Art & Events Interview Caro Meets

Melissa Lowndes: Glow

By | Published on Thursday 24 November 2016


As regular readers will know, we here at ThisWeek like anything that involves things that glow in the dark, and we also have an increasing awareness of all the good artsy stuff that’s going on lately in Barking & Dagenham.
The latest event is ‘Glow’, an exhibition of light-based works to be installed at National Trust property Eastbury Manor, co-produced by Creative Barking & Dagenham and Studio 3 Arts.
To find out more about the event, I spoke to exhibitor and ‘cultural connector’ Melissa Lowndes.

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about ‘Glow’ – what sort of an event can we expect?
ML: ‘Glow’ is the first Winter Lights Festival and we hope it will become an annual event in Barking and Dagenham. Visitors can expect a fire garden, amazing light and sound art work, things to interact with and UV fun as well as more reflective pieces of art work using light, all based around the theme of ‘Glow’. All the things you will experience on the night have been chosen by local resident cultural connectors who want to make sure you can experience great art in the most fun way possible in this unusual setting

CM: Can you also tell us a bit about the venue?
ML: Eastbury Manor House is a Tudor manor house built during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the 1st. It has had an interesting and vibrant history as a family home, farm and local museum. Now it is owned by The National Trust and leased by Barking and Dagenham Council so has a number of uses as both a visitor attraction and meeting place for a variety of local groups and organisations. It is a great place to explore and is a bit of a hidden gem in the local area as it is tucked away on a quiet street, so whilst some visitors will be seeing it for the first time, others will be seeing it in a different light, if you will excuse the pun!

The night will take you on a journey around the house helping visitors to see it in a new way especially as many of the pieces have been made specifically for and about Eastbury. I live five minutes away from the Manor House and I have visited many times so it has been an enjoyable experience reassessing my own view of the house and its residents.

CM: What is your own part in it?
ML: I have a dual role as I am exhibiting a piece as well as being a cultural connector which means I am part of a group of local residents from all backgrounds and of all ages who make decisions about how to spend the funding from the Arts Council which is administered by Creative Barking and Dagenham. We work to promote arts activities in the borough and foster a greater understanding and contact with art in its many forms. The borough is really buzzing at the moment with the amount of creative activity happening in it and I really think it will change the way people see Barking and Dagenham.

CM: What are you installing and what inspired the idea?
ML: I am working in collaboration with an old friend Emily, who is a community artist, to install two pieces in the giant Tudor fireplaces in the winter and summer parlours. The piece is called ‘Safe and Sound’, and the idea has developed and taken on a life of its own since our initial tentative bid. We were keen to have community engagement at the heart of the work, and we wanted the audience to reflect on how the fireplaces were used when the house was a home and what home and warmth mean to them. The work uses modern technology – EL Wire and Balloon LEDs with traditional craft techniques such as a model making and cross stitch embroidery.

CM: As you mentioned, you’ve created your work through community engagement. Can you tell us about that process?
ML: We have worked with adults and children over the past month to create the fire-guard sampler which is a 2 metre high fire-guard with a traditional cross stitch design made from EL Wire. We had great fun getting parents and kids to work out the design and thread it all together. We have also been making tiny houses with a variety of groups, with the last session taking place on Tuesday at the Barking Riverside Centre, lets hope the paint dries in time! In addition, we made work around the themes, such as glow-in the dark badges and bead designs. We have found that the process of making often allows people to chat about their own experiences of being ‘safe and sound’ (the name of our work) as well as making new friends in the borough. We also have a group of dedicated embroiderers sewing in UV thread to create samplers based on words and phrases people said reminded them of the theme ‘glow’. These will be exhibited with the fire-guard and will literally glow in the dark.

CM: How did you get involved with this? Do you often do this kind of project?
ML: I became a cultural connector earlier in the year through other members and two of us took an inspiring trip to the Canary Wharf Light Festival. Whilst there I had loads of ideas and inspiration and when the chance came up to submit a proposal I thought why not give it a go! Emily has had some experience in creating site specific workshops in outdoor settings as part of an allotment art scheme and I have been a teacher for more than fifteen years, so we knew we had the ability to do it we just needed support to take on a bigger project. I am already thinking of ideas for next year’s festival and have learned so much as an artist and as a cultural connector.

CM: Creative Barking & Dagenham funds a number of these local art projects, doesn’t it? How important do you think it is for this sort of programme to continue?
ML: Yes CBD both funds creative projects and also works with the cultural connectors to initiate ideas that we think can really change the way people see the arts here. GLOW is a follow on from our summer festivals which have been really successful – the cultural connectors thought it was time to try out a winter event and commissiond a range of artists to create work for Eastbury.

There seems to be so much good stuff happening in the borough, from Jimmy Lee’s photography exhibition at The Boathouse to all the amazing stuff happening at Studio 3 Arts; it really is the place to be as an artist. It’s not just about funding new talent although that is vital, it is also about nurturing and empowering talent through workshops, contacts, meets, experiences and coaching. Creative Barking and Dagenham are really becoming known for offering all these things. It also means Barking and Dagenham becomes a hub for the arts with more visitors, more varied experiences for residents and young people on their doorstep. My son has been to so many festivals within walking distance of our front door and has seen immersive theatre from Punchdrunk and Geraldine Pilgrim, Circus from’ No Fit State’ and taken part in the Becontree Hundred Art Trail and he is only just 3.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about some of the other exhibitors involved?
ML: There is a real mixture of work and of artists, some of whom have worked on projects like the Durham Lumiere and others like us at Magpie Arts who are really dipping our toes in the water. Pa-Boom did an amazing half term session at Vicarage Fields shopping centre where people were able to hammer pin designs into the metal pans that will be used during the festival, and Émilie Queney has created a construction game based on the walled garden Tudor bricks. I cannot wait to see how she uses light in the game. There will be so much to see and take in. I think it will be something that visitors will really go home and talk about and no doubt everyone will have a different thing they enjoyed the most.

CM: Is there any particular element of the event you are looking forward to?
ML: All of it!! It’s really hard to choose, but I think probably Jana Matejkova’s work ‘The Wish Comet’, as I am really interested to hear what three wishes people made and to see how it works with Eastbury Manor House as the backdrop. Some of the wishes were recorded during our workshops at vicarage fields and it was fascinating to hear – particularly the difference in wishes from adults and children.

I also really want to see how audiences respond to Tine Bech’s ‘Catch Me Now’, as it is in the same room as the fire-guard so they will provide interesting parallels, and contrast with people playing with one and looking at the other. Oh, and maybe trying a glowing cocktail from our own locally sourced drinks project Company Drinks!

CM: You’ve mentioned the possibility already, but how likely is it that this will happen on a recurring basis?
ML: I really hope it will. The intention is that it will become an annual event that eventually becomes self- sustaining. The funding enables the cultural connectors and local people to learn about the process of undertaking such a large project with the idea that we are gaining the skills, contacts and momentum to be able to make it happen on our own. Watch this space.

‘Glow’ is on at Eastbury Manor House on 25 and 26 Nov. Follow this link here for more info and to book.

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