Public Art Commission: Artists announced

A sculpture incorporating recycled waste materials will be installed at the University of Reading as part of a wider public art project.

Artist duo Ben Cain and Tina Gverovic have been awarded a commission of £40,000 to create a sculpture for the University, inspired by its history, research interests and communities, and responding to the theme of ‘library’.

The colourful concrete sculpture, called ‘Metamorphic Station’, will incorporate waste materials like glass and other objects generated on campus, and will be located in the new library quad on the Whiteknights campus. It will provide a multifunctional space for students and staff to rest or work as well as for teaching and exhibiting.

Professor Robert Van de Noort, University of Reading Vice-Chancellor, said: “This sculpture is in keeping with our commitment to provide new and creative ways for our University community to connect socially and academically. The use of recycled materials will be visible evidence of our mission to reduce our carbon footprint as an institution.

“The sculpture also represents the value we place on arts and humanities at Reading. The artistic piece will act as a melting pot between different disciplines and colleagues across the University.”

Ben Cain and Tina Gverovic write:

“Sedimentation, bog-bodies, petrification, extinction, geological core-samples, the omni-present remains of everyday forms of production and consumption, these are some of the things we thought about as developed a plan for a public sculpture that functions as a social space, one which is formed from recyclable waste sourced in the immediate vicinity of the proposed work.

The sculpture, which is understood in part as a library of materials and processes and a site for presenting and discussing material research, incorporates stages, seating, tables and display units that are fabricated from treated materials gathered on site such as plastics, paper and glass. These materials will be mixed with other aggregates and binding materials to form solid forms.

The different types of material mixes will be developed through conversation and practical experiments with staff and students at Reading University, and the recyclable waste material will be selected and gathered with support from the Sustainability Services department on campus. Similar to a core-sample, the sculpture is a physical record of contemporary material realities. It’s also an attempt to consider concrete, waste, and various art/design/building materials in terms of multiple use and multiple purpose.

The work is a continuation of aspects of our work which merge objects and social spaces, and which set up encounters with discrete appearances of contemporary social and political realities.”

The sculpture is the first of a number of art installations planned for the University’s campuses in a £200,000 public art project. The project aims to enhance public spaces and communities on campus and build relationships with visitors through commissioning bespoke art pieces across campus. These are funded by a 1% levy on all major capital spend, creating a Public Art Endowment, ensuring more artwork can be commissioned in future.

The artists will now begin further design and research on their piece, including inviting input from students and academics through engagement activities and exhibitions. They are already in contact with staff from the School of Art, School of the Built Environment and Sustainability Services to utilise academic and staff expertise. The sculpture is planned to be installed by spring 2020.

A total of 54 artists expressed an interest following the University’s open call, before the Public Art Steering Group considered a final shortlist of ideas.

The chosen artists have 20 years’ experience of commissions in the UK and internationally, including Croatian Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, Busan Biennale (South Korea), Wiels (Brussels), Tate Modern, Manifesta 09 (Genk, Belgium).


Future Thinking

What would happen if…

… we had breathalyzer cars?

… all meat was grown in labs?

… teachers were replaced by robots?

Artist David Lisser explored these questions and their spiralling consequences with a number of young co-researchers during a series of workshops that culminated the ‘Future Thinking’ project.

The workshops were developed as the core part of a project which saw the artist meet and interact with a number of researchers from areas across the University, including experts in agriculture, paleoarchaeology, international development, soil science, and meteorology. He also visited the Suttons Seeds collection, part of the University’s special collections 

Meeting with staff from Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Following these meetings and conversations, David created a host of rubber pollen molecule models which became the central part of a new ‘museum of future artefacts’.

David ran five workshops over two weeks, with different school groups attending each workshop. The school groups came from schools around Berkshire, and were all schools with which the Outreach team have or are developing relationships with for a variety of different interactions with the University.

Workshops were held at the Museum of Rural Life, where the students first got to handle some rather unfamiliar objects from the MERL collection, working out what sort of clues to look for in order to determine their purpose and possible history. Pollen also acts as a sort of artefact holding clues to the history of the earth: virtually indestructible, fossilised pollen molecules can tell us a lot about the probable flora and climate of different parts of the world many millions of years ago.

To start thinking about what artefacts could tell us in future decades, students were introduced to Future Wheels, and generated intensive discussions about the possible consequences of some likely (and more imaginative) future scenarios which were suggested by different researchers from across the University. Based on the worlds they imagined through the Future Wheels, students then created small-scale models of artefacts that might be found from these future worlds, and these were then encased by the rubber pollen capsules to be added to a growing installation in the MERL’s community case.

68 students in total attended the workshops, including students from Addington SEN school. All students engaged brilliantly with the concepts and the creating of models; we were bowled over especially by the level of imagination and creativity applied to the Future Wheels tasks. It seems as if the students had an enjoyable time – 85% fed back that they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement ‘I enjoyed the day’.

The installation of pollen molecules is available to view in the Community Case at MERL until October 2019.

The project was made possible with a grant from the Access Fund and was co-delivered by Impact Development Manager Katie Cooper, Arts Development Officer Miranda Laurence and Outreach and Access Officer Freya Varden.