I had never heard of The Island – a wasteland within Nottingham’s city central – not until the opening of the Recreation Ground exhibition that was. The Island is a large abandoned site situated behind the ATTIC gallery at One Thoresby Street. Once home to Boots pharmacy factories, railways and gas works amongst others, it has lain dormant and out of use for the past twenty years. Subsequently it has earned its title as a wasteland. But is it really a waste of land? Derelict open spaces like these can be found the world over. Although often neglected, their preservation would offer more latent benefits than if it were to be developed upon by urban property moguls – which is where these void patches of land often fall susceptible to. In an increasingly built up world, keeping the last few recreational spaces is valuable to human ecology and wellbeing. This is what Recreation Ground aims to address.
While that’s all well and good, how do these aesthetically uninviting spaces make for good art?
The art and research collective behind the exhibition, Wasteland Twinning Nottingham, aims to explore and address the potential functions, values and temporalities of these sites. Although on surface appearance alone it may not seem apparent, they want you to know that The Island is a space of possibility. One benefit of a recreational ground is the ability to contextualise the space through art: whether as a stage for performance art or a backdrop for photography.
I did not expect satirical humour to be a predominant theme throughout the pieces, but it certainly coloured The Island backdrop with character. Because there are so many sites like these overseas, Wasteland Twinning’s mission is to acknowledge them by connecting them. They subvert the notion of city twinning, where towns across the world link together to familiarise their cultural and commercial assets, thus encouraging tourism. By carrying out this concept through to wastelands, questions of value and function for these spaces are raised.
Last year, the collective organised a twinning ceremony between The Island and Ledok Timoho – a wasteland in Indonesia – recorded with official certification and authorised by an allocated mayor and all. You can see this in photographic stills from the ceremony in ‘The Island Archive’. Simon Raven, one of the artists in the exhibition, drew on this relationship to recreate performances by Indonesian artists here in Nottingham. The film from one of these performances, ‘Wastelanders’, is projected onto the gallery’s rustic ceilings – which was a personal highlight. The display has been curated by Nottingham Trent alumni and artist Rebecca Beinart and writer David Bell. It is a neat selection of the many projects they have involved The Island with alongside their twinned sites in Berlin, Amsterdam and Indonesia over the past two years. Large scale photography by Matthew Trivett occupies the walls whilst the venue is soundtracked by a vocal performance by Matthias Kispert. The exhibition is very hands on, with books and filing cabinets filled with an archive of work to rifle through which illustrate the collective’s mission further. As you can imagine, this exhibition is a highly sensorial one, but not at all overwhelming due to its perfect co-ordination of its audio-visual pieces. All works, no matter their medium, come together neatly through the core motif of The Island. The intimate venue of ATTIC and its dilapidated charm make Recreation Ground easy to navigate through and the story of The Island is clearly told.
If you are a creative and interested in seeing how art can be devised from unexpected sources, then I highly recommend Recreation Ground. Even if you are solely a spectator after something a little different to your usual art exhibitions, then head over to ATTIC at One Thoresby Street before 9 November and maybe cross the road after to visit the muse behind the show.
Recreation Ground is running until 9 November at ATTIC, 1 Thoresby Street, Sneinton, Nottingham, NG1 1AJ. Opening hours: Thursday – Saturday 12pm-6pm.
Tues 29th October, 6.30-8.30pm – Wasteland Conversation #4: Creativity, Regeneration, Gentrification at Nottingham Contemporary http://www.nottinghamcontemporary.org/event/wasteland-conversation-4-creativity
Wednesday 6th November, 6.30-7.30pm – Archaeology of the Future, David Bell and Rebecca Beinart at ATTIC, One Thoresby Street.
Banner image – Artists Impression production shot by Jo Wheeler.