The Clearing is the first ‘eye-catcher’ for Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park.
Title The Clearing Historical Sites Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park, Warwickshire Lead Artists Alex Hartley and Tom James Artwork Partners / Stakeholders funded by Heritage Lottery Fund; supported by Historic England; advised by Arts&Heritage Budget £45,000 Development Dates 18 March – 17 December 2017. Planning for the dome to stay until March 2019
This was an opportunity to develop a new work in the parkland at Compton Verney as part of a Landscape Restoration Project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which aimed to be significant, high profile and impactful.
The team at Compton Verney wanted a work that attracted attention – hence the term ‘eye-catcher’ and where possible for it to be participatory, surprising or inventive and respond to the history/heritage of the landscape. Through this commission we also hoped to deepen historic understanding and enjoyment of Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park and to prompt enquiry and new ways of looking at the site, via a 21st century response to its history, building upon its unique architectural, art and design led identity.
- To attract more people to site and help drive ambitious visitor targets.
- To engage our existing audiences
- Engage new audiences to visit
- To increase awareness of Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park.
- To respond to the impact of ‘Capability’ Brown on Compton Verney’s landscape.
- To make a lasting impression on long after visitors have gone.
- To increase the reach of Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park’s distinctive/ innovative programme.
- To stimulate debate about contemporary public art in a historic rural environment.
- To respond sensitively and imaginatively to Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park’s site/historic setting.
Arts&Heritage worked with Compton Verney’s Curator to develop a brief which was subsequently sent out to all contacts; artists and organisations; press, social media and advertising in the UK.
We asked for artists to submit an expression of interest to the Curator by February 2016. The expression of interest was a very short proposal outlining ideas and how the brief could be met together with a CV and artist statement and up 6 images of previous work. Approximately 120 artists applied for the opportunity. The Curator then worked with Arts&Heritage, Compton Verney’s Head of Grounds and Head of Programming to shortlist from the artists' submissions. Once the shortlist was drawn up we asked the shortlisted artists (paying them a fee) to work up a more detailed proposal to include sketch designs, visualisations and explanation of the concept for the project. This included how it related/connected directly to the location; how the artist would approach its design, fabrication and installation and a detailed budget for realising the commission.
We also asked for details where possible of maintenance requirements and lifespan expectations; how the work could engage with the audiences (new and current); and detail of the anticipated duration of the project and where possible a timescale broken down into research, production and delivery. We also invited artists to visit should they want to.
Artists had just under a month to draw up the proposal and submit it to the Curator. Once submitted, all artists were invited to interview and the interview panel included the Curator, Arts&Heritage, Head of Programming and the Deputy Director, along with a representative from Historic England who was also a representative for the HLF.
Following the interviews Alex Hartley and Tom James were chosen for their proposal The Clearing.
Following the appointment of the artists, the site of the work was chosen with Head of Grounds and advised by Compton Verney’s landscape advisors and planners.
The Clearing is a vision of the future in the grounds of Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park. Alex Hartley and Tom James have created an evolving encampment in the shadow of the old stately home, where people can come together to learn how to live in a different world. Developing throughout 2017, The Clearing will become part school, part shelter and part vision.
At the centre of The Clearing is a geodesic dome; a shabby, hand-built structure in direct contrast to the manicured landscape around it. Inside, a series of workshops will teach visitors the skills they’ll need once sea levels rise and the global economy collapses: from building fires and digging toilets, through brewing mead and making wind turbines, to establishing democracies. Outside of the workshops, a series of caretakers will occupy the dome throughout 2017, to feed the chickens, chop the wood, and keep the vision alive. The Clearing has been commissioned as a new ‘eye-catcher’ in the Compton Verney landscape: a 21st century version of the follies that Capability Brown once built. Half ruined and half inhabited, half hopeless and half optimistic, the project aims to help people understand the future we’re leaving for our children, and to start a conversation about what we stand to lose in a world afflicted by climate change, but also what we might gain.
This project was funded as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund Landscape Restoration Project. A budget of £45,000 was offered to the artists, but in addition we included additional budget for the participatory elements (initially to be taken on by Compton Verney’s programming team) for the artists, as that was element they included in their project.
The total budget to the artists for the project ended up being £49,000. This included the design, making, activating/participation element, installing of the work. There was an additional budget for administration, planning and marketing.
The de-installation of the project will be undertaken by Compton Verney in 2019.
- To attract more people to site and help drive ambitious visitor targets.
There has been huge interest in the project from local and national press, co-ordinated by Tracy Brera, Compton Verney’s Press Consultant. Members of the press, from the Financial Times, City AM, have also become caretakers. The artists and Curator have also been on local TV, local radio, and BBC Radio’s Front Row. There has been a really successful social media campaign associated around the commission.
Our ambition for the project is to actively engage with the following audience groups:
1) Pre-existing community groups.
We’ll involve existing community groups across the West Midlands on a workshop-by-workshop basis. Where possible these groups will be actively involved in the workshops, and will be invited to share their skills with other participants.
2) The regional artist community.
We will use our contacts with the contemporary art community to access a young, connected audience from the West Midlands and beyond.
3) School-children and families.
Building on Compton Verney’s already successful Forest Schools programme, local schoolchildren and family groups will be a key audience for the project. The project will build on the demand for interesting, outdoor experiences that the Forest Schools programme caters for, and build on the precedent set for safely managing potentially risky activities.
4) The current audience.
The Clearing will also engage with certain demographics within our current audience. In particular, Metroculturals and Experience Seekers will be attracted by the innovative nature of the work, whilst the Dormitory Dependables and Home and Heritage demographics will overlap with the community groups above.
The dome and site was built by 20 volunteers and the artists over a 6 week period from February to March 2017. These were recruited by the artists, via social media and by the artist’s assistant, who was contracted as part of the project. The caretakers have also been recruited through social media and marketing. We had 160 people apply to be a caretaker with only 39 places available. Caretakers are onsite from Monday to Saturday morning, and their purpose is to ‘keep’ the utopia vision alive, look after the dome and the site, and also to talk about the project to Compton Verney’s visitors visiting The Clearing.
As mentioned, there are workshops every fortnight throughout 2017. These workshops are based at The Clearing, are for approx 20 people and are based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Starting with teaching people to build a fire from scratch, make a water filter, make a cob over, look after chickens, and building up to astrology and politics towards the end of the year.
Tom James with his designer Jon (who also designed The Clearing website) made his own handmade signage throughout Compton Verney’s site, which was distinctly different from Compton Verney’s usual signage.
The Clearing is ongoing throughout 2017, so no formal evaluation has been carried out as yet. However, please read the Caretakers' journal written following their 5 days staying in The Clearing:
The Clearing has been a risk for Compton Verney, but it has offered visitors a chance to engage with the issues that will determine the 21st century – climate change, adaption, resilience and community – in a meaningful, accessible way, and appeal to a wide audience who would not normally engage with such ideas. We believe that this modern folly will capture people’s attention, not just in the landscape, but across the national and art media. It is ongoing throughout 2017, and has offered the chance to do something ambitious, participative and bold.
Planning for the dome to stay until March 2019.
Images: The Clearing, Alex Hartley and Tom James, 2017. Photos by Theo Simpson
The project is a collaboration between Alex Hartley and Tom James.
Alex Hartley is a contemporary artist, who has exhibited widely throughout the world since leaving the RCA in the early 1990’s. His ten-year project Nowhereisland was one of the signature projects for the London 2012 Olympics, bringing a newly discovered Arctic island to the UK. More than 23,000 people signed up as citizens of this new country. He was part of the 2014 Folkestone Triennial, and in 2015, he won the Arts Foundation award for Art in the Elements, and the COAL prix for Art in the Environment. In recent years, Alex has increasingly made post-studio works outside of the gallery, often involving occupation and participation. Current projects include a major commission for Somerset House’s Utopia season, a modernist ruin for Kentucky, and an occupied bunker for Victoria Miro Gallery London.
Tom James is a writer, self-publisher and artist. He has ten years experience of creating innovative publishing projects to help people reimagine structures, communities and ideas. Tom’s work has been featured across the national media; his campaign to reuse two abandoned cooling towers as art was the focus of a Channel 4 documentary; and his fanzine, Go, is part of the permanent collection of the V&A. Tom is also part of Spacemakers, an arts and regeneration agency based in Brighton. Tom led the Cricklewood Town Square project for Spacemakers, a public space project in North-West London that engaged and worked with various community groups to bring disused ground to life. Recently, Tom’s practice has headed in a new direction. He’s currently producing A Future Manual: a DIY guide that aims to explore the skills we’ll need in a future depleted by climate change. He has run fire-making workshops at g39 in Cardiff, and distributed the manual at the London Art Book Fair, at Whitechapel Gallery.