Littlemoor Wishes - Weymouth Relief Road
In preparation for the sailing events of the 2012 Games being hosted by Weymouth and Portland, Dorset County Council built a major new relief road from Dorchester to Weymouth. The building of a new road involves the creation of new landscapes and new vistas that will be appreciated by thousands of motorists each day. Due to the scale of the relief road and the unique opportunity it presented, it was proposed in the Weymouth and Portland Commissioning Plan for 2012 that public art should play a part in helping to make the relief road an attractive and engaging approach to Weymouth. Two artists were appointed to develop proposals for permanent artworks that would visually enhance the journey and to develop and implement a temporary project with the Littlemoor community for whom the relief road would impact the most. (see http://www.celfwaith.co.uk/node/1642 for Richard Harris's commission)
Claire Barber was appointed and to support Claire in engaging the community, we enlisted a local public art project manager, Nicky Whittenham. Claire developed a project that allowed the people of Littlemoor an opportunity to express their experiences, thoughts and feelings about the new road. Claire wrote “My practice grows from the interconnection between place and the way people are connected to their surrounding environment, predominantly producing site conditional work. During this project I hoped to challenge my own preconceptions of a community linked and simultaneously divided through the construction of a new road.”
Claire visited Littlemoor to research her project, going to the local play areas, meeting dog walkers, visiting the children’s play section in the library and chatting with other parents. Although initially she focused on the visual aspects of the landscape, it was, in fact, the specific landscape of the voice of the community that became significant.
On each visit she recorded the development of the road building, and the extreme physical changes to the local landscape. The Heras fencing was literally re-mapping the landscape, and directing her and others along new paths over Southdown Ridge towards Littlemoor. She became interested in the Heras fencing as a potential site as it marked the periphery of the road building while providing the means to look through the structure of the fencing, connecting both sides of the road corridor.
While forming ideas on location Claire tied a range of suitcase tags to the Heras fencing. The suitcase tags carry with them notions of a new voyage, a sense of expectation, and when attached to the Heras fencing with the Relief Road works behind them, something like a personal prayer, hope or message seemed to happen.
To create tags for her project she chose neoprene textile as the material as it is bright and soft while being weather proof but still with a degree of vulnerability to the elements. She also explored written questions alongside a small ‘kit’ with instructions that contained all you would need to take part in an interactive artwork.
A Littlemoor Relief Road Public Art Project Meeting was held to which local people were invited through the Littlemoor newsletter and an e-mail invitation was sent to Elected Members of both Weymouth and Portland Borough Council and Dorset Council County. Claire presented her initial ideas and from the feedback was able to progress the concept to a final project proposal.
The title of the project evolved to 'Littlemoor Wishes' with the question for participants to complete 'I wish...'. Claire wrote about her idea “I hoped through the accessibility of a wish (we all can make a wish form the first blow of candles of a three year old's birthday cake), to emerge a highly contemporary commentary that could tap into what we hold most dear in our lives, to the flippant, but no less personal wish made on the spur of the moment. In this way, each individual, what ever age, could collectively contribute to the whole.”
The kit was a plastic clip-seal bag containing a pen, neoprene tags, tie clips, instructions and an invitation to Tag Day. In August 2009 the kit was posted to all 2400 homes in Littlemoor, enabling all Littlemoor residents to become involved in the artwork. People were given instructions to tie the tags onto the metal Heras fencing surrounding the Relief Road works. Alternatively, a text number was provided to enable wishes to be anonymously texted to a personal e-mail account.
The project ran for two weeks, after which the tags were collected and used as a source material for a book publication. A ‘Littlemoor Wishes Tag Box’ was displayed in Littlemoor Library, alongside more tags and pens, so that people, if they could not walk up to Littlemoor hill, could use the library as a drop off point. Posters and information about the project were also accessible from the library.
To launch Littlemoor Wishes ‘Tag Day‘ (14 August 2009) was created; all residents were invited to Littlemoor Hill (also known as Southdown Ridge) ‘to make a wish, eat tag cake and watch Littlemoor Wishes grow’. A yellow tent was erected with balloons and posters and signs directed people to the venue on Southdown Ridge.
The first to arrive to the Tag Day event was a local business man. He took out from his brief case three tags which he carefully tied to the fence, then went on his way. Second to arrive was a police lady who carried a bundle of tags which she had collected from the elderly members of Littlemoor community. She stopped to read many of the tags which had already gathered the night before. Very soon large numbers of the Littlemoor community began arriving; children, families, couples, and walking groups. Each person brought with them their tags to tie to the fence, spending a long time reading all the tags which began to grow in numbers very quickly. The response was such that soon huge clusters of brightly coloured tags were seen fluttering on the Heras fencing against a moving backdrop of road building.
Many people commented on the day what a delight and surprise it had been to receive the Littlemoor Wishes bag through their letter box, something positive rather than the usual bills or advertising, with the opportunity to share their hopes, desires or dreams. The messages on the tags themselves were the main focus of conversation – funny, poetic, rude and often poignant, here is a selection:
I had a red car
For a new heart
A better sister
I could find someone to share my life with
A handy man
I had a girlfriend
Hope to get my dream job when im older
my dad had a permanent job
I had a job I liked
she was pregnant ( tags tied together) I was pregnant
for a living breathing baby for my daughter
4 daddy to put us first
This road wasnt being built
the relief road would go a bit quicker
my mum would let me have a snake
Communities both sides of the relief road participated in Littlemoor Wishes with equal enthusiasm during the two weeks installation in August. The colourful tags visually activated the industrial metallic fencing making visual and potent, silent voices across the borders forming the relief road.
As a permanent record of the project a book was published including every tag collected at the end of the project. Each household in Littlemoor was given a copy of the book.
The project was funded by Arts Council South West and the book funded by Dorset Council.