Partnership Development with the Friends of Hull General Cemetery

By 4th April 2022 May 16th, 2022 Creative Practice

I sent an email to the Friends of Hull General Cemetery on 18 March 2022 requesting support and collaboration on some sort of site specific art project in the future, to which Helen, the Chair of the group, kindly replied to me and agreed to meet up for a chat. I met with her and Bill (Treasurer) on 1 April for a walk around the cemetery, to explain where we were all coming from and if we could do something together (EPP01).

Although I got the impression they were quite wary of me and what I was suggesting (and rightly so), but they were very open to listening to what I had to say. Once they understood that I have no intentions of harming the cemetery or anything in it (including not disturbing the nesting season), and wanted to do eco-sensitive artworks that enhance the site instead, and wanted to have open dialogue about things, they were very positive and willing to support my ideas. I still sensed some wariness, however, so have made a mental note to not push the boat out too far!

We also briefly discussed how to fund my ideas – I explained that I intend to use mostly natural materials found on site, so a large materials fee isn’t needed, but that I’ll still look for appropriate funding to pay for my time as an artist (depends on the scale of the work undertaken – I’m willing to do some bits for my own development) and the small amount of materials I may need to source. And personally speaking, I’d also like to include some sort of partnership fee to help the Friends continue their work, if possible. I’m thinking it would be a good idea to pitch this as a kind of residency. I need to work out timings however… working seasonally and being mindful of mating/nesting seasons and so on.

They explained that it’s a protected site and there’s lots of limitations around what can and can’t be done – the introduction of anything would need to go through the ecologists at Hull City Council (as the council owns the site). Bill gave an example of how the Friends bought a large amount of high quality native wildflower seeds for a fair amount of money, but the council said they can’t use it for various reasons. They have no ‘authority’ over the site, but as a group of experts and stewards they have a big influence on the council, and can help approve proposals. They also recommended a site at the rear entrance of the cemetery, next to the primary school, which wasn’t as protected and could be a site for more ambitious work.

I want to work big and ambitiously (although I like the idea of making work that makes people question if it’s made by human hands or not), yet I respect the limitations of the Friends, of the Council, and the ecology of the cemetery. So, at least on this site, I’m keen to keep things relatively straightforward and simple in regards of installing sculptures or human:non-human cocreations. I’m also conscious of supporting the needs and goals of the Friends and the site – for example, the need to make sure site visitors are kept on the paths and not cut walkways through the vegetation, to not do anything that is glaringly ‘human’, and to not bring attention to the parts of the ecology that humans have historically damaged or harassed (e.g. mushrooms, tawny owls).

Some of the suggested ideas that they seemed to respond quite positively to, included:

  • Sculpting something more intentional with the bracken (which can be used as a barrier to vegetation, as well as a home to insects)
  • Intentional log shelters
  • Using moss paint to highlight areas on fallen trunks
  • Using fallen logs/branches to create upright sculptures
  • Giant seed ball (for the area near the primary school)
  • Natural pigment murals (for the area near the primary school)
  • Working with the primary school as part of the project
  • Community art groups on site

Some other ideas since, include:

  • Intentional mini stone wall
  • Temporary, more ambitious, installations – such as hanging up artworks of the schoolchildren? Or work which is only expected to last a few days/weeks?
  • Raising bracken sculptures up off the ground?
  • Explore natural crafts, and British TEK (especially if from the Victorian era, as this links in with the heritage of the site)… and see if they’re scalable?

Some rejected ideas – by both myself and them:

  • An art trail (at least an ‘official’ one) – I’d like to revisit this idea, but I think the concern is around too much footfall?
  • String-based art work – it would look incredible amongst the trees, but I worry for the birds
  • The cliche ‘land art’ look. It’s inevitable that my work might look like it, but I find a lot of land art really cringe and unoriginal (oh! look at these pebbles I’ve arranged in a swirling pattern!)… so I want to avoid that! I like some of Andy Goldsworthy James Brunt’s work, but I don’t want what I’m doing to look too much like that.

Next steps then, is to work out what sort of things I’d like to do, and propose them to the Friends of Hull General Cemetery, and if necessary, to Hull City Council. Then get some funding. If it’s a larger scale thing with the school involved, then get them on board at some point too. I don’t forsee anything really happening until at least the summer, just because of the nesting season, my capacity, and my need to further develop ideas. It’s all very exciting though!

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