'LETCHWORTH: A vision of Utopia' ... to 27 April 2014

'Paradise' by Maxine King at the Town Hall

A Vision of Utopia is a public exhibition in and around Letchworth Garden City. Curated by the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation in collaboration with Digswell Arts Trust, the city of Letchworth will become an exhibition site for eleven new commissions from local, national and international contemporary artists.  Curated by Kimberley Bevan, Kiera Blakey & Robert Burton.

A Vision of Utopia takes as its starting point Ebenezer Howard’s influential book ‘To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform’ (1898). The book gave rise to the garden city movement which underpinned the founding of Letchworth. The original vision was as a utopian city of the future, enjoying the benefits of both town and country. In pursuing this vision, Letchworth Garden City was endowed with iconic places and buildings that have become central to the town’s identity today. The exhibition seeks to connect the utopian vision of the Garden City with the town today by re-imagining Howard's ideology through eleven new commissions in and around the town. The starting point for the exhibition is Letchworth Town Hall as a reimagined archive of the city, by the artists.

The eleven commissions will include new works by London-based artist Samara Scott, former and current Digswell Arts Trust fellows Christina Bryant and Permindar Kaur and Amsterdam-based Johann Arens.

Through a series of visits to the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation’s archive, Scott has created a new fabric installation that responds to the rich history of Letchworth’s textile industry. Scott uses peripheral and unconventional materials as the fabric for her works. Leftover hunks of foam are soaked in nail varnish or squidges of Aquafresh toothpaste are stretched, fingered and ultimately hijacked to make entirely new collages.

For Letchworth Town Hall Christina Bryant has engaged in a series of archaeological investigations in Letchworth, extracting the leftover or insignificant by collecting, mapping and analysing finds from within the city’s leftover or empty spaces. A new series of drawings re-imagine these excavated objects as contemporary historical artefacts alongside a soundscape - an audio map of the area the drawings were borne from.

For Tower Permindar Kaur has built a large and freestanding stacked tower of iron chairs. The chairs, like building blocks, decrease in size as the tower grows, suggestive of the people that make up a community and contribute to its growth, development and change. Kaur’s work investigates integration and belonging, examining different strategies of integration and assimilation with the aim of challenging cultural constraints, acceptability and the rejection of difference.

At the now closed Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery, Johann Arens has created a site-specific installation. Working among the preparation, cleaning and transportation of the museum’s collection to its new home, Arens has made a series of sculptural interventions and subtle rearrangements of the museum’s remaining collection. These interventions and new works create an immersive installation, where the whole site of the museum becomes the work, in a gesture that invites the audience to look and then look again.

Together the eleven exhibits for A Vision of Utopia invite a reappraisal of Letchworth’s existing landscape, iconic buildings and the often overlooked spaces and places that become so familiar we forget to look.

EXHIBITING ARTISTS:

Johann Arens, The Closed Museum, Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery

Christina Bryant, Recordings From a Site of Minor Disorder, Town Hall

Mario Ercol Borza, the fountain, Broadway Gardens

Miche Follano, various locations around the city

Chris Groombridge, Conventus, Cloisters

Nicholas Jeeves, Town Hall

Permindar Kaur, Tower, Spirella

Maxine King, Paradise, Town Hall

Karen Picton, Limitless, TBC

Tina Reid, Joyous Union, Broadway Cinema

Samara Scott, Untitled, The International Garden City Exhibition

'Conventus' by Chris Groombridge at The Cloisters
EVENTS

People will have a chance to star as a ghost in a film, create art work or stories for a Letchworth Memory Book, or produce images using a camera obscura in free Saturday art events running as part of the A Vision of Utopia exhibition in Letchworth Garden City from 29 March.

The Saturday workshops in a pop-up gallery at 34 Leys Avenue will run from 10.30am to 2.30pm, offering a chance for budding artists and young families to try new and exciting art forms, including film and book-making.

Beth McDougall, Community Projects and Learning Co-ordinator of Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation said: “This should be a really exciting and novel way of looking at Letchworth and an opportunity for budding artists to find out more about how artists work as well as getting to create their own works of art.”

The town is to be turned into a living art gallery for A Vision of Utopiawith a rolling programme of experiences, events and installations inspired by Letchworth’s unique heritage as the first Garden City. The exhibition has been created by the Foundation and Digswell Arts Trust. The workshops offer a chance for people to add their own visions alongside artists’ installations.

On 29 March John Vincent is inviting visitors to become the ‘ghosts’ of a dystopian tomorrow in a darkly humorous interpretation of the exhibition concept reimagined as ‘Letchworth: A Dystopian Vision.’ Members of the public will be ‘auditioned’ as the new inhabitants of the town and collaborate with John in creating a video installation, premiering at the end of the exhibition.

On 5 April Sarah Bellisario will be inviting you to collage, paint, and draw your thoughts and memories of the Garden City, binding together Letchworth’s past in a single utopian vision set down in the Letchworth Memory Book. Each page will weave together the memories of today with the vision of the town’s Letchworth Pioneers.

On 12 April Miriam Fraser will use a camera obscura, a drawing aid used for centuries and made famous by the 17th Century Dutch Masters, and will invite visitors to see Letchworth ‘turned on its head’. Participants are invited to capture the fleeting moving images on paper documenting the changing urban landscape below.

On 19 April, in Lost, Found, Imagined, Jane Glynn will invite visitors to document their memories and hopes for the future of Letchworth. She will help to illustrate and weave together people’s stories of memories of people and things, the tangible and intangible in a three page book, which will be carefully placed in towers of memories.

On 26 April Ben Phe will use a risograph, better known for its school poster making abilities, to take old postcards of Letchworth and layer them with new illustrations. Participants will work with Ben to illustrate a new vision of the Garden City, creating a fresh twist on iconic Letchworth images.  

Places for John Vincent and Miriam Fraser’s workshops must be booked. For more information and to book a free place please visit: www.letchworth.com/artsandculture

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