Shepton Mallet 'The Golden Palace' installation
As an artist with fairly considerable commercial success I am preparing to devote a minimum of 3 months to restoring and brightening my hometown, inspiring creativity and aspiration within the residents and running a workshop and motivational talk in the local schools: St. Pauls, Croscombe Primary School and Whitstone Community School, encouraging the students. My starting point of research and development will be exploring the history and construction behind Linderhof Palace, Bavaria, and the accompanying opera 'The Ring Cycle' by Wagner. I intend to nurture investment within and sponsorship of the project, media partnerships, encourage local trade, invite more prolific local artists to exhibit, and encourage productivity, community, communication and development within the local arts and crafts businesses.
I am commencing preparations to stage a window display, a large artwork and installation within the town centre, in the large empty shop front the site owned by agent James Heaphy (pictured on the left beneath the green sign) which used to be rented by New Look) in Shepton Mallet town centre, as part of the 'Shepton Mallet Shop Window' project founded by local resident, church goer Sheena Brook.
I interviewed Sheena Brook. I am in great admiration of her tenacity and motivation:
"I run the Shepton Mallet Shop Window Project as a little community project to brighten up Shepton High Street, which was looking very unloved when I started three years ago. Pat Penn, who helps run Penn’s the Jewellers, helps and advises me, and the whole thing arose out of a Lent course where we had to think ‘How can I bring Shalom to my community, in its widest sense of peace, harmony, and well being’. We have no funding of any kind. I started the project by ringing owners and agents, asking for permission to decorated their windows, and then extended it to the Library windows as well. Some said No but enough said Yes for the project to make a difference, and it is amazingly popular locally.
I noticed many people who walk up and down the town in Shepton are either Mums with small children, or old people. I am therefore very careful to keep the display fairly ‘safe’ – nothing that would cause offence, nothing ‘spiritual’ or ‘New Age’, nothing scary or spooky, nothing religious. The more local it is the better.
Amazingly, of the ten shops whose we have decorated over the years, six have been let!"
I will be keeping an ongoing blog about the project including:
- Cultural regeneration of Shepton Mallet: investigating cultural and social deprivation in the area and what can be done to encourage and promote creativity, access to arts, inclusion and mobility within the community and encourage the arts and music scene. I have the support of unique independent local business, vintage arts and crafts boutique 'Anna's Attic'.
- An investigation into 'The Golden Palace' including a research and development visit to Linderhof Palace. I am fascinated by the history of the palace, which was commissioned by 'Mad' King Ludwig the Second in 1868 as a venue to stage Wagner's opera 'The Ring Cycle'. I seek to explore the Rococo architecture of the building, and influence my writing, I am currently working on my first novel and screenplay 'The Starry Curiousum', set in the fairytales of the 18th Century. In order to do so I will seek to nurture the influences of Wagner: his research into Nordic mythology, and deepen by knowledge of art history and architecture of the period. I am a great fan of the forms of the Rococo period, which went on to influence the shapes echoed within the work of the 'PreRaphaelites, and later and Art Nouveau.
- The Rococo movement commenced in France, within the reign of Louis XV .. pale, slender, ornate and opulent silver, gold, cream and white structures which embraced and echoed natural forms, to majestic effect.
- Site specific art and installation 'The Golden Palace': Textile Art, Poetry and Prose, Sculpture and a commissioned Stained Glass window piece. In order to bring the rich, sumptuous and intriguing history of 'The Golden Palace' to Shepton Mallet I will recreate some of the forms of Linderhof Palace, and deepen my knowledge and understanding of the period. I am currently supported by the Prince's Trust.
- Artist's technique: I will blog and inform about the techniques and processes I use within the sculpture, fantasy art illustrations and textile art.
- Following the 6 week installation I will follow up my work with a conceptual novel and screenplay set within the 18th Century, and creating music, costumes and characters, develop and explore the narrative within my company: The Jewelled Moon Theatre.
My hometown of Shepton Mallet dates back to Roman times. I moved there when I was 7 years old, my mother lives there with her Irish husband Gerry, and I am very fond of visiting their wonderful, arts and crafts filled house, where pottery, stained glass windows, instruments, homespun wool, natural dyes, fabrics, knits, patchwork and drums collude with a beautiful garden, filled with great Rose bushes, violets, forget me nots and birdsong, my mother's endless, practical creativity, and a view which stretches across the valley.
It has a population of some 10 369 residents, and dates back to Roman times. Surrounded by greenery; a beautiful quarry is within an hour's walk down a rustic path, great and wild filled with trees, lakes, limestones and caverns, farms and forests, the ruins of ancient houses, meadows, winding paths through horse farms and plotlands filled with chickens and flowers.
Shepton Mallet was a significant market and wool-trading centre from the 15th to the 17th centuries, and many examples of cloth merchants' houses still remain. Other industries grew to replace the cloth industry, including quarrying, brewing, cheese-making, and cider and perry production; local factory Brother's Drinks has a worldwide distribution.
However, the local school was rough, and many of the residents slipped into drug and alcohol abuse from a young age, and early pregnancy. Perhaps because there so was little to do there; no music venues, art galleries, theatre, dance or places of inspiration or aspiration to the young residents; unlike neighbours Frome, Glastonbury or Wells.
To grown up as a child there was of mixed blessings. The countryside was divine, I lived in a community house with some 30 or so residents until I was 12. We had a large garden which almost over spilled into the surrounding fields and we used to go for long, daily rambles throughout the countryside, sledging in steep meadows when it snowed, walking to watch the fireworks in the local park.
There was of course a notorious festival, where pretty much the entire music loving population of the UK and beyond would have to make an appearance at, at least once at 'Glastonbury Festival' held once a year, and the resounding after party 'Pilton Pop Party', where Michael Eavis would say thank you to the local residents and families by staging a once a year Britpop Fiesta; Kula Shaker, Catatonia, Reef, Space, Feeder, intimate bawdy events engorged with cider and Somerset's unique brand of down to earth, ribald, oblique, absurdist farm humour. And the Bath and West Showground, of course, again 2 miles or so from the town; cattle, weddings, and jungle music.
The local school was un-aspirational. It was not lauded to be intelligent, to enjoy reading, in fact it invited derision. Part of my research, as a sociologist and cultural anthropologist has been to comes to terms with this violent, angry dislike of literature and art contained within many of the community school's attendees.
I was part of the poorest member's of society when I was younger, I received free school meals, and was lucky enough to enjoy and be the recipient of free music lessons and subsidized access to supplementary educational and arts retreats, such as that held at Kilve Court: where I learned how to draw under the guidance of expert tutors in a supportive environment. Words cannot describe how lucky and privileged I felt to be allowed access to these full board courses, how much I appreciated them and how they were both beacons and a backbone to my education, knowledge and sense of self worth as a child. Supportive education should be given to those in need of it the most, lifting, encouragement and guidance. I would like to see ongoing access to educational support given to those below the poverty line, children from low income backgrounds, refugees and immigrants. Education permits a solution to crime, and a fair society must promote access to the arts.
We were poor, but I had open access to intellectual stimulus: I enjoyed used of the local library and I devoured books, reading late into the night with a torch under my bed covers. I even used to sometimes read and walk at the same time! Then, with the advent of Napster, and my grandfather's purchase of a computer for me I became a great music aficianado from 14, escaping into dedicated knowledge of coding and musical back catalogues, producers and record label's history, finding a worldwide rapport with music culture on the internet and via the shared dissemination of gigs and dissection of artist's content and distribution. I certainly used music as a means to escape, I formed a style identity, dyed my hair pink, painted my nails black and wrote on my tie and school shirt, rebelling against the ongoing derision I experienced for being an outcast; an intellectual freak.
I was once driven to school in a Jesus Army minibus, with 'Love, Power and Sacrifice' emblazoned across the side in rainbow colours.
It is with humour, I look back on one of the most excruciating experiences of my life!
I was moved from the local school at a young age after experiencing severe bullying, then attended the local second secondary school, to return to the same individuals. Via music, I formed myself, devoted, rarely sleeping, solitary, and intense, compiling great annals of music history, devouring biographies, lacing myself into the alternative scene with the avid dedication of a hungry teenager. By 15 years old I was in London, on work experience at NME, researching for the magazine, forming my own collections of music and poetry, in proud receipt of a invitation to return to the music journal, then by my final year of school I finally made friends; forming a shared discourse over swapping CD's and inhabiting garage bands. Walking home together with our earphones on, heavy metal and rock blasting, tracing lyrics obsessively, a black ink patina scrawled across our bags and school shirts. I was shy, crazy, absurd and intense; self righteous. I used to return my CDs to Woolworths I would purchase them, copy them onto my computer and return them to the store to swap them -sorry PRS. I plastered my bedroom in posters and candlelight. My first boyfriend and I would sit on the wall outside my house and discuss music endlessly compiling each other tapes prioritizing the most arcane artists that noone else had ever heard of; trailblazing. Then the weekly trips to Bristol, to see favourite bands in the Fleece and Firkin, the Lousiana, and all night drum and bass parties where the sound of the bass line would cascade and resound over the local countryside, the midnight moonlit trek to the soundsystem.
I guess, honestly, one of my reasons for wishing to return to Shepton Mallet to stage an installation in the town centre is to come to terms with the trauma I experienced there and provide hope to anyone who might feel the same. I want to inspire cultural regeneration in the area, fill the rows of empty shop windows with art, information, poetry, literature, wonderful and ornate designs My passion and ambition has always driven me, like a thread weaving its golden patina throughout the tapestry of my life. My mother always encouraged me, told me there wasn't anything I wasn't capable of.
I want to stage a monument to beauty, to heritage, nature and architecture. To explore my ongoing fascination with mythology and fantasy, to high level of expertise and entwinned a little folklore in the display: in homage to the Peacock of Priddy Fair, a favourite of my mother's and her friend Nigel, who have collected many of the feathers shed by the free roaming, majestic local avian. Also to discover the reasons behind cultural deprivation, and poverty to enforce an effect. I believe that one of the reasons why Shepton Mallet has such a high level of crime, and lack of culture is poverty. I would like to fill the town with colour, to inspire. To create hope and vision.
I am convinced that if classical studies, the arts, dance, philosophy, plant identification, foraging, music, and financial management were pioneered in school that social change could be advanced. I would like to see a cultural, and multicultural access to arts prioritized; so equal access to creativity is pioneered. Are the most creative people the happiest, the most inclusive, the least judgmental? The level of racism and violence within the town : a gypsy Italian boy had a pavement broken over his head, I used to be followed home and spat on, and much of my research; at college, and within my degree, has been to uncover the process of individuation which accomodates, and invites cultural acceptance. The reasons why poverty exists, why crimes are committed, and how education and society can promote a more compassionate, inclusive agenda. When the mind and imagination are inspired, when vision takes flight there is little time for criticism.