'Safe Spaces' Project - Response to Leeds Industrial Heritage (2017)
This work was a response to the Wharf Chambers (Leeds) building, a heritage industrial building in the centre of Leeds which has previously been a factory and is now a bar and event space. The work was intended to investigate mental and physical feelings of safety within an architectural, historical and cultural context.
|Safe Spaces - recreation of industrial floor
I initially looked at the building as a mathematical or physical space, responding to features of the heritage architecture. In particular, the wooden floor in the main event space was of interest, likely to be a heritage feature of indeterminate age, imbued with patinas of various forms of use. There was an immediate connection with historical context through this material.
In considering historical and social research, I then approached the site from a perspective of contextual space. The current owner's ‘Safer Spaces’ policy also offered a strong sense of connection to personal experienced space.
The work that emerged included a reconstruction of a section of the wooden floor of the event space using reclaimed floorboards. These were sanded and stained to match the floor as closely as possible.
|Safe spaces - Site Specific Installation|
In addition, the floorboards were marked with scratches, holes and marks intended to indicate where machinery had been placed and removed; and stained with industrial materials such as used engine oil, bitumen paint and grease. The intention was to create an earlier incarnation of the floor in its industrial guise. Pink ribbons were also stained with oil and inserted into cracks between the floorboards to reference the use of child labour.
Additional text (the word ‘Safe’) was added to the installation to both draw the eye and provide a more direct conceptual prompt.
|Installation recycled into new work|
The intention of the work was to question the meaning of ‘safe’ or ‘safe space’ by relating today’s space (a place of safety, freedom and leisure) with a historical space (of labour, exploitation and physical danger), hence considering two contrasting contexts, separated only by time, overlaid on one another, and linked through the same architecture. The prompt was to challenge the viewer to consider what ‘safe’ means to them, absolutely and relative to other places, other times.
Following the exhibition, parts of the installation were recycled into two standalone pieces addressing the same themes.