Tin Town was a contemporary interpretation of the silverware collections at Dunham Massey by Manchester based art and design collective, Ultimate Holding Company. The project was a celebration of craftsmanship and was realised as a site-specific installation situated in Manchester’s historic Castlefield Basin.
Title Tin Town Historical Sites Dunham Massey, Greater Manchester, Upper Campfield Market Hall, Manchester Lead Artists Ultimate Holding Company Artwork Sculpture Partners / Stakeholders National Trust, Ultimate Holding Company, Manchester City Council, Manchester School of Art Budget £14,000 Development 4 months Dates 14–24th February 2013, Upper Campfield Market and 6–10th April 2013, Dunham Massey
Ultimate Holding Company were commissioned to deliver a new artist-led project near Manchester’s historic Castlefield basin. The commission was to be ‘a creative interpretation of places, spaces and their stories’, and artists from UHC created a series of new artworks in response to the National Trust’s property Dunham Massey, hand crafting, in painstakingly fine detail, reproductions and forms derived from the historic silverware collections and presented them in a purpose built installation in an under-used Victorian market hall adjacent to Castlefield Basin.
Although the new sculptures had the appearance and style of late 18th Century domestic silverware, they were in fact created entirely from ordinary kitchen aluminium foil. The title Tin Town also related to the name given to the shanty-towns, which sprang up around the Bridgewater Canal to house navvies and those working on the waterways.
The main objectives of Tin Town were to:
- Animate the Campfield Market Hall and surroundings.
- Connect families to the canal basin area in the city.
- Create opportunities for the art-going audience to experience the National Trust in the city.
- Create new outstanding quality artworks through collaboration and engagement.
- Present a professionally exhibited body of work.
- Create a working partnership between UHC and National Trust that gives artists an opportunity to work creatively and experimentally in a heritage environment.
TheThe project was developed over a period of 4 months; a detailed brief was produced by UHC Creative Director Jai Redman which outlined the Tin Town concept, and work began in December 2012 to explore the silverware collection, after which MA students at Manchester School of Art were invited to volunteer to help create the tin foil sculptures.
An intense period of production followed that included tin sculpting workshops with students and technical meetings with UHC technical Director on the logistics of the installation. White Circle, a shipping crate architecture company were invited to develop concepts for sheds in which to house the work but this idea was not pursued because of the potential risk of damage to the entrance and floor of the listed Market Hall during installation.
Access to the source material at Dunham Massey was limited to one site visit, after which the artists worked from images in books and those supplied online by the National Trust.
Tin Town was comprised of approximately 50 items of handmade mock silverware made entirely from tin foil and the works were displayed on specially created wooden stands, with hand written explanations. The pieces were presented in a ‘gallery like’ environment in a specially adapted tin shed set within the Upper Campfield Market, which also housed a video slide show that illustrated the original Dunham Silverware alongside a selection of the tools used to make the tin sculptures.
The overall effect was a contemporary museum-like room, inside an urban industrial landscape, brimming with shiny objects that were intended to provoke the visitor to value their origin, artistry, social context and ultimately their ‘worth’.
The tin objects ranged from elaborate silver cisterns, salvers, plates and cutlery to less easily identifiable decorative objects, including bells, shells and buttons inspired by the Dunham Massey collection. By juxtaposing silverware with domestic tin foil and images of working class life in a market hall, Tin Town explored how we experience country houses and their collections, and the role that class plays in these contexts.
An additional piece A Passing Cloud was created during family creative workshops at the Market Hall and was re-exhibited in the Dunham Massey laundry after the initial exhibition had finished, this created its’ own logistical problems as the light weight tin works could not be attached directly to the ceiling or walls and complex solutions had to be devised by the UHC technicians.
Tin Town was funded by the National Trust, and in kind support from Manchester City Council who waived the rent for Upper Campfield Market Hall enabling £4750 of the budget to cover the extensive fit out and installation costs within the venue. The remaining budget was spent on the engagement programme, project management and artists’ fees, with significant time given in kind by students from Manchester School of Art.
Marketing was shared between the National Trust and UHC in house teams and included: A private view, an online presence, a press strategy, bespoke banners/pop-up displays at the venue and flyers/response cards.
Pre publicity was arranged with Manchester Evening News and Tin Town has since been featured on BBC’s Blue Peter.
Invigilators were on site to help the audience understand and engage with the work and a handout that accompanied the exhibition put the artists’ approach into context, with a simplified version for younger visitors.
Three workshops enabling visitors to make their own tin dish sculptures accompanied the exhibition, aimed at families, with each workshop attracting an average of 30 participants and this was later exhibited as A Passing Cloud at Dunham Massey.
The exhibition also included a ‘treasure hunt’ where visitors could follow a trail of tin foil letters in and around the building with a prize that included a free family pass and cream tea at Dunham Massey.
Tin Town provided an opportunity for the artists to uncover otherwise hard-to-access historic spaces; Upper Campfield Market Hall and the Laundry Room at Dunham Massey, and the installation also enabled the audience to gain an insight into an artist’s working process and experience the level of craftsmanship involved in the creation of artworks.
Over 700 visitors attended the installation at the market hall, with 126 people attending the creative workshops that accompanied the exhibition. Feedback from the exhibitions was very positive both from existing UHC and National Trust audiences’. The high level of interest and positive responses resulted in the exhibition dates being extended, and work being shown at Dunham Massey.
Volunteers - The project would have benefited from additional lead-in time, this would have allowed extra briefing for volunteers, and specific volunteer roles could have been allocated in advance which would have assisted in the audience engagement process.
Interpretation - Artist designed interpretation panels worked well, and were a valuable tool in providing access to and understanding about the project to a wide audience.
Marketing - Marketing was divided between National Trust and UHC and a more unified profile may have been achieved if the marketing had been lead by a single design team. Web information could have been in place for a longer period prior to the exhibition to attract additional audience numbers to a site that had limited passing footfall.
Engagement - The drop in workshops, and engagement elements of the exhibition were extremely popular and additional handling materials and further visuals within the treasure hunt to engage younger users would have complemented the experience further.
The Heritage Site - Working within two different heritage locations highlighted the logistical and technical issues that can arise with the installation of artworks in non-conventional and protected spaces.
Who are UHC?
Ultimate Holding Company is a small group of pioneers; artists and designers working together for a more creative, sustainable and equitable society.
We operate at the junction of contemporary visual art, design and engaged practice. Our work provokes and responds to people and place within the wider context of social need.
Much of our recent work has considered themes of loss, extinction and hidden value by focussing on what we discard, what we lose and what we hardly notice has disappeared.
We believe that there are no hard-to-reach groups; it is our role as artists to discover the kind of artistic intervention that is right for each community.
How We Work
Our process begins with close listening to partners and to communities. This leads to work realised through public events, exhibitions, debate, digital activity and the creation of distinctive art and design.
Undervalued urban landscapes and communities often provide the site and context for activity whilst sustainability informs everything we create and do. We develop ideas with people that can provide the catalyst for regeneration and revitalisation in their communities.
What we create is based on the relationships we build with people; the scale, form, location and work develop through co-authorship and collaboration. Our projects may involve mass engagement, or can be more intimate interactions where a handful of people have an experience that lasts a lifetime.
Artist Statement - Jai Redman - Creative Director UHC
Jai Redman is a visual artist and Creative Director of Ultimate Holding Company (UHC), the collaborative art and design studio he established in 2002.
Through acclaimed projects including This Is Camp X-Ray (2003) and extInked (2009) Jai and UHC have established themselves as provocative, creative pioneers with a clear social agenda: challenging us all to engage and embrace the role of artist/activist through collaboration.
Jai’s practice produces distinctive work of great beauty. Never located in any single field or format, it borrows from a seemingly unending list of disciplines from painting and graphic design to large scale public realm events and installations.
He has recently created a mobile research station and written a romance novel tracing the political life of Barbara Cartland for the Tatton Biennial and worked with Manchester Art Gallery to explore the legacy of the 1920‘s Empire Marketing Board.