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Eco2 Public Art Commission

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An innovative signature artwork for Sleaford Renewable Energy Plant.

Eco2 blog entry 10: from the Artist

March 2015

Yesterday was the grand unveiling ceremony, starting at the NCCD then travelling in style on a vintage double-decker to the power station.

Children from Kirkby La Thorpe primary school were the first to help with the sculpture design, and were there in force for its unveiling.

Ta-da! 

The detailed metalwork invites up-close viewing, and when the surrounding landscaping is established, the public will be able to get right up to the sculpture.

With the ceremony over, it was time to bus it back to the NCCD.

Many thanks to the organisers of the day, Susannah Willis and Mike Lock, and to all who contributed their time and thoughts throughout the commissioning process.

Eco2 blog entry 09: from the Artist

November 2014

The sculpture has been finished a while now, waiting for the foundations to be prepared in line with the power station official opening.  

Up until now I've been mechanically polishing it, but the final treatment is electropolishing.  This involves having the sculpture immersed in a big tank of electrolyte and a current passed through it.  This process removes and smooths the metal microscopically leaving a bright, chrome-like appearance.

        I made a frame to allow the finished sculpture to be handled and transported safely to site.

        A crane was waiting at site to unload the sculpture and offer it over the foundation bolts...

            Just a few adjustments for levelling, and it's done!  

A great feeling.

An unveiling event for the artwork is planned for 2015 once the landscaping has been finished.

Eco2 blog entry 08: from the Artist

July 2014 

The fabrication stage of the commission is now complete – a great feeling! 

  Following the previous blog entry, I needed to fix the “flame” shapes within the main circle structure.

In my original design the flames were flat, but in the final sculpture they have a lot of twisting movement visually.  This made the final composition quite interesting, using the smaller curved tubes to follow the undulating flow from side to side.

  The inner surface of the main circle is built up with round bars in a chevron formation to reinforce the sense of spin.  They’re closely packed at the bottom, becoming more diffuse as they reach upwards, in reflection of the hot gases in the power station cooling and dissipating as their energy is used to produce electricity.

I also like the way the internal structure of the artwork is progressively revealed as the gaps between the rods get bigger.

  I’ve been polishing the sculpture throughout fabrication to avoid too many consecutive hours of angle-grinding, but the final buffing was still a big task.

  After that was a close inspection all over to ensure there were no sharp edges, filing smooth by hand any rough parts.

  Once the foundations are ready on site the sculpture will go off to be electropolished, an electrochemical process that removes all contaminants and leaves a bright, chrome-like surface.

  So the next blog entry will likely be the last, showing the finished sculpture in the place it was made for.

Eco2 blog entry 07: from the Artist

June 2014

Finally, the decorative metalwork for the flame shapes is done!   The design depicts the processes that go into power production, and has been developed using artwork from the participatory sculpture workshops I ran at the start of the project.

   I’ve tried to strike a balance between a visual flow and style that corresponds to the rest of the sculpture, whilst representing the energy production process fairly literally.  The process is not shown in perfectly linear way, as I wanted to keep a sense of movement using curves and spirals. 

  Generally though it reads upwards, starting from a seed then going through the various stages, before finishing with electricity.

  The design was scaled up and printed life-size so I could keep track of all the diverse (and similar!) parts.  The flat shapes were then curved slightly and carved into on both sides to produce a low-relief effect.

          Where possible, I’ve polished and scored the welds to give the different elements the impression of being distinct.

            I decided on “zaps” to represent electricity.  I’d tried using electrons or wires or electrical appliances in earlier designs, but the results were either too cryptic or too crammed for the limited space.

             The lowest panel (with a sprouting seed) will go in once I’ve fixed the flame shapes into the sculpture.

Eco2 blog entry 06: from the Artist

15th April 2014

The sculpture’s started to get its 3D form now.   I’ve rigged it up horizontally at my studio so I can work comfortably on all of it.

    The trickiest bit has been creating a good structural connection between the support column and the main rings of the sculpture.  Stainless steel “pulls” a lot when welded;  as it cools, it contracts which can cause unwanted distortion.  The welding process for this part has been fairly technical, with a lot of positional welding necessary.  Also, the heavy stainless steel sections here are the most costly, so I’ve needed to be fastidious with my measuring and alignment.

  About half of the support column will be below ground level once the sculpture’s installed.  Those holes are for the foundation bolts.

          Now the main structural elements are all done, I’ve started making the skin of the sculpture (the skin is also structurally important).  The overlapping curves that make up the outer surface are based on the movement of high pressure steam through the turbine blades within the power station.

      Each segment is unique, and to get the edges to line up I use a card template.  Card behaves in a similar way to sheet metal, so it’s a low-tech but accurate method.

            These get welded along all the edges, inside and out, and I’ve been dressing the welds as I go.  On a small sculpture you can do all the polishing as the final stage, but with something this big you need to keep up with smoothing back the welds as you go.  Otherwise that’s days of solid grinding at the end which is too much vibration.  I’ve overdone the grinding in this way once before, and it’s an interesting sensation.  Your fingers feel like they’re going “boing” when you touch something, like you’ve got twanging springs in them.  Probably not a good thing to make a habit of!

  Half the outer surface is done now, and when the other half is on, I’ll be starting on the decorative metalwork within the flame shapes.

Eco2 blog entry 05: from the Artist

27th Feb 2014

I’ve now made the metal flame shapes for the centre of the sculpture. 

As well as having a flowing outline, I’ve been able to add a degree of twist to each flame shape.  Stainless steel sheet is notorious for “pulling” as the weld cools and contracts, which is normally a complete pain if you’re trying to make a uniform shape (like a box, for example).  But if you are after a smooth, long curving twist, then by welding in a selective sequence you can encourage this distortion to great effect.

These flame shapes will be used to frame the metalwork imagery.

My next job is to fit the plinth column and internal support structure.

Eco2 blog entry 04: from the Artist

20th Jan– 1st Feb 2014

Sculpting at last! The metal’s arrived so I’ve been able to make a start on the artwork itself. The principal forms are circular, curved from round tube and angled metal. These were carefully set out at the correct angle and welded together with cross bracing.

So early days yet, but the main structure should come on fairly swiftly. I’ll make another update in a week or so.

Also this month were the final participatory workshops, this time public session held at the NCCD. These were free 2 hour sessions where participants created card sculptures inspired by the processes that drive the Renewable Energy Plant.

Card is a particularly handy material as it behaves in a similar way to the metal I use when sculpting; it can be cut and twisted, but not easily stretched. To give the impression of organic shapes you need to be creative with curved seams and overlapping edges.

Some really beautiful forms being made here…

From all these workshops sessions I’ve done in the last couple of months, I now have a really diverse range of source material to produce the detailed imagery within the finished sculpture. I’d been deliberately holding off thinking about the metalwork design until the last workshop session was done, but something has just clicked in the last few days, and now I have a pretty clear idea of how it’s going to look. But you’ll have to wait and see…

Your chance to contribute to Sleaford’s new public artwork

Free sculpting workshops with artist Michael Condron

  Michael Condron is creating a brand new piece of public art for the Renewable Energy Plant on Boston Road, Sleaford in February 2014. 

As part of this exciting project, Michael will be delivering FREE workshops exploring the processes that drive the power station, and giving you the chance to contribute to the final public artwork. You’ll create card sculptures based on the amazing Eco2 journey, from field to electricity.  Your art work will contribute to Michael’s design and you can take your own work home at the end of the session.

Where and when

The workshops will be held at The National Centre for Craft & Design, and are open to everyone.  The Saturday sessions are ideal for families, children and young people.

Thu 30 Jan, Fri 31 Jan and Sat 1 Feb 2014

10.30am-12.30pm, 1-3pm, 3.30-5.30pm

Thu only 6pm–8pm

   To book your FREE place, please call 01529 308710 or email info@nationalcraftanddesign.org.uk

Eco2 blog entry 03: from the Artist

16th – 19th December 2013

This week I worked with students from Kesteven & Sleaford High School (KSHSSA) and Carre’s Grammar School, helping the students create large-scale temporary card sculptures inspired by the processes at the Renewable Energy Plant.

For the KSHSSA sessions, we worked in Unit 9 at The Hub, a small versatile room near the NCCD. On Monday, I worked with a group of year 10 students from KSHSSA. Rather than focus on a particular aspect, each group looked at the whole sequence from field to electricity, and used their artwork to represent the overall process of straw-fired electricity generation.

There’s an excellent sense of movement in these, and some lovely details to spot within their designs.

On Tuesday I worked with three A-level students, again at Unit 9. They decided to work together to design and make one large group sculpture.

We raided the local carpet shop for a heavy-duty tube, then added spinning wheels to represent key-stages of the energy cycle. This sculpture is designed to be suspended from the ceiling.

Both groups enjoyed parading their creations back down the road to school! This was a great effort from the students who achieved a huge amount in the few hours we had.

On Wednesday & Thursday I was at Carre’s Grammar working with art students on some more large scale temporary artworks. We discussed the public commission, then began with the “Tallest Towers” warm-up before cracking on with ideas for their own sculptures.

The size of their designs meant a lot of effort was devoted to making them strong and stable. Each group had a completely different construction style, and it was interesting to work out the best way to make their sculptures work structurally.

Having two days meant there was also time to concentrate on surface detail. This group came up with a nice effect; peeling away the top layer of card in shapes to reveal the corrugations:

The group below had the most ambitious structure…

The design was an ear of wheat with a flame in the centre, but they were quite chuffed when they realised it was also a dragon’s eyeball:

And finally, these boys liked the construction method they’d used on their “tallest tower” and developed it for a larger structure. Each layer of their twisting pyramid was to represent a stage in the power generation process, but for the time we had they decided to condense it into five stages, which were revealed by opening windows in their sculpture.

So it was a great week of creativity before the Christmas break. As far as making the public artwork goes, I’ve now ordered the large metal rings that will form the principal structural elements, which will take a couple of weeks to arrive.

That means by the next update there’ll be some shiny metal beginning to take shape. Happy New Year!  

Eco2 blog entry 02: from the Artist

December 2013

Over the past week, the community engagement programme for Eco2 began. Michael has been going into local schools in the area, and shall continue to do so over the next week. Here, Michael explains how the project has been going so far.

For the last few weeks it’s been the usual post-interview organizing and sorting out of contracts, invoices and the technical aspects of the commission. Once all of that is done, I’ll be able to order the metal and materials required for sculpting.

Eco2 are providing the foundations for the sculpture, so the aesthetic design of the artwork has had to be developed with my structural engineer into a specific form that works structurally. In order to calculate loads, size and mass need to established, and dimensions allocated to the various tubes and bars. But it’s only the principal forms that get this treatment – once they’re in place; I’ve got a fairly free hand in the overall visual development.

Meanwhile, I’ve begun the community engagement programme. These first sessions were this week at Kirkby la Thorpe primary school, working with the children and staff to exploring how the REP (Renewable Energy Plant) operates.

Tadhg O’Connor visited from the plant and helped with an introduction assembly, talking about the power plant and the necessity for alternative energy sources to coal and gas. He also stayed for the start of the sculpture workshops, which began withthe year 6 (10 or 11 year olds) class. I like to get the kids working at a fairly large scale, and corrugated card is a good material for making temporary sculptures. In my normal practice, I sculpt by constructing in metal, using steel tubes and sheet to build up my artworks. Card behaves a bit like metal, in as much as you can curve it or make tubes with it, but not stretch it very easily, so I quite like to use it for this kind of group activity. The children aren’t particularly used to working with card, so a good warm-up exercise is “Tallest Towers,” for which you need:

  •  1 class of kids, in pairs
  • 1 roll of Parcel tape, 1 pair of scissors and one A3 sheet of card per pair.
  • A clock

The premise is easy: make the tallest free-standing structure you can in 10 minutes. It’s a great for breaking the ice, familiarising them with the materials, and getting them to experiment with different types of structure. We went through several 10-minute rounds, having a quick appraisal in the intervals.

By the end of it, some were more successful than others in height and stability, but more importantly there was a great variety of shapes and construction methods. The less stable ones were more interesting to look at, with curves and loops and delicately balanced elements.

The rest of the day was spent making larger card sculptures inspired by the Renewable Energy Plant. Here are a few snaps:

They were a really keen bunch, and achieved loads in the short time we had.

The next day I worked with years 1 & 2 (5-7 years old). It was a similar process, but with thinner card (those wee scissors and fingers wouldn’t get far with corrugated). Again, we started off by talking about the processes involved at the REP;

  • Straw bales brought to the site and stored.
  • Conveyor belts take them to the furnace.
  • Bales shredded and straw fed into the furnace.
  • Fire heats water in pipes in the furnace, boiling and generating steam.
  • High pressure steam fed drives a turbine.
  • Turbine drives a generator.
  • Electricity fed into the National Grid.
  •  Smoke filtered, steam condensed into water.
  •  Some hot water piped to local amenities, rest is re-used
  • Ash recovered for fertilizer.

The children could choose any part of this chain to base their artwork designs on. I worked with year 2 in morning…

…and year 1 after lunch:

The children made curving flame shapes decorated with drawings relating to the REP, which we combined into a single artwork.

We had another great day, and students from the rest of the school also produced drawings of their ideas for the power station sculpture.

So I now have a ton of source material, and still two more schools to work with!

Eco2 blog entry 01: from the Artist

November 2013

I’m delighted to have been selected for this commission. Sometimes it’s tricky having quite short notice to develop an artwork design for a piece of site-specific sculpture, but the Renewable Energy Plant provides ample source material to get your artistic teeth into. Growth, Fire, Pressure, Power are all dramatic themes to work from. It’s also neat how the how the ash from the burnt straw is used as fertilizer, closing the circle. There are many stages in the production of electricity at the plant, and the artwork design should reflect the whole process.

For me, the journey began with a site visit and viewing the public artworks around Sleaford. Whatever I came up with would have to work and contrast with the existing sculptures and 2D installations. When I started sketching, the flame became the principal symbol. The turbine blades and the movement of steam through the system also inspired curving forms, and create a real sense of movement.

A maquette (scaled-down version of the sculpture) is the best way to communicate a sculpture design visually, so I began experimenting with the main circular forms, initially in card, and then in metal.

Although working in metal is extra work, it’s way more robust, so you don’t have to worry about accidental damage. You can also tweak, abrade and bend the metal in ways not possible with card or plastic. And the polished surface gives a great indication of how the real sculpture will appear:

I spent about a week making the maquette. The overlapping plates that make the outer rim are based on the movement of steam through the turbine blades. In the full-scale artwork the “flame” symbol in the central part will be filled with ornate metalwork, using imagery to reflect the entire process of energy production from field to power supply.

Quite a few points came up in the interview, with people interpreting the sculpture design in different ways: seeing the flame design as water or grass shoots, and the turbine blade design being reminiscent of an ear of wheat, curled round on itself. There’s a delicate balancing act with public art to make something that is not too obvious, yet doesn’t alienate by being inscrutable. So this was a brilliant early reaction; It’s great when your artwork sparks-off different ideas.

The design had to work with the normal demands of the public realm (weather, vandalism, low maintenance requirements etc.), and the unique practicalities of the site too. The power station is well away from the main pedestrian routes, so the new sculpture design needs to work as a striking feature from a distance. Most likely, 99% of its audience will be motorists as they zoom along that long stretch of Boston Road. But beyond that, the sculpture should reward those who look closer. There will be plenty of detail within the ornate metalwork that can only be appreciated close-up.

An important aspect of my public art practice is to involve local people in the creative process, and I’ll be working with local groups and schools as well as open sessions for the public over the next couple of months. First off, this will generate the imagery for the sculpture detail, but more importantly it will give the sculpture a good foundation within its community, and a real sense of belonging to its place.

We have chosen an artist for our Eco2 Commission! 

Michael Condron has been selected to undertake the commission. Thank you to all those that applied, especially the shortlisted artists, who gave their creativity, time and energy to making the decision difficult. All of the five could have completed appropriate projects, but Michael was selected unanimously as his proposal best fitted the brief.

Viewing of Concepts and Marquette's

The concepts and Marquette's submitted by each artist will be on view to the Public initially in Navigation House from Tuesday 8th – Thursday 10th October 12noon – 3pm.

Why not pop in and have a look at these amazing proposals.

Kate Robinson- previous works.

1) Brother Walfrid and Jimmy Johnstone- Celtic Park
2) Spiderman- Belgium
3) Ice Penguins- Germany

Maja Georg  & Svetlana Kondakova- previous works.

1) Ascending- State Museum of Urban Sculpture, St. Petersburg, Russia. (Svetlana Kondakova & Maja Georg)
2) Scrap Metal (Banana Tree)- Uru, Kilimanjaro region, Tanzania. (Maja Georg)
3) Shared Space- Edinburgh College of Art. (Maja Georg)

Tony Stallard- previous works.

1) Gene- Belfast Hospital Holywood Arches Day Care Centre.
2) The Cathach- M18 By Pass County Clare Council Eire.
3) Constellation- Barking regeneration programme. Collaboration with T.F.L and Burns and Nice Urban Designers.

Michael Dan Archer- previous works

1) Far Away Places, Distant People-Dikili, Izmir, Turkey
2) Untitled-Allenton, Derby
3) Dream Towers-Palmer,Adelaide,Australia