The exhibition, entitled What I want more than anything else, officially launches on Saturday 10 June at Wigan S.T.E.A.M – but one of its most prominent artworks – a giant ten metre long banner brandishing the powerful words, “I want world peace, universal healthcare, no oppression, no prejudice, no poverty” – will be erected on election day, June 8. The banner will be installed at one of the town’s busiest thoroughfares, on the exterior pedestrian entrance of Grand Arcade’s APCOA car park building.
The heartfelt words have come from St John Rigby College student, Bethan Griffiths, who at 17 will not be voting on election day. The emotive slogan was originally earmarked for display on the front of the Town Hall, but is too big for installation on the building’s intricate architecture.
Titchner, a Turner Prize nominated artist renowned internationally for his text based works, has turned the pupil’s plea for peace into a powerful public artwork. Despite its uncanny timing, the banner has been in the planning for many months, following a series of workshops with young people from Wigan.
The public art project has involved 13-25 year olds from across Wigan, working with the artist Mark Titchner, to make their thoughts and opinions visible in public spaces.
Powerful messages written in the youngsters’ own handwriting have been transformed into striking artworks that take the form of videos, flags, bookmarks, murals, banners and screen works. They will be displayed at public spaces across the Wigan borough, including Wigan S.T.E.A.M, Grand Arcade Shopping Centre & APOCA car park, Wigan Library, Wigan Market Hall, Newbridge Community Learning School, The Old Courts, The Turnpike, WigLe Dance and Leigh Sports Village. Each reflects young people's responses to the question ‘What is it that you want more than anything else?’
Responses range from: “I want to always be happy” and “I want in the future a good job, preferably as a paramedic” to “I want an iPhone 7 in jet black.”
Organisers have also launched a Wigan wide text art competition open to anyone in the borough aged 25 or under. The winners’ creations will be exhibited alongside the commissioned works.
The project has been masterminded by Mark Titchner and Networked Narrative, an exciting arts partnership formed between Wigan’s Inspiring healthy lifestyles, FACT, and Lancashire County Council, which offers young people the chance to work closely with renowned artists and have a say over the art displayed in public community spaces.
Commenting on the exhibition, Mark Titchner, said: “It’s been a privilege working closely with a diverse group of young people from Wigan. Their responses to the question posed was fascinating – and varied from the deeply personal, to everyday wants and global concerns.
“There seems to be a common misconception that our younger generation is no longer engaged politically or socially – that they basically don’t care. This project shows that if you provide the right outlet for expression, they will open-up, and very willingly. I’ve created a series of artworks designed to prompt discussion, comparison or agreement - with the young people’s disparate and forceful voices at the centre.”
Elizabeth Griffiths of Wigan S.T.E.A.M said: “Showcasing these contemporary artworks with the involvement of young people from Wigan, on subjects that matter to them, is a really powerful way to provoke better communication and understanding between the generations.
“Our current mainstream education systems fail to promote creativity or its role in future technology. Projects such as this promote the development of the next wave of digital, creative and cultural innovators. We recognize that STEM subjects are what future industries will rely on, and we are using the Arts as a hook into these worlds, harnessing creativity as a way of developing problem-solving skills and new ways of thinking.”
In response to the artworks, FACT’s Director Mike Stubbs said, “Many of the individuals’ insights, reflections and questions raised are so poignant right now, given our current precarious global politics. This collection of works also challenges stereotyped ideas about what art is. It’s not always an oil painting hung in a stuffy gallery. That perception can be alienating, especially for young people.
“In the wider context, art can and does penetrate and touch people’s souls, making us ask the bigger questions, helping us to make sense of our lives and enhancing our physical and mental wellbeing.
“It has the power to cut through differences in gender, class, appearance, economic status, ethnicity...yet sadly, arts funding is being squeezed by central government, and its emphasis in most schools is ever diminishing. It’s a short-sighted strategy because creative environments are known to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. Whatever the election outcome, I hope decision makers will be inspired by projects such as these.”
The artworks will be unveiled at an official launch event at Wigan S.T.E.A.M on Saturday 10 June, 12- 3.30pm, with live music from young up-and-coming bands, members of WigLe Dance performing an interpretation to the question and free entry, food and refreshments.
With support of public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring fund, Networked Narrative uses art and technology to empower and inspire young people, working in libraries and communities across the North.
What I want more than anything else will be exhibited at Wigan S.T.E.A.M from June 10 until 27 August.
You can find more information about Networked Narrative here.