Big Fit Case Study

 
  Big Fit foot prints in sand
 
Name of project

Big Fit

 

Site location

Various locations in Seaton, Aberdeen

 

Artist

Seaton Art & History Group, mentored by Aberdeen Arts Development's artists Margaret Stewart and William Moulding

 

Date of completion

Research and participatory periodOctober 2010 - April 2011

Final event revealed 1st April 2011

 

Commissioner and key project partners

Aberdeen City Council Arts Development

Partnered by - Scottish Sculpture Workshop, Country Rangers Service and Adventure Aberdeen

 

Description of work

The 'Big Fit' was a community led public art project supported by Aberdeen City Council's Arts Development team and funded through Aberdeen City Council's Cultural Grant Scheme. The project focused on a programme that guided The Seaton Art and History Group through the development and execution of their own devised temporary public art project made in response to their local area.This was facilitated and guided through the mentoring of arts development workers Margaret Stewart and William Moulding

The project was about creating a modern 'myth' that would permeate all corners of the community to get people to discuss and re-look at the Seaton Community.The elements of fiction were developed by the group in the months leading up to the 'reveal' on the 1st April - delivering clues bit by bit.

The clues related to the idea that a large sea bird had come to settle in the Seaton area; this imaginary sea bird being a cross between a sea gull and an albatross.

To create this myth they produced: large bird footprint makers that attach onto shoes to leave prints on the beach and golf course; a recipe for bird droppings to create supersized deposits on bus shelters, in playgrounds and across windows; large bird nests, modeled on albatross nests complete with eggs, located on an island at the mouth of the River Don and on top of a generator hut amongst the multi-storey flats; a series of improvised individual 'public gossip' performances; a travelling group performance devised as a bird watching trip in a mini bus labeled 'Grampian Ornithological Society'; discussions and sightings on local radio station SHMU fm; and clues on social media sites. Leaving these clues was a covert operation, with small numbers of the group meeting up daily before dawn to discreetly mimic the activities of the mystery bird.

With this project the group wanted to present a positive view of their area rather than the one that is often presented, and to engage with local residents in a light hearted and inclusive manner.

Big Fit 1

 

Context of the work

This project is a direct legacy of the research and consultation work undertaken through the 'City of Culture' Feasibility Study 2009 and the development of the 'Vibrant Aberdeen' Cultural Strategy.

The Seaton Art and History Group are a group of local adults from Aberdeen who have met weekly since January 2007. They have been exploring what Aberdeen's museums and galleries have to offer and also finding out about historical and cultural locations. They are an enthusiastic group who have a lot of interest and pride in Seaton.

In the past the group have explored Seaton House and Lord Hay, St Mary's Church, Seaton Pottery, The Links, Mrs Murray's Cat and Dog Home, the multi-storey flats, Seaton's Totem Pole, Seaton School and Aberdeenshire Wildlife. The group has encouraged the wider community to contribute through various events and talks throughout the year.

This project was developed to explore models of participation, instigation and collaboration within a community group with limited knowledge of public art practice. Aberdeen Arts Development and the Scottish Sculpture Workshop supported the Seaton Art and History group to devise and develop their own project, giving them the opportunity to learn about various forms of public art, try a variety of practice methods and develop a temporary work.

The project concept of the large bird was developed as part of a series of visits to the Scottish Sculpture Workshop (SSW) in Lumsden, and initiated through discussions about artists working on site and how they create different investigative models. The project then continued to progress as a series of connected ideas that were realised by 'strange' problem solving between the Whitespace workshop in Aberdeen, Seaton Community Project and SSW. There were thirteen members of the Seaton community working on this project throughout, with everyone freely adding their ideas and opinions along the way to shape and believe in the story - the combined level of commitment shown by everyone in the group for this unusual and challenging project was surprisingly high.

NOTE: Site Context - Seaton is an area of mixed housing and multi-storey flats in the northern part of Aberdeen located to the east side of Old Aberdeen. Its north boundary is defined by Seaton Park (a 27 hectare green space) and the River Don. The eastern boundary is defined by the King's Links golf course and the coastal beach and esplanade.

 

Response to key objectives

Outputs

The key outputs in this project were:

The mentoring process, allowing the group to feel comfortable and able to initiate a meaningful public art project.

The problem solving and physical making of the project by all the group.

The focus and commitment of the group to believe, build and distribute the 'story' to the community.

The group worked as a team throughout and no one engaged in specific roles or adopted a hierarchical order - it was a sharing process where anyone could try something new and then pass on skills.Margaret and Willie acted as facilitators and as catalyst, supporting the group through research, managing actions and linking together different partners.

 

Outcomes

This was quite a sophisticated response to creating a public art work by a community group.When the project possibilities were first discussed, an 'object' was considered, not a narrative.The group were quite surprised at what art could be - with the prerequisite 'craftsmanship' not at the top of the agenda, this allowed a mixed skills group to develop an equality within the authorship process and allow the idea to fit into their current 'making' capabilities.

The process of making the art work brought the group closer together, in sharing and working through problems - gradually gaining more confidence to lead on decision making. Traveling out of the city to visit the Scottish Sculpture Workshop allowed the group to experience a new environment, meet new artists, and share in social meals and discussions. These 'out of city' events helped to further bond the group and focus the importance of the project - the group noted that each early morning expedition led to the 'the playground', where they had 'permission to be children again".

The mentoring artists input to the group remained flexible and consistent throughout the project, until the final execution where the group took more responsibility.At this final part of the project the group felt empowered to take on different roles to spread the story - which became their property to distribute and share.The group learnt that although the making of 'objects' and 'tools' as part of the process was important, and gave them new skills, it was the telling of the story that was the actual art work in the project.

 

Challenges

The key challenges on this project were:

For the group not to be overcome by new ideas and stepping to far out of their comfort zone - the mentoring artists ensured that the group remained confident and comfortable progressing through the process

To put aside individual issues, and instead work as a group and consider the needs of the overall project as a priority.

To be flexible in giving time to the project - either spending an entire day out of the city to play with ideas at the workshop, or meeting in the early hours of the morning to set up the remains of a fictional event.

To experiment with ways of telling a story whilst maintaining the fictional secret - either by direct discussion with the public or through indirect forms of publicity.

How to publicise a fictional story that needs to be believed through the local press and public websites - without deceiving anybody!

To ensure assisting partners in the project understood the abstract nature of the project, the support needs of individuals and that there was clarity in all roles and the communication of those roles.

 

Reflections

Individuals in the group expressed an increase in confidence - that they were better equipped to speak in public - and that the experience had widened their social group.

Everyone felt that they had learnt new practical skills and they were now more comfortable about the idea of 'playing' with ideas.

The project changed individual perceptions of public art and left them better informed when visiting galleries and museums.

The group will continue to work on projects together and are now interested in writing a constitution for their collective so that access to funding and future project development is able to be sought independently - however they would still look towards support from Arts Development and mentoring artists to advise and manage.In the future they would like to develop their role as art ambassadors for the area.