In October , I produced a mural installation for Element Arts and Willbox as part of an arts festival in Southampton. The city makes an appropriate venue for a container project as it’s a port city, with nearby freight and train yards. It has also played an important part in the South-Coast graffiti scene over the years, at times being home to members of NT , DBS, 54 and 101 crews (all of which made good use of the local facilities).
Strange then, to now be supported by the enthusiastic young owner of a local shipping firm to paint their containers, and actually invited into their yard to paint during the day; funny how times change!
Transported was an arts project that explored ideas around global trade, consumption and waste. One container housed an art installation entitled “The Museum of the Future Now”, a satirical look at how the wastefulness of our times will be viewed by people of the future. The project also hosted artist talks, performances, live music and poetry. One day of the project coincided with Mexico Day, so we had a mariachi band and some performances about the disappeared women in Mexico, a rapidly growing problem in the region caused by the cocaine trade.
For my part, I wanted to create something that used the containers themselves as an art piece that discussed the ideas outlined by the Transported brief. I’ve always loved the way freight yards look; like giant playgrounds full of brightly coloured building blocks. Containers have a bright, innocent appearance, yet they facilitate everything the consumer age has to offer; flat screens, smart phones, food, drugs, guns and people are all ferried through their walls. Despite being an innocuous steel box, the container underpins the problematic nature of our times, and I wanted my installation to reflect that.
Whilst painting the containers I was often asked; what does it mean? A question I shy away from, partly because I always have a list of ideas in my head and I can never condense them into one punchy answer, and partly because I’m not sure meaning really works like that. One person walked up to me and confidently reported that the piece was a comment on refugees and the growing refugee crisis in Calais, another assumed it was a nod to the term “sleeping giants” sometimes used for stationary freight trains in the yard. I guess the point for me is to open the meaning up, rather than pin it down to any one thing.
The project was situated in the farcical Arts Quarter of Southampton city center, adjacent to where the new “Art Center” will be opened. In reality this is just a continuation of the bland corporate development Southampton has been subjected to over the years; luxury apartments and retail units, (the first part to open to the public was Nandos). The whole things is so blatantly corrupt that when they did the photo-op with the usual duchebags in-front of the site pretending to lay a brick or whatever they actually forgot to write Art Center on the signage in the background and just had Apartments and Retail Units written there instead. Over 1o years of waiting, 25m of funding and all we got was a new home for one of the existing galleries and a load of shitty shops. In a town with 3 failed shopping malls in the same square mile, this really was not the best use of the money!
Despite being a frustrating situation, the context of this development made a really appropriate site for our project, and as one person said- “its nice to finally have some art in the arts quarter”. In a place like Southampton that has been so hammered by cuts, and where centralised money rarely reaches the right hands, its great to see projects like Transported still happening, propelled by the momentum and hard work of grass roots organisations like Element Arts. Despite it being quite a slog to get actually paint the containers in a short space of time, I found the project a strangely optimistic and energising experience, largely thanks to the many interesting and proactive people I met along the way. Extra big thanks to Element Arts and to Chris from willbox for making it all happen.