everyday day feature to have something like this on your floor. Viñoly trained in the late sixties gaining a diploma in architecture from the University of Buenos Aires followed by a Master of Architecture from the School of Architecture and Urbanism.
The shows here are great; Henri Chopin dans l’Essex, a pioneer of sound and visual poetry, truly inspiring. Aleksandra Domanovic From you to me, traces the history of the internet domain .you as the ragions of Yugoslavia gained independence. Roger Hiorns, Untitled, 2010, two decommissioned jet engines from spy planes that saw service in Afghanistan, and inside the engines Hiorns has placed antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs, making us think about the power of the engineering and pharmaceutical industries. ‘The work makes reference to the creation and the alleviation of anxiety on both national and personal levels, addressing the connection between global security and individual well-being’. (Accompanying note).
Not my favourite, nor most inspiring, but controversial. Simon Denny ~ The personal Effects of Kim Dotcom ~ (Runs to 1st June).
Now, I’d never heard of Kim Dotcom, so this installation taught me something. This supposed internet entrepreneur who really is into money laundering, racketeering and copyright infringement, with a string of previous is currently trying to avoid being done properly and extricated to the US. He has cost Hollywood $500 Million in lost revenue through his website mega uploads which allowed people to download films, music etc. on a massive scale. That’s going to be a lot of people’s lives he’s affected, oh, but it’s okay because he puts his dirty money into anti-terrorism, not really the Robin Hood figure it looks like he’s trying to be. When he was arrested in 2012 his possessions were seized including $175 Million in cash that he had lying around. So Denny’s installation is to give us an idea of the world Kim lives/d in, showing us imitations of possessions that were seized, a quarter of a million pound bed, exact models of a couple of Mercedes cars, a Harley Davidson, just a few of the 22 vehicles he had. So it has a showroom feel to the exhibition, the more interesting bit for me was the newspaper lined walls of The New Zealand Herald that has been documenting this on-going saga.
I have to say that the young women I spoke to work there, Ruby, Bethan and two other’s whose name I didn’t catch, actually made this exhibition a really good experience for me. I’m not sure how much I like the exhibition or if indeed I agree with it, however, the young women were so engaging, friendly, informed and encouraged me to think and debate the show and themes such as ownership in the digital age, with them. For me this is when art works, when debate is created and people engage, connect and are challenged. I also like the fact that a lot of skaters are drawn to the area and gather around first site, ollieing off little concrete walls at the front of the building. I had a chance to speak to the local people, some joked that it’s a very expensive public toilet, others said 'you can just nip in to spend a penny', and someone else said 'it doesn’t feel inclusive; it’s not really about Colchester'. But that really is part of the appeal. it showcases international artists and brings something new to Colchester, connecting it to other places. The thing is, of course this type of art just might not be someone’s cup of tea, and I know it’s tough when big changes happen in towns, art can become quite useless to society on the whole if people feel excluded, but it takes two to tango, I say, give it a go, have a look, go and ask questions and get involved. Include yourself. You never know you might enjoy it.
Lewis Gardens, High Street, Colchester, CO1 1JH - www.firstsite.uk.net
Pics in order:
Henri Chopin dans l'Essex