Art is in the air

PUBLISHED: 09:57 13 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:42 20 February 2013

Christmas decoration Harlow

Christmas decoration Harlow

A new initiative in Harlow this Christmas is adding an extra attraction to the town's extraordinary collection of public art. Nicky Adams explains

HARLOW has enjoyed an unusual early Christmas present in the shape of a strange temporary building that has popped up in the town's Market Square.

Grandly named the Harlow Temple of Utopias, this is the focal point of an exciting new arts initiative that has been running in the town for the past two months and culminates at the end of December.

Called Let us Pray for Those Now Residing in the Designated Area, which is a line from the 1948 service of dedication for Harlow New Town, it's a chance for local people to explore the public art in their town through a series of temporary visual art projects and public panel discussions. Let Us Pray (for short) is the result of a partnership between Commissions East, Essex County Council and Harlow Town Council, as well as several residents associations and local history groups, including The Sir Frederick Gibberd Trust and the Harlow Art Trust. And there can be no better place to discuss public art than Harlow.

It may be a surprise to learn that Harlow has more post-war sculpture than any other town in Britain, thanks to the ingenious planning Sir Frederick Gibberd, who not only designed Harlow New Town from scratch in the 1940s, but also made sure that it didn't go short of public art by way of decoration. More than 60 works can be seen, many by celebrated international artists including Henry Moore, Elisabeth Frink, Ralph Brown, FE McWiliam and Lynn Chadwick.

'Harlow has more post-war sculpture than any
other British town, thanks to Gibberd'

'Sir Frederick Gibberd was a great advocate of modern art and integrated the sculptures into his plans for Harlow New Town to create moments of reflection and contemplation within the architecture,' explains Matthew Poole, the programme director at the University of Essex's Centre for Curatorial Studies and curator of Let Us Pray's panel discussions. 'He did this to give focus to the public spaces, such as public squares, gardens and piazzas.

He also intended that they would generate a sense of civic pride and help promote a feeling of community through the shared experience.' Although the design of Harlow has hardly been touched since Gibberd put down his pencil, all that is set to change in the coming decade. At least 16,000 new homes are scheduled to be built in the town and its environs, in line with the Government's East of England Plan. The north end of the town centre is also soon to be put back on the drawing board and contemporary architects are already working on remodelling the area to suit current needs.

An ideal spot then for the Temple of Utopias. Described by its creators as, 'a rhetorical object invoking the language and theology of a New Town project,' throughout the run of Let Us Pray the Temple of Utopias is the venue for talks and discussions on topics including public site-specific art, public art collections, modernist architecture, the utopian project of modernist architects and the town of Harlow. Led by speakers from the University of Essex, the programme is under the direction of Let Us Pray's curator, London-based artist Roman Vasseur, who, with Diann Bauer, is also responsible for the design of the Temple of Utopias.

Appointed as Harlow's lead artist for the next two years as part of the Genius Loci programme, which brings innovative public art programming to areas of regeneration in Essex, Roman has also been charged with overseeing a number of new visual art commissions. These will range from a video filmed in Harlow and exploring the impact of idealism on social freedom, to a collection of paintings of the town accompanied by a facsimile of Gibberd's notes and sketches.

'Harlow's public art collection has not been significantly added to in recent decades,' says Matthew, 'so it is a wonderful opportunity for artists to be invited now. Harlow is so historically important as the focus of an ambitious and generous social project in the 1950s and '60s, and the artists' aim is to reflect on the way the town still works today to create a sense of communality and civic connectedness.'

Follow Harlow's new sculpture trail

Have a wander along Harlow's waterside and discover the four new sculptures and a spectacular glass and metal walkway that have been installed there by Harlow Council and British Waterways to celebrate Harlow's heritage.

The sculptures, by four different artists, are situated at Parndon Lock, Burnt Mill Lock, Latton Lock and Harlow Lock, and the raised walkway spans the weir at Parndon Mill. Designed by Alan Freeman, a local artist based at Parndon Mill Studios, the metal fabricated structure includes a series of glass inserts created by glass artist Karen Murphy, also based at Parndon Mill, each of which is inspired by the local environment, from the flora to the mill and the lock.

What to expect from Let Us Pray

The Harlow Temple of Utopias in Market Square A temporary building and gallery clad in designs by Diann Bauer and Roman Vasseur that reference current, fictional and defunct buildings and sculptures

Statecraft A video work by Amanda Beech that was filmed in Harlow and explores the impact of idealism on social freedom

Nu Town at St Barnabus Hall, Playhouse Square, and in Market Square
A series of three performances produced by Wayne Lloyd that address how cultural heritage and identity can be formed on 'film lore'. The three featured films are A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick's cult masterpiece that was filmed in Harlow; The Fountainhead, a story of 1940s corporate architecture starring Gary Cooper; and Mon Oncle, a 1960s comedy about a family's move to a modern housing development in Paris

The Serendipity Group and Friends in Market Square
A collection of paintings of Harlow's buildings and spaces by artists working locally accompanied by a facsimile of Gibberd's notes and sketches

New Sculpture - Welcome to Elsewhere in Market Square
An exhibition of sculpture and proposals for monuments by Chris Evans, Alison Gill and Pil and Galia Kollectiv that examines how public art can be a means of instituting private values as public sentiment

Reverse Consultation (Old New Town) in Market Square
Mike Ricketts revives a study of Harlow that he wrote a generation ago and published by Artists Collective Inventory. The text will be revised and re-presented following a consultation process


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