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Early draft design proposal for Coventry Canal Basin; courtesy of the HEGR artists.
As the production and origins of goods become increasingly complex and remote, this programme addressed a wish to return to our roots and participate in the making of things. Hand Earth Gesture Return was made from earth, straw and water – natural, locally grown, sourced and sustainable materials. It was designed, and made for, and with, communities in Coventry and Warwickshire. The materials were brought to different community groups to be handled, modelled and manipulated. They worked alongside collaborating artists based in the UK and India to create this project. The design reconnects us to our physical world and, through shared material understanding, explores existing connections between cultures.
This is a new approach to public art that turns the creation and erosion process into a series of performative events that the public can witness or participate in. From the growing and harvesting of a field of Atle Spring wheat, turning the grain into flour and using the long-stem straw for the installation, to the extraction and processing of clay, there were opportunities for people to handle materials, get making and participate in the full material lifecycle and transformation process. In this way we created a greater connection to, and understanding of, our material environment and culture, embedding ecology, art and sustainability into people’s experience of art and their city.
The development of Hand Earth Gesture Return publicly manifested as chapters across different media (film, photography, sculpture, performance, installation, events) over the course of a year. Through this approach we shared the development and evolution, across time and space, of this ambitious, world-class public art project; from an idea forming through local, national and international collaboration and responding to stimuli. It exposed what usually goes on behind the scenes and in artists’ studios as the artwork was made in public over time. The public could join making workshops and performances, visit temporary installations, follow online tutorials and follow the story of transformation online.
Kumartuli artisans, in Kolkata, building the armatures for clay idols for Durga Puja; International Changemakers British Council / Coventry City of Culture Research trip, 2020
Five artists based in the UK and India were invited to work with the people of Coventry and Warwickshire to develop and create this temporary public sculpture. It was inspired by the use of earth, water and straw around the world, from British cob and thatching, via Egyptian mudbrick, Latin American quincha, African rammed earth – and Kolkata’s Durga Puja Hindu Festival. The artwork reveals the shared cultural heritage of our diverse local community by exploring our cross-cultural connections to these materials; their uses, rituals, harvest, extraction, lifecycle and transformation.
From March 2020 curators Nandita Palchoudhuri (IN) and Lucy Tomlins (UK), alongside the artists, worked with local community groups, national and international collaborators and supporters to develop this. Taking us from Coventry to Kolkata and back, the design is a product of diverse inputs and influences, from people, places, cities and nature.
Hand Earth Gesture Return is produced by Pangaea Sculptors’ Centre.
Curators: Nandita Palchoudhuri (Kolkata, India) / Lucy Tomlins (Warwickshire, UK).
Exposition / Prologue – R&D, community consultation, design proposal, planting.
Chapter 1: The Seed – A short film documenting an improvised collaborative drumming journey that took place before the July wheat harvest in Hatton, Warwickshire.
Chapter 3: The Hairy Barge – Processioning the materials to the communities that will use them.
Chapter 4: The Build – Creating the sculptures with the public.
Chapter 5: Gesture – A ritual with drummers bringing the sculptures together at Coventry Canal Basin, completing them and beginning their erosion.
Chapter 6: Return – Recycling and returning the materials to source or the community.
“As primary instruments of the creative, the hands of the homo-faber imitate the mythic shaping of matter into discriminated being by deities who chisel, mold, sculpt, weave and forge creation. Hands signify the sovereign, word- creating reach of consciousness; they embody effectiveness, industry, adaption, invention, self-expression and the possession of a will for creative and destructive ends.”
[The Book of Symbols]
Creative research; courtesy of HEGR artists.
The clay and straw sculptures built and publicly eroded, foreground the hand – it’s form, actions and gestures – as a way to make deeper connections between people, place and matter. Hands are a universal and personal symbol, which convey meaning that penetrate barriers including gender, age or race.
Taking inspiration from the cyclical use of clay and straw by the Kumartuli idol makers of Kolkata, within this temporary installation the sculptures made from clay and straw will be allowed to break down and erode, with water, the clay skin breaking apart to reveal their inner-workings before their inevitable collapse.
Inspiration has been taken from the submerged clay idols, Bengal.
At the end of the exhibition period, all excess materials were donated for reuse, recycled or returned to the supply chain or nature., completing the life cycle of the programme and beginning the next.
R&D, community consultation, design proposal, planting. (Jan – June 2021) More >
A short film documenting an improvised collaborative drumming journey that took place before the July 2021 wheat harvest in Hatton, Warwickshire. More >
A temporary thatched rick of straw in our Hatton wheat field, marking the end of the summer’s harvest. More >
Processioning the materials to the communities that will use them; from Hatton Locks to Coventry Canal basin, March 2022. More >
Running April – July there were a number of ways to get involved with the creation of the sculptural forms and fragments.
Clay Flower Workshops led by Zoe Petrie
Sat 14 May 10-12 pm GNP Gurdwara, Coventry
Sat 4 June Broad Street Community Centre, Coventry
Every Monday night in June 6.30-8.30pmMonday Night Makers, Imagineer Productions, Daimler Powerhouse, Coventry, CV1 4DQ
Architectural Fragments Making
29 April: 3-day workshop for Coventry University Students led by Rachael Champion and Jim Woodall.
8 June: 3-day workshop for Coventry College Students led by Amy & Oliver Thomas-Irvine.
Experimental public art installation co-created with extensive input from communities in Foleshill, Radford and beyond. Coventry Canal Basin became a stage created by scaffold straw drying racks, clay-smeared billboard posters, raw construction materials, paraphernalia and sculptural forms in stages of evolution. The act of creation itself was the art … artists and public inter-twining…hands, feet moving to a shared rhythm… the sounds of production… bodies responding to the beat of drums connecting us back to the earth. Tuesday 12th – Sunday 17th July, 12 – 8 pm. More >
It was always the ambition for this artwork that the materials be reused, recycled or returned to the earth. A number of the architectural fragments are now installed at The Peace Orchard in Coundon Hall Park, Coventry, where the erosion process continues. Other materials now start a new life cycle having been donated to local allotments and community groups.