On Monday I made a visit to West Dean College to meet artist Chloe Dowsett and Emma, the events organiser for the college. I arrived early with my wife Susan, and we had a short walk around part of the garden and enjoyed a coffee in the cafe/restaurant. It was such a beautiful day that I left Susan basking in the sun on a bench near the front of the college whilst I joined those who had come to meet Chloe.
Chloe had gathered a group of people interested in particpating in a project to create sculptures in the gardens at West Dean College to be displayed during the weekend Chilli Fiesta taking place over the weekend of August 11th - 13th.
West Dean had set a brief to create sculptures that responded to the sculptures and gardens created by Edward James at Xilitla, Mexico. They wanted the Fiesta to incorporate more visual arts than previous years and to celebrate the work of Edward James, which they feel has not received the prominence it deserves during previous events.
Those attending were a mix of artists and craftspeople and members of the public who wished to participate in collaborative making. We were taken to the areas of the garden where sculptures could be displayed and Emma gave us more information as to how she saw the exhibition working within the overall festival and the access visitors would have to the work, which would be sited close to the exhibitors stalls.
The gardens are beautifully laid out, and even at this time of the year are delightful. Even now it is possible to see the how the garden close to the sculptures will develop as the roses, shrubs, mixed borders etc come to full bloom in the months ahead. The vast area of parkland beyond the ha-ha provides open vistas which are a counterfoil to the more intimate spaces created either side of the man-made stream that flows through the garden.
After our brief look at the areas to be considered we made our way into the College itself for a discussion and to share some thoughts and ideas as to how we might organise ourselves, as a group, to move the project forward.
Chloe agreed to set up a Facebook group for us all to share ideas and to communicate with one another and Emma was able to provide a little more information related to Edward James and the Foundation in his name. She also informed us as to how the college would support us with advertsing and publicity leading up to the event. There followed a brief discussion as to the variety of forms and outcomes that the sculptures might take - which was very open and artists would be free to interpret James' work as they saw fit. Chloe and the college would look at proposals and if possible these would be provided by the end of April, leaving enough time for the creation of the works by the time of the event. Selected sculptures would be delivered and installed from the Monday or Tuesday of the week prior to the Fiesta.
Chloe very kindly offered work-space and accommodation if needed for short spells whilst work was being constructed as well as support with transportation.
Given that the budget available was small, all participants agreed, where possible, to employ re-cycled or donated materials in the construction process. Progress photographs and those of completed works would also feature on the West Dean website.
I have now started the process of seeking support from local suppliers of polystyrene in order to create new work. Their generosity will determine the scale, and to some extent the form of the sculpture I produce, but I have ideas for work incorporating illumination by way of solar energy. I also discussed the possibility of work being sited in the stream, which would float but be anchored. This will largely be dependent upon whether the Head Gardener thinks that the stream will still be flowing in August, as on occasions it has dried up.
I would like to thank West Dean College for providing artists and local people with the opportunity to create and exhibit sculpture in the stunning grounds at the college and Chloe and Emma for taking on the job of liaising with all participants. I am already developing ideas for a sculpture to present to donors and West Dean, in the hope that I will be successful in exhibiting a sculpture at the Chilli Fiesta. I hope that the event exceeds the 25.000 visitors it attracted last year and that they enjoy the sculptures on display.