You Belong Here: Artists Rediscovering Salford’s Green Spaces — Corridor8

Installation view of You Belong Here. Image courtesy Salford Museum and Art Gallery, photography by Heiss Rourke Photography.

by Natalie Bradbury

I’m standing alone in the middle of a large lawned expanse in the formal Victorian landscape of Peel Park, Salford. To the outside observer, it looks like I’m surrounded by empty space, absorbed in my phone and my headphones. Yet I’m enjoying my own private brass band concert, at the site of the park’s long-lost bandstand.

The physical bandstand, installed in the 1870s, was dismantled in the 1970s after falling into disrepair. In its place, I have stepped into the ornamental ironwork outline of an imagined bandstand. I’m guided by an augmented reality app, ‘The Storm Cone’ (2021), which was developed by the artist Laura Daly and features a commissioned score by the composer Lucy Pankhurst.

To a dramatic, cinematic soundtrack, spindly music stands slowly fill out the bandstand’s skeletal frame, as I hold my phone screen in front of me. Then disembodied brass band instruments appear, floating over the real-life backdrop of deep red and orange leaves. These instruments take it in turns to perform solo: a mournful horn, an eerie euphonium running up and down a scale in a fever before collapsing into a drone, a jaunty flugelhorn sounding almost like jazz improv. Each solo gradually drifts into a cacophony of collaged sounds, forming a series of audio snapshots. At various points, I hear snatches of familiar noises such as a car-horn, men humming, the shuffling locomotion of a steam train, the chimes of a clock, the sparse beats of a military drum, the rhythmic footsteps of a protest march, a solemn radio broadcast announcing the start of war, and whispered, fearful voices. Together, they paint a vivid picture of an historical epoch – the years between the end of the First World War in 1918 and the beginning of the Second World War in 1939.

The focus of Daly’s interest is the survival and decline of brass bands in the interwar period, from their roots in industrial workplaces and sponsorship by the military, to loss of industry and the resulting break-up of communities, which was mirrored by an attendant loss in bandsmen. Accompanying each sound piece are brief contextual notes, which place the changing fortunes of bands within wider processes of social, economic and political change and upheaval, from unemployment to migration and the rise of populism.Installation view of archive materials and photography. Image courtesy Salford Museum and Art Gallery, photography by Heiss Rourke Photography.

The experience of ‘The Storm Cone’ feels both private and communal. Listening through headphones imbues a sense of intimacy – but also of distance, isolating the listener from their immediate physical setting in the people and place that surrounds them. The power of the piece is not just in exploring historical memory, but the way it brings the listener back to the present moment. It foregrounds the part that green spaces and communal past-times can play in recovery from individual and collective trauma today, and asks us to pay attention to the forces that shape our sense of community and belonging.

The stories told through ‘The Storm Cone’ are not specific to Salford – the app. also enables the work to be experienced in Chalkwell Park in Southend, Essex – but they map comfortably onto the changing fortunes of the park, and the city that surrounds it. Opened on the banks of the River Irwell in 1846, and funded by public subscription, Peel Park was one of the first public parks in England. In common with green spaces and municipal amenities in other industrial towns and cities, the park fell on hard times in the latter decades of the twentieth century, as the area changed through deindustrialisation. From the late-1950s, the population of inner-city Salford decreased and people were dispersed en masse to other areas of the city, following processes of slum clearance which saw large residential areas demolished. For many years Peel Park felt under-visited and neglected, but it was refurbished in 2017 using a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. During my visit to ‘The Storm Cone’, Peel Park was the busiest I’d ever seen it. The area was alive with dog walkers, families, couples, joggers and cyclists crossing the park as part of a route that connects green spaces around the city.

‘The Storm Cone’ is one of a series of new commissions by artists based in, or with a strong connection to, Salford. Co-commissioned and co-curated by the University of Salford Art Collection, each artist responds to and celebrates green spaces such as these, and invites their rediscovery. They range from municipal public parks built as breathing spaces for inner-city areas, to local woods and nature reserves offering space to wander, to the huge RHS Bridgewater garden, which opened on the outskirts of the city in summer 2021. The resulting artworks are brought together in the exhibition You Belong Here, at Salford Museum and Art Gallery, alongside work from Salford’s publicly owned art collections and archival material from local history collections that documents the changing form and function of the city’s parks. Inside the gallery (whose solid redbrick mass loomed in the distance as I experienced Daly’s virtual bandstand outside), ‘Storm Cone Graphic Score (Complete Work)’ (2021) encapsulates the sound piece in watercolour. Pankhurst’s brass composition builds in volume before fading away as its players disperse; in Daly’s score, water and pigment bleed away from a central point, creating multiple routes across the surface of the paper. It is one of several artworks which show how artists have been inspired by the city’s green spaces over time. […]

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