The Longbridge Light Festival Shadow Factory (LLF) in October 2016 marked the near culmination of 5 years of the Longbridge Public Art Programme (LPAP). LPAP and LLF are interrelated, devised and produced by independent art organisation WERK, who specialise in working site-specifically in the urban realm.
The large-scale LLF event featured 35 artists and took place across a range of public, retail and education spaces both indoors and out. Its intention was to encourage visitors to explore the urban landscape through light, art and curious encounters in unusual places.
In the past 5 years, LPAP has encompassed a long-term artist residency and public event programme embedded within one of the largest regeneration schemes in the UK, and within one of the most historically significant areas relating to British car manufacturing – Longbridge in the south of Birmingham. Once the site of a thriving motor factory (1905-2005), Longbridge has been in the midst of massive regeneration after a long fallow period. WERK’s creation of both LPAP and LLF are at their heart about the history, transformation and recreation of Longbridge. They are also, perhaps most importantly, for Longbridge.
Core objectives for both the project and festival were to explore place making, socially engaged and new genre public art practice by placing this approach at the heart of this unique and complex development. Within the long-term artist residency and guest artist programme, incremental artist commissioning has involved a wide range of artistic practices, with the intention to mirror important junctures within the regeneration scheme and the significant transition of the area.
LLF 2016 and its theme Shadow Factory curated by Claire Farrell, WERK, related to the history of Longbridge and explored the multiple social, physical and political narratives that are embedded within the area including its industry. Shadow Factory featured an ensemble of installations, interactions, fleeting interventions, performance and experiences devised and made by artists from Birmingham, elsewhere in the UK, Spain, Germany and the USA. The result was a notable body of newly commissioned temporary and permanent work for Longbridge.
Many of the artists were part of the LPAP long-term residency programme making work through extensive research, sensitivity and close collaboration with members of the community and local groups in response to the population, heritage and possible future of the site. The festival further included a series of dance and music performances, street food and family activities assembled to activate the new built environment.
One of the centrepieces of LLF, for instance, was a community parade devised by artist duo General Public who brought a touch of 1960s idealism with their ‘very civil’ rights march. Taking its title from a Martin Luther King quote Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter, the parade featured local community groups and school children marching with banners and placards, made by the people that took part, highlighting the things that are important to them.
Among other works, artist Cathy Wade developed a community garden at Longbridge train station, created and tended to by local residents and showcased three other commissions as a result of her long-term residency. Wade’s Star Map is a visualisation of the night sky over Longbridge at the time of Lord Austin’s visit to select the site for the car plant, while Found Sculpture: Sightlines of Longbridge used light to transform redundant elements of local architecture into markers of industry and as an enduring signal of the ingenuity and creativity that evolved industry in Longbridge. She also devised a permanent lighting and planting scheme situated across the regenerated site.
Artist duo Industry of the Ordinary spent time with Greenlands Select Social Club and installed new sculptural doors on its façade that record the names of every member in its history alongside oral history recordings emitted during LLF. Longbridge TV, a project by Emily Warner and Sarah Taylor Silverwood, saw the creation of a playful video project made in collaboration with local residents who shared advice, tips and hacks with their community shown on a large screen outside Bournville College.
Partnerships with businesses and other on-site organisations have proven vital and unique site archives have been mined by the artists working commissioned for LLF and LPAP. Matthew J Watkins’ commission using archival photographs, for example, was shown on digital and slide projectors for Marks & Spencer’s large window and is testament to the effective partnership working that LPAP has achieved. Sited within a multi-storey carpark, Bobby Gardner and Anna Schimkat’s experiential work featured a choir of local voices, sound and coloured light. Ian Richards exhibited Serodiscordant and A New Death in an empty retail unit in Longbridge, a series of new text-based works that suggested a clandestine domain of secret languages and communication systems. Stuart Whipps developed a number of audio, photographic and process-based works exploring Longbridge in the 1970s with multiple archival sources and the help of former plant workers who have generously volunteered their time.
Other notable works were produced by Juneau Projects, Gizzago, Sam Williams, Joseph Potts, Mark Murphy, Dan Newso and Luke Perry. Barcelona-based collective PlayMID presented their large-scale work Axial made using beams of light and reverberating sound to animate Longbridge’s outdoor space. This was one of the most striking works from LLF and served as a dramatic tribute to Longbridge’s industrial past.
Text by Anneka French