#URBANPICNIC

#URBANPICNIC_HULL  / SEPT 2020

The second Urban Picnic navigated a route from the city to the country, through the city and substations into nature. An ‘as the crow flies’ path from Hull to an orchard that was abundant with apples ready to pick. The area surrounding has woodland where artwork was created and left for walkers to discover on their socially distanced walks.

#URBANPICNIC_HULL  / JULY 2020

​Review of Urban picnic, held in July 2020. Article by Dave Windass, published in Critical Fish magazine: 
https://thecriticalfish.co.uk/urban-picnic/

# UrbanPicnic was a response to the first wave lockdown of the Corona Virus Lockdown in the UK.​Review of Urban picnic, held in July 2020. Article by Dave Windass, published in Critical Fish magazine: 

As lockdown measures eased in July, a raggle-taggle band of artists headed down in small groups to Hull’s former fish dock with paint, brushes, pencils, pens, sketchbooks and paper for an urban picnic and afternoon of art in the shadow of the Lord Line building. After three months of their own company, everyone was giddy at the opportunity to express themselves artistically in the company of others.

There has never been as much time, in living memory, to devote ourselves to our art. While lockdown has given us so much to deal with and, in many cases, transformed our lives beyond recognition, those that view the world through a glass-half-full prism have relished this lengthy period of isolation and the opportunity to think that comes with it.

Being alone, or being in a tiny bubble of immediate family, has given us all the chance to take stock and consider what we want to do. To get on with the business of doing the projects that we’ve been putting off forever. For some of us, that’s been getting to grips with our piano scales, putting those stories down that we’ve been carrying in our heads for years, dusting off the drawing tools, filling up notebooks with ideas and then realising them on whatever canvas is at hand (or ordering those essential blank canvases in a mad fit of online shopping).

As we all know, the biggest luxury for any artist, at any level, and what makes the biggest difference to us, is time. While home-schooling disinterested youngsters might have used up some valuable hours for many of us, there has still been plenty of leftover moments to get well-arty. Arts Council England must be delighted that their Let’s Create strategy has been so actively engaged in, with everyone clamouring to be a part of Grayson Perry’s Art Club and painting along with Bob Ross.

Now, you might be reading this and shouting, “No! The fear induced by a global pandemic has absolutely stymied my artistic muscles and no creative juices have been flowing round here, pal.”

Yes, for some, dealing with the reality of the situation has been crippling. Blank pages appear more daunting than ever, there are no thoughts beyond survival, paying the bills and putting food on the table. So thoughts with those whose difficult circumstances and accompanying mental state are preventing artistic expression.

Yet where does art come from, if not as a response to the toughest of times? If not now, then probably never; there is no better way of expressing emotions, airing your feelings, giving yourself some hope and enacting personal change than turning to your chosen medium and smashing your way through what you are experiencing.

So, here’s a poem that demonstrates that I am not okay; here’s a sketch that portrays the claustrophobia of living on top of each other; here’s a painting that visually captures my state of mind; here’s the opening scene of a play about survival; here’s a song lyric about clapping for the NHS and carers; here’s a short story that airs my frustration about the lack of toilet rolls in supermarkets; here’s a dance piece that attempts to consider the difficulties of being socially distant from people we love; here’s a photograph of empty streets; here’s an art installation that the public would love if they were allowed to gather together; here’s some musical composition that, with the space between notes, emphasises the reality of the loneliness we’re all feeling.

Personally, I’ve been working on the text for a series of protest posters that will be presented online as part of this year’s rather different Freedom Festival that express my anger and frustration about the way the world is being run. These digital posters bear slogans, text and images born out of the disorder, desperation and agitation of early 21st century life. The overall feeling, across 500 pieces of work, is one in which punk and a DIY aesthetic meet fluffy bunny rabbits at the flaming gates of hell.

As we’ve all taken to various online meeting platforms – Zoom, Teams, Skype and other platforms that makes us feel like we’re in a twisted version of 1970s fave The Brady Bunch – we’ve been able to share our work and reveal our homework in order to get some sense of how people receive it. If anything has changed as a result of this transformation in how we meet with our peers, it’s that critique has been elevated by the protection and confidence that speaking in the direction of a webcam brings. Constructive thoughts are considered and given in a way like never before. We should definitely retain that as part of the as-yet undefined ‘new normal’.

As lockdown eased, in lieu no doubt of a second crushing wave in the autumn and winter months, thoughts turned to getting together in person. How could we have creative shindigs as before? How would they differ? How would we ensure we were all safe and not contributing to viral spread? Would there be any appetite for a gathering?

Sarah Mole made the call via Whatsapp, setting up an intimate and friendly group that included musicians, visual artists, writers and those that wouldn’t dream of describing themselves so grandly. She shared photos of the planned route along with a teasing statement: “Our creative adventure follows the Trans Pennine trail along the river Humber with it’s big skies, past working docks, huge boats, to the bones of the beautiful, derelict fish dock. How about embracing our collective creativity? How about creating a small exhibition of work at the side of the Humber estuary? The idea of public art in a socially distanced world is really interesting, don’t you think? Don’t forget your face mask.”

We all sent thumbs up emoticons in response and jumped at the chance.

The idea was to create a body of work collaboratively, and in a socially distanced way, at a site that was within simple enough walking distance, and to leave what we created behind for other people to discover.

A meeting place was agreed – we’d muster at the mini-roundabout behind the Ice Arena and walk down to the Lord Line at the disintegrating end of St Andrew’s Quay via the nearby rooftop and estuary-side section of the Trans Pennine Trail, to get us in the mood to create.

The manner in which the old fish dock has fallen into disrepair is shocking but it also makes it an evocative place to hang out on camping chairs. Fully embraced by urban explorers and graf writers, this post-industrial gem of collapsing grand architecture is not exactly a secret location given the public footpath that runs alongside it, but it is a place that feels the right side of edgy, dangerous and off-grid.

As Sarah told us all: “The old St Andrew’s Dock is a space that evokes strong emotions connected to heritage. Once a thriving dock, central to city life, the remaining buildings are now carcasses, like the whalebones that were brought here in the 18th century. It is set alongside the Humber, with its wide open skies and light bouncing off the water. We are often very clear about the emotion certain places and buildings give us and it is interesting to explore the idea of shifting emotions at a site and in a place like this, which has so many stories to tell, especially when we’re in the presence of other people.”

Once there, inspired by these surroundings, we wasted no time in getting our creativity down. Some of us are not visual artists, but the ten of us that gathered all turned to capturing and expressing our feelings about this place with sketches and paintings, working with pencils, ink, pastels and watercolours on paper.

We had been isolated from each other for months so there was a sense of relief that we had managed to get together, were able to take comfort in a collaborative outpouring of art, and were all keen to share what we came up with.

We were most definitely involved in a collective art therapy session. Whatever the merits of what we produced, we clearly took all of our individual stresses and strains and externalised them. We were, together, gaining a new perspective, not just on the decrepit buildings, vast skies and chocolate-coloured estuary that surrounded us, but on our present and recent circumstances. The shift in our emotions and mental health might have been subtle but it was a beautiful shift. That’s what an afternoon of art, together, can do.

The work was ‘installed’, if that’s not too grand a word, on the concrete wall that defends the public footpath from the fast-flowing Humber. Inevitably, this small gallery is temporary and ephemeral and nature will have done its thing by now. The work may have lasted a day, a week, some of it may still be hanging in there thanks to copious amounts of gaffer tape.

Permanence, as Coronavirus has demonstrated, is not important. People are, and collective acts of art and creativity are. Now more than ever.

We hope to keep adding to the exhibition.

We have tagged the work on social as #urbanpicnic and #urbanpicnic_hull