Art Gene, Bath Street, Barrow-in-Furness,
Cumbria, LA14 5TY England, UK
Uniting artists, archaeologists and the community to explore, survey, excavate, record and celebrate the rare practice trenches, now buried on North Walney National Nature Reserve, where soldiers, cadets and airmen trained for WW1 and WW2.
Watch a short film documenting One for Sorrow, the final artwork installation made by Art Gene as part of Fort Walney, Uncovered. (Many thanks Colin Aldred, of Aerial Artwork!).
Read artist Stuart Bastik‘s account of the Fort Walney, Uncovered project – giving insight into the projects stages, complexity and creative processes which culminated in the artwork One For Sorrow, here.
The Fort Walney project was lovingly delivered and supported by a huge amount of people, most of whom live and work on Walney Island and nearby Barrow in Furness. Credit and thanks goes to all the volunteers, children, local people and interested passers by who contributed to this project.
Art Gene, 2017
The first phase of the project focused on getting as many people involved as possible. To officially launch the project and create a buzz around the ideas, a launch event on the 29th August was organised with food (and cake) and presentations in Art Gene.
With the promise of delicious vegetarian food, Art Gene ran two Design Cafes or Place Makers events to provide training to volunteers.
The volunteers subsequently took part in the walkover survey and helped plan for the dig weekend on the 19th – 23rd September 2014.
The dig weekend led by archeologist George Nash, aimed to excavate and understand a trench system, and what remained of the target mechanism workings and structures of the shooting range.
The technical understanding of the site came out of several previously commissioned studies, in particular the North West Coast Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey published in May 2009.
In January 2013 BAE Systems had commissioned consultants SLR Consulting to undertake a Walkover Survey. This survey recommended several evaluation trenches over sections of the practice trenches to:
“assess the shape, size and depth of these enigmatic features.”
This prior work ensured the project had the appropriate baseline in which to build from.
As part of Fort Walney, Uncovered, Nash Survey and Environmental and Archaeological Landscape Investigation were commissioned to prepare a Desk Based Assessment and Walkover Survey. Crucially, this was to be ‘community-led,’ with professional members alongside volunteers undertaking research at various archives in Cumbria.
Individual stories of family members, and their postings after training on the site where particularly poignant as many went to fight in some of WWI’s most deadly campaigns.
The final report was published and submitted as part of the record for the site in February 2015.
An important part of the legacy of the project was the design and implementation of a smart phone App. The App was designed by the project participants and consists of a guided walk on Walney Island with unscripted audio and video clips with local people.
The final form of the App was developed by Art Gene in collaboration with PAN Studio. To support its widest use, the App is part of a suite of Apps and now includes four other walks in the Morecombe Bay area, made in partnership with Morecambe Bay Partnership.
Click these links to download them for free:
Core to Fort Walney, Uncovered, is the artistic expression of the ideas, memories, experiences and stories shared through the design process, the time on site and in the Art Gene studios.
Jeni McConnell was the Artist in Residence on the project and worked with 70 children from local primary schools (Vickerstown Primary School and St Columbus Junior School) and volunteers on site to produce ‘work in response’.
This informed her personal response to the site, where she created a table runner made from British and German military uniforms stitched in the pattern of the castellated wartime trench features on North Walney. This work was included in the project exhibition, Stuff (find out more below).
Find out more about Jeni’s residency with us here.
“The artwork will supplement and complement the interpretation of the material which comes out of the ground”.
Dr. Nick Owen, MBE, at the Fort Walney, Uncovered launch, 2014
When Dr. Nick Owen said this at the launch of Fort Walney, Uncovered project back in 2014, no one, including Art Gene, knew how they would respond to the discoveries of the project or the shape the final artwork(s) would take – how could they? They hadn’t met the people, explored the site or engaged with the experts and partners who would give the project its form. However, as a regular partner, Nick was able to speak with absolute confidence that Art Gene would find remarkable solutions.
More generally, that night, the audience wanted to know how Art Gene could possibly address the needs and rigor of a serious archeological project creatively – not only for any artworks produced, but indeed throughout the project whole.
The answer to this question can be found here on this page, in every project detail – and with hindsight it looks as if there could almost not have been other ways. However, there was indeed a lot of thought, research, working out and reactionary project development at every stage.
And with regards to combining creativity with the needs of an archeological project? Art Gene are in their element listening to the needs and requirements of the individuals and groups using a place: be it social, ecological, architectural (and in this case historical and archeological) enabling and adding to disparate voices until they, alongside the community involved, have created something completely unique.
Through projects dedicated to mapping the local area, charting its layers of environmental, natural, built and social elements, Art Gene are experts at turning backdrops into assets.
“An exhibition that considers the complexity of what makes a place, reflecting on its histories, the people and the shape it makes for its future”.
North West Evening Mail, 2016
At a point mid-way through the Fort Walney, Uncovered project, it was realised that the sheer volume of creative output being generated in response to the unfolding project warranted a gallery exhibition.
Stuff took place in the Art Gene Gallery the Nan Tait Centre from 29th October to 9th November 2016. It included works from Hannah Brackston, Jacob Cartwright, Nick Jordan (film makers on the App), PAN Studio (the developers of the App), Jeni McConnell, Charlie MacKeith, Maddi Nicholson and Stuart Bastik.
Find out more about Stuff here.
In the final stage of the project, Art Gene’s founders and directors Maddi Nicholson and Stuart Bastik, with Research Design [architecture]’s Charlie MacKeith, (and in consultation with Natural England) produced an artwork inspired by the historic mechanism from the Fort Walney gun range – which was on site until its unexpected and illegal removal in 2015.
One for Sorrow is a war memorial now installed on the site of the former practice trenches – part of which includes a working gate leading onto the North Walney Nature Reserve.
The artwork represents both the fragile nature of wildlife and the men who were so tragically lost in battle.
You can find out more about this artwork here.
Fort Walney, Uncovered attracted a lot of media attention – including a 6 page article in Current Archeology. This article presents our project within the historical and archeological context it merits. Download the full article here.
North, on Walney Island, buried, lie practice trenches used for training soldiers and cadets during both the First and Second World Wars. Their presence was never a contemporary secret: large bits of rusty metal poke out of the windswept grassland, the trench ridge and furrows can be seen from the air and there are not many adults native to Walney who didn’t spend a part of their school holidays digging around in the search for bullets in the sandy soil.
Although a significant amount was known to professionals about the sites, until Fort Walney, Uncovered, the local community had not been engaged in a discussion about the role of Walney in the two world wars. With the passage of time, many of the stories of family members who served was at risk of being lost.
“The landward side of the channel the docks and the immediate coastline of Barrow were covered by an enormous number of pillboxes, of which thirty-eight were recorded in just over 10km2 (this does not even include the sixteen others on Walney Island itself). This is the highest density of pillboxes recorded anywhere on the north-west.”
The North West Coast Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey published in May 2009
Perhaps before the Fort Walney, Uncovered project unfurled it was harder for people to know how remarkable their ‘normal’ was: the Furness coastline is peppered with pillboxes and other remnants of military and naval history (including sites which build ships and weapons to this day). Not only does the area have more physical reminders of the world at war than most other places in the UK, it is correspondingly a larger part of its social history and identity too.
The project was led by Maddi Nicholson (who also demonstrated her skills in big pot catering for teams of volunteers).
Nick Owen managed the project with artistic contributions and project support by Art Gene co-founder Stuart Bastik.
Charlie MacKeith was instrumental in the approach to heritage lottery funding, maintaining the belief that arts and creative engagement could transform the interpretation of heritage and culture.
George Nash was the professional archaeologist on the project who ensured that the work of volunteers was properly recorded and the work is now part of the established record for the area.
Jeni McConnell, the artist in residence worked with local primary school children and with the volunteers to explore through the imagination of children the issues of war in the playground when it rained and on site in the dry.
Steve Benn, Natural England played a key role in ensuring the project was delivered in harmony with the ecology of the site and engaged throughout to provide knowledge and information on the valuable habitat of Walney Island. The site is a National Nature Reserve.
I volunteered to be part of the Fort Walney Project as I always wanted to be involved in archaeology project. From the initial meeting to the filling in off the trenches at the end, it was such an amazing adventure. The Team at Art Gene made us all feel very welcome, and it was apparent, very quickly, we were one big family and everyone had a voice.
I had the unbelievable opportunity to work with Professor G. Nash, one to one, for a whole day. That was an experience money could never buy and one I will remember forever.
The whole project was organized very professionally and everyone felt included. Not only were there community volunteers like myself involved but Art Gene had arranged for a number of Local organizations to be involved including Police, Fire, Army, Natural England, BAE, Schools, local historians and much more. All this takes a great deal of time and attention. It was fantastic that the local community and school children could get involved as they are the future.
It was more than re-discovering local history (which in its-self created much local and national interest). It was talking to people, making friends, recording memories and creating new memories.
Art Gene are worthy off this nomination for their creativity, organizational skills, their dedication, professionalism, empowering the community and making everyone feel equal.
John Irving (participant), 2017
(referencing Art Gene’s nomination for Community Arts Award category of the 2017 Cumbria Life Culture Awards)
ideo interviews by Dr. Nick Owen:
Heritage Lottery Fund require that projects undertake an independent evaluation to review activities and outcomes and help tell the story of the overall project.
Art Gene approached Iain Taylor, IMT Consulting to undertake the evaluation. You can read his full report (which includes details of accounts, participant numbers, the project schedule and much more) here.
You can find a pdf photo diary covering all the various stages of the project here.
Fort Walney, Uncovered has been developed in partnership with Natural England. The project was funded by Heritage Lottery and Arts Council England.
Cumbria, LA14 5TY England, UK
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