- completed January 2009
- City Library, Newcastle-u-Tyne
- Newcastle City Council, Libraries Services
During the early summer of 2007 over a thousand inhabitants of Newcastle were asked four questions; What makes you happy? What would you change? What do you fear? What gives you hope?
The answers were woven directly into drawings that are printed onto the glazed elevation of the new City Library. There are four drawings, each one is like a chapter in a book, in places the text is large scale and easy to read in others the audience must look a little harder and reveal the smaller details of the text. The answers are both simple and complex; in places they are funny, in others poignant or angry. Some answers are reassuringly predictable and were given many times over. In other places anonymity gave the opportunity to make private thoughts public; answers are unexpected and brutally honest.
The answers inspired the imagery that they are woven into, the four compositions have an overall impact but within the drawings there are layers of hidden images and miniature worlds. The drawings are could be compared to a complex tapestry, they are created from thousands of layers of text, pen drawings, photographs and scanned materials such as old books or leaves.
The objective of this piece is to mark the building as a point in history; the library becomes a monument to the people of Newcastle and a celebration of its status as an important public building. It is a contemporary ‘Newcastle Collection’ or a portrait of Newcastle. It is a piece about the diversity of people and the times that we are living; however comment traits of humanity also make it a piece about timelessness.
It is also a piece about words; the weight they carry, they way they look and the images they can invoke.
Although alternative locations were considered the grid was the final choice because if its visibility and accessibility for the overall building. Furthermore the positioning of the work was a response to Ryders rational for the grid and the sense of drawing the audience into the building on a journey through the space.
Using the glass elevation as a canvas allows the images to take on a number of different appearances as the day progresses. During the day the work will be most dramatic and easily viewed from the inside as the sunlight illuminates the work and casts filtered light into the space behind. At night the images will come alive from outside the building as the drawings become like a giant light box glowing into the street.
Collecting the answers
Given that this is a monument to the people of Newcastle it was important to ensure that as wide a cross section of the community were reached as possible. In order to do this research was collected in a variety of ways; questionnaires, a website and by interviewing people directly. A wide range of community groups were contacted and events such as the Newcastle Green festival were attended.
The collection technique had an impact on the answers, the bravest were the most anonymous ones on the website, the shortest were on the questionnaires and the most florid by interview.
Once the questions were asked the answers had to be edited. First of all they had to be divided into the four subject areas, next patterns were established. How many people answered friends and family make them happy? How should this information be constructed? In the end almost everything was used word for word with the exception of offensive materials or reference to people by name. Subject areas were grouped together and this was then able to begin informing the images chosen.
Construction of the images.
There is a huge amount of information in each drawing; this information was compiled digitally with the help of Northern Design. For each image the text needed to be input into the correct program and manipulated to become part of the drawing. Added to this in layers were photographs and drawings created by the artist and scanned imagery. Colin Hagan of Northern Design describes the process..
‘Northern Design collaborated with Kathryn Hodgkinson on Four Questions. This included editing, image manipulation, collage and composition of a wide range of images . Another aspect of the collaboration was the selection of typefaces and the extensive use of typography as both an illustrative and readable element. A consistent visual style including the use of colour and treatment of all visual elements was developed to complete the project. Lastly complex artwork was realised for screenprinting on glass.’
This was such a complex and technical process that it took over five months to complete and could not have been achieved without collaborating with Northern Design.
Printing the Glass
The final part of the process was to print the images on the glass. This was done by a specialist fabricator based in Wiltshire, Proto Studios. The images were made into film positives to create screens which could then be screen printed with glass enamel. This process involved creating many samples to ensure that the colours were correct. Proto Studios are the only company in the UK able to screen print such complex work on this scale. Their familiarity with the creative process used by artists meant that by creating a high number of samples the visualizations could be realised on the glass as closely to the original designs as possible.
Finally the enamels were fired onto the glass during the toughening process at Bishop Auckland and the sheets were made into double glazed units.
The glass will be installed throughout the following months but the final effect will not be seen until the building is open and the glass can be appreciated at close range and lit from inside at nighttimes.