A couple of months ago, we were having a natter on twitter with our friend Tony Wade from Faceless Arts, it was one of those late night, slightly delirious with tiredness, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to [insert crazy idea here]?’ conversations.
Anyway, it being twitter and an open forum, it does feel like once you’ve commited yourself to something, you have to go through with it. We’ve currently got 1, 414 witnesses to any statement or promise we might make on twitter so … you can’t deny you ever said it. And Tony Wade’s not a man for letting you forget 🙂
The idea was a simple one. We were going to put some Art in Ossett for folks to happen upon. There would be no big fanfare, no marketing campaign, a few tweets and facebook messages so that those we know, who might be charmed by such a notion, would know we were up to something. But something would appear, one Saturday just for the simple pleasure of those that might happen upon it. An intervention. We wanted to create the opportunity for people to react in an honest way to art in the public realm.
And so, on Saturday 18th May 2013, we took to the streets with two of Tony’s full size wire figures, a seagull called Seemore and a few props.
It was pissing it down.
Who would come into Ossett on a day like today? Legend has it that Ossett is DEAD on a Saturday that no one goes into the town and we sincerely thought the only people that might see the work were the staff at Richmond’s Butchers who looked suitably perplexed as we lifted 6ft tall aluminium figures from the back of Faceless’ van.
By 8.15am we were set up. #TheCouple had arrived.
Seemore was perched atop the nearest rubbish bin and we waited for interaction.
We adjourned to a viewing point some distance from #TheCouple as we didn’t want to make people think they were being watched, we just wanted folks to enjoy it and react naturally to it.
Our first visitor surprised us. She’s an Ossett legend and usually leads everyone to scurrying for their car keys, or checking the town hall clock to make sure they haven’t overstayed their welcome. She approached with a huge smile on her face. ‘What’s this then?’ ‘It’s lovely’ … ‘Is it just here for today?’ … ‘Can I take a picture’ … Yes you most certainly can madam 🙂
It didn’t take long for folks to start wandering up and having a look.
In ones and twos and sometimes in small groups people wandered over and studied Ossett’s visitors. All of them smiling. None of them asking anything about it really, they understood it. #TheCouple had its own narrative. A couple sitting on a bench in the rain, he had bought her flowers, it was something that needed no more explanation.
‘THAT is brilliant, we never get stuff like this in Ossett’
‘I wish we had some art in Ossett, even Dewsbury has Art’ (sorry Dewsbury, direct quote from one of our viewers)
‘I can’t believe that, I’m off to get my camera, I didn’t even have a drink last night, can’t believe what I am seeing’
‘Can I buy the bird? Is the bird for Sale?’
It was going well. Not many walked past pretending it wasn’t there. A couple of young lads who you might not expect to have the courage to interact with art in their street, took turns to take photographs of one another with the couple.
‘Go on, go on, you do it’
A steady stream of drenched shoppers stopped, put down their bags and took out their mobile phones.
By 9.30 Tony had decided that the scene needed an new character. In 45 minutes he created Jeff. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Jeff!
Jeff is #TheCouple’s dog. I wanted to call him Nobby but some kids out collecting for a Servicemen’s charity decided he was called Jeff. It Stuck.
Watching how families interacted was lovely. Children wanted to pat Jeff or climb onto the man’s knee. They were transfixed by the movement of the umbrella in the wind that just rocked gently backwards and forward. The movement of the brolly and the gleam of the aluminium attracted people from some distance away.
A cyclist in high-viz vest, traversing the market place at speed, almost came a cropper as he passed #TheCouple and realised that they weren’t real people. He tried to take a picture whilst cycling past and ended up on his knees in front of them.
‘I am from Poland, it’s very good, how much?’
We told him they weren’t for sale
‘It’s very good’
And off he went.
I enjoyed much about standing in the pissing rain on a very cold May morning in Ossett, especially the chance to have conversations with people about why it was there and why we thought it was important to have art in our lives. For 4 very wet hours on a Saturday morning, this small work of art took centre stage in our featureless market place.
Yes the town hall is beautiful but it blends into the endless sea of yellow brick that is ‘The Precinct’. Our Art Intervention created a hiccup, an interuption, a hiatus in what is expected on a Saturday morning in Ossett.
‘That’s brilliant that is, you don’t expect to see that on a Saturday morning in Ossett’
Had we done this on a busy day, or as part of a larger event, the element of surprise and happenstance would not have been there. It was the sheer JOY on peoples’ faces as they came upon the art that was most cheering. Each visit was like a private viewing.
‘We don’t get much excitement in Ossett’
A chap appeared. He stood next to us for a while. We thought he might want to join in the conversation, but he just looked at the work and finished his fag. Then he turned to us and asked about it. Turns out he’s in a band. The GroundPilots. I’ve had a listen, they’re good. Anyway, he was out looking for random folks and things to have his picture taken with for a forthcoming video. He was slightly gobsmacked at finding something QUITE this random in Ossett on a Saturday morning.
So. We took his picture.
Then someone I have known for a long time appeared. Dougie, my friend Mark’s older brother, I haven’t seen him for a long time.
‘What is it?’
‘I like it but I’m not going near it’
‘Can you make me a Kingfisher?’
The ceaselessly brilliant and generous Tony Wade set to it with wire. Here’s Dougie with his Kingfisher.
Dougie gave me the warmest hug and off he went. He promised to give my regards to his brother, I hope he does.
By 12.45 I must confess to being a tad cold. We decided that it was time to pack away #TheCouple and get on with the business of our own Saturdays. It had been tremendous fun an entirely positive experience that thrilled those lucky enough to happen upon it.
We learnt a lot. We learnt that if you do something lovely, people will react in a lovely way. We learnt that there are many more people around in Ossett on a Saturday morning than popular rumour might lead you to believe. We learnt that if you give people space and allow them to have their own relationship with art, you can create something really meaningful. We learnt that Ossett wants and welcomes the opportunity to engage with art, (we knew this already but we needed to remind ourselves). We learnt that doing something unusual creates the opportunity for interaction. We learnt that people like to smile and talk and that art is way you can allow that to happen.
Well, that was Saturday Surprise #1. Who knows when #2 might happen, that’s the nature of Art Interventions, they happen when they happen.
A massive thank you to Tony Wade and Faceless Arts for making the work and bringing it to Ossett. If you didn’t already know we are very very lucky to have artists of this calibre who care this much about our communities in the Wakefield District.
See you next time.
Photos by: Sharon Shephard, Jacqui Wicks, Tony Wade.