Wakefield - a city that everyone knows of but few have visited - feels good.This city, that was once of great importance as the centre of local government for West Riding, was painted by Turner as he sat on the banks of the River Calder looking towards a skyline which largely still exists, with some additions.
Almost adjacent to Turner's chosen location will be a new art gallery, currently the subject of an architectural competition. If the right design is chosen, this new building will be the first addition of quality to the town since its heyday.Nothing has happened of any significance for years.A lot of the investment that has taken place is of the variety that tends to suck the lifeblood out of a town.
In the midst of Wakefield is the Orangery, which today houses an organisation called Public Arts. It promotes the introduction of art as a major driver of urban renaissance and to this end it is successful, though it is only at the beginning of its journey.What interests me more is the possibility of it forming the basis of new gallery practice.As it evolves, it could become the focus for non-gallery art practice, creating events and dialogues that place the artist at the centre of society and its decisionmaking.This place allows artists to reconsider the nature of the idea of 'studio'because it expands the canvas on which they work.
The Orangery could be vital in engendering new work that can fill the gallery about to emerge across town, and the relationship between them could be a powerful cocktail to ensure the city is a place of creative vitality.
I have just returned from the Orangery's last summer school.This event allows people from different disciplines to retreat into playful activity. It provides the opportunity to be out of the public eye and exercise the edict that 'there is no such thing as a mistake in art'. It was fabulous.There were three other leaders of groups, apart from myself: sculptor David Mach, Richard Sobey of theatre group IOU Productions, and architect Sarah Wigglesworth.
David Mach displayed all the lessons of being an artist.On one level he is not used to behaving as a member of a group, at least at the point of discovering what to do, and as a result he had some difficulty in channelling the disparate array of notions from his group.What started as a structure that looked for all the world like a stage ended up as a container for a human car wash.Artists'ability to suspend personal agendas and play until a work is formed is what many architects are not very good at.
Richard Sobey created another experience of a very theatrical nature, making use of one of the empty railway arches.For me, though, his most important contribution was his talk, which showed how he and his colleagues use existing urban spaces for performances.The spaces create the agenda for the work in form, history, context and intent. It promised the possibility of reversing the usual procedure, so that the performance would help explore and determine the public space itself.This would help stem the rapidly rising tide of exterior design as fashion, which will date all the works in many towns. I am not interested in seeing just another piece of public art set in a bed of slate and some arty timber detailing.
Sarah Wigglesworth showed a remarkable display of tidiness.Her capacity to arrange and analyse through the plan is aweinspiring, and she came across as a very talented architect who is naturally untidy and fighting this habit.She gave her group a pared-down proposal for a beautiful path that would link two elements of the Orangery site.
My group made a hotel.
The three days changed people's perceptions and opened up points for consideration that might change their future working practice.
That is the point of a good summer school.