Longbridge Light Festival (LLF) 2016 is the culmination of a five-year public art project, the Longbridge Public Art Project (LPAP) 2012-2017. Conceived by art commissioning organisation WERK, LPAP encompasses a long-term artist residency and public programme embedded within one of the largest regeneration schemes in the UK, and within one of the most historically significant areas relating to British car manufacturing – Longbridge in the south of Birmingham. Once the site of a thriving motor factory (1905-2005), Longbridge is in the midst of massive regeneration after a long fallow period. LPAP believe that contemporary public art and socially-engaged practice should be at the heart of this unique and complex development. The programming of both LPAP and LLF are at their heart about the history, transformation and recreation of Longbridge. They are also, perhaps most importantly, for Longbridge.
The artworks and activities for LLF have been programmed in response to the festival theme of ‘Shadow Factory’. ‘Shadow Factory’ is a historical reference to the Shadow Scheme, a plan developed by the British government prior to World War II to try to meet the urgent need for more aircraft technology. This was a significant time in history for the UK automotive industry which included a diversification of resources and the famous mobilisation of women supporting the war effort. The project was developed by the Air Ministry and headed by Lord Herbert Austin, founder of the Austin Motor Company.
The Longbridge myth is that theatre set designers, painters and decorators, and artists were invited to paint the roof of the Longbridge car plant to disguise the building from the air as terraced houses. It is this mix of art, industry and place that is the inspiration for Longbridge Light Festival and we hope to pay tribute to World War II by reflecting on the contribution of the local community and the support they provided to each other and the country.
The theme relates to the history of Longbridge, exploring multiple social, physical and political narratives that are embedded within the past, present and future of the site. ‘Shadow Factory’ features an ensemble of installations, interactions, fleeting interventions and experiences devised and created by artists in response to the population, heritage and possible future of the site. The festival features newly commissioned work from international, national and West Midlands-based artists. LLF includes temporary and permanent site-specific work that has been produced over the last few years by project artists in residence through extensive research, sensitivity and close collaboration with members of the community.
WERK views the organisation of the public art project and festival in terms similar to that of a music composition – they are crucially about collaboration and improvisation. LPAP is marked by the reframing, reclaiming and signposting of Longbridge through action, co-creation, co-designing and the reprogramming of its public spaces, with artists and communities working collaboratively for change.New genre public art, socially engaged practice and psychogeography are areas of thought that are embedded within both the festival and wider project. The festival commissions emphasise playfulness and encourage ‘drifting’ in Longbridge. This aims take pedestrians off their usual paths to experience something new and curious, and aim to encourage a different awareness of the urban landscape.
Permanent artworks in Longbridge
Underpinning the LLF and LPAP legacies are the partnerships between St. Modwen, a private developer and regeneration specialist, and WERK. These two organisations have collaborated over the last five years to create artist in residence opportunities and permanent light installations and artworks to enhance the experience of the new built environment. Both share the view that light is an important medium of artistic expression with the ability to transform and rehumanise an urban landscape visually, physically and emotionally. It also has the capacity to encourage social gathering, an important factor for a place like Longbridge which has recently undergone a major redevelopment, including the construction of a number of new buildings and outdoor public spaces following the demolition of its former car factory. Light, art, urban design, development, place-making and socially engaged practice has the potential to create immersive experiences with real impact and as such takes a central role within the both the long term project and festival.
The project was developed in response to the ongoing transitional complexity that Longbridge has faced during its regeneration. For nearly a century the area was dominated by one of the largest car factories in the world until its devastating collapse in 2005. The Longbridge story is echoed across the world, with numerous cities and communities facing challenging economic and sector shifts, redevelopments, regeneration and master planning.Among the permanent site-specific opportunities created within the project to date include a lighting scheme and ‘Star Map’ by Cathy Wade, recently featured in Lighting Urban Community International (LUCI) publication and a series of sculptures and architectural lighting underneath the A38 bridge, a future pedestrian and cyclist gateway to Longbridge, by Stuart Whipps to be installed 2017. Other of LPAP’s artist-in-residence permanent artwork commissions include ‘Longbridge Street Signs’ by Luke Perry, a collaborative large- scale public art sculpture by Redhawk Logistica and Luke Perry coming in 2017, and permanent small-scale interventions at Longbridge train station by Ian Richards and Cathy Wade. Wade is also developing a community garden at Longbridge train station in partnership with Northfield Ecocentre, London Midland and ‘adopted’ by Marks & Spencer. Other invited artist commissions include steel-clad doors engraved with every member of Greenlands Select Social Club since 1957 by Chicago-based artists Industry of the Ordinary and a permanent light text work embedded into the ground by Leipzig-based artists Famed. There will also be a community notice board created by WERK and an online town centre public event programme accompanied by a free DIY event guide created specifically for community-led events and activities to take place in the town centre in the future.