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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Jelley

Future Ghosts of Bideford

A few days ago just before Easter break I ran a digital workshop from Bideford library to create a digital walk called Future Ghosts designed for the participants to link to the present from the future.

So, to unpack that intro I need to scroll back to the beginning of my recent commission with Beaford Arts which is due to run for the coming year and end May 2019. The direction of my contribution is still formulating although I do need to settle on a plan sooner than later.

sculpture in Bideford locally known as 'The Wonky Conker'

So with great generosity Beaford Arts have given me a little space to develop my ideas. This first phase, additionally supported by The Burton Gallery and Libraries Unlimited required me to dig into the landscape, the history, the people and the place. It is essential to get abreast of the regions strengths and at least begin to understand the works and interventions already underway by other artists and parties.

Diane Arbus , Teenage Couple on Hudson Street, NYC , 1963

The first of these is an exbihition at the Burton Gallery of Diane Arbus photographs, this collection is on loan for three months from the Tate as part of their 'artist rooms programme' and brings for the first time ever a selection of Arbus' photographic works to North Devon. Images are mainly from the 50's and 60's USA, all black and white and depict snapshots from the 'edges of society'. She pioneered a street photographer style with shots which are unsettling, celebratory, poignant, quirky and telling.

They celebrate a 'moment in time' in North America which generally wasn't captured in the media and is similar in a way to local Beaford Arts commissioned artist James Ravilious. Both artists seem to capture that elusive vulnerability of their subject which is fascinating and mesmerising for the viewer.

James Ravilious - Rous family Christening

In their own way they created a time capsule of sorts, capturing every day events and encapsulating them into moments of modern history. In awe of both artists and a little at sea in my own direction I consider how I should approach this commission.

Perhaps it is a natural desire to make work which counts and stands the test of time, especially when so much now is in the digital wash and sump of the internet. So how do we create work of this moment, how do we distill out the 'overlooked now' from those that will endure. Is this the impossible question I wonder.

I find it interesting we seem so happy to let google archive our communities through Streetview, enabling us to sit with tablet in hand observing an image of a our own street then moving the date slider back in time to that same view a year or a decade back. Are these moments caught for ever, set in digital stone, will they be there for ever? and what is missed, what is there in plain sight that slips through this omniscient eye?

In respect to the Ravilious photographs of the 80's, he caught the change of farming communities as modernity took hold in a time when no one else seemed to be paying attention. We view the Arbus photographs and those of the Beaford archive and think, thank god someone was watching and caught the moment in such a poignant manner. A similar argument could be levelled at the war poets and artists, where was their place in the brutality of the war machine, yet it is this lens through which we view those moments of history today.

Perhaps I am over thinking this commission to be greater than is feasible in the budget which equates to about a day and a half a month across the year. Ravilious took nearly 80,000 stills across two decades, only a small percentage of which was ever printed (though that has recently changed). Perhaps I should put my commission in perspective here and take a little reality check as to what I can truly achieve.

So I've started with conversations with local communities and stake holders to get a handle on the current North Devon mood, landscape and scene as quickly as possible. The fabled word 'legacy' bobs up in conversations again and again and its great to be aware I am part of a larger commission of artists currently working with Beaford Arts.

Bideford Pannier Market

Last week the first steps of the Future Ghosts were tentatively taken with a workshop in Bideford Library and a group of home educated pupils. The idea was to capture their town through geolocating images and words to their specific chosen locations, places they would haunt in the future if they were so disposed.

The title Future Ghosts for me naturally links a time yet to come when much has changed with the now, it celebrates an individuals personal social history and connection with a place. It's the first of many avenues for me to pursue, some will have traction others will not.

Where this commission will venture is still maturing, it might be wordy with digital trails and hydrophobic stencils, it might involve Barnstable's mobile FabLab (they have lasers!) I see possible collaborations, links with individuals, links with museums, links with places near and far, some online some hyper local, but whatever it is going to be, I'll need to consolidate this into a proper plan of action sooner than later.

The output and content of this work seems to be inhabiting all my waking and sleeping thoughts at the moment, this opportunity is incredible, one which I want to grasp with two hands and wrestle into something tangible which, if I get it right, will be looked back upon as something interesting at the very least, and maybe even one which managed, somewhere along the line, to capture a little legacy in its soul.


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