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New Public Art Commission for Southend Town Centre – Lu Williams

New Public Art Commission for Southend Town Centre – Lu Williams

Focal Point Gallery and Creative Estuary are delighted to announce the commission of a new, major public artwork that will welcome visitors and residents to the UK’s newest City – Southend-On-Sea. Lu Williams’ impactful, ambitious, and fun concept will transform the current, uninspiring ‘gateway’ to the city’s famous High Street, as approached from Southend Victoria and Victoria Avenue.

An unusual and very beautiful source of inspiration behind Williams’ winning idea are Lorenzo Ghiberti’s (1378-1455) doors to the baptistry of San Giovanni in central Florence, Italy. Known as the Gates of Paradise, the huge pair of bronze doors portray scenes from the Old Testament and were themselves commissioned after a competition.

Taking a popular seaside souvenir of a great day out and combining it with Ghiberti’s iconic creations, Williams will also recreate certain aspects and moments of Southend’s history, landmarks and events in the form of monumental fridge magnets, as the artist explains: “Building from the days of Victorian day-tripping to the huge punk music scene of the late 1970s-1980s, with its current status as a new city complete with a thriving arts scene, the relief sculptures (3D images emerging from a flat background) will be positioned on rollercoaster-style tracking, bringing a sense of dynamism to the space and creating an archway that also acts as invitation towards the High Street.”

Further hinting how the finished installation could look, Williams adds: “Cladding the brick walls with painted aluminium will help to give the impression of a large community noticeboard, or fridge front. The magnet-style relief sculptures will be lit by a mix of luminescent fibreglass and interior lighting, so they can also be seen in the dark. Fridge magnets are a curation of our experiences, often kept in the heart of the home, the kitchen, and this theme of bringing together personal experiences of Southend, with its cultural offering to visitors, feels fitting.”

In November 2021, members of the Southend Creative and Culture Network (SCCN) were invited to propose nominations for local artists to submit their proposals for a major public art commission on Southend High Street. A selection panel – composed of local residents and creative practitioners – then agreed a shortlist of six artists from a longlist. Each of the shortlisted artists was asked to explain their initial proposal ideas, and how they would approach the commission, the community groups they might wish to engage with, why they would like to be considered for this commission, and how their experience is appropriate for a project of this scale. From these proposals, the jury met and selected one artist whose proposal they felt offered the most exciting and direct response to the aims of this project which are to create a new, high-quality, ambitious public artwork that captures the imagination of both residents and visitors to Southend and has a relevance to locality and the Thames Estuary.”

Emerging from a high-quality field of submissions, the jury particularly commended the imaginative quality of Williams’ proposal, in particular the intended use of fridge magnets as popular, household items but elevated to become sculptural objects, in order to celebrate different memories and unique locations across Southend. Overall the Jury agreed that “Lu’s intention to work with different generations of residents, to create something quite different that would create a sense of pride in Southend also helped their proposal to stand out as the most dynamic and innovative,”.

Subject to planning permission, the final artwork will be in place by Summer 2022.The project is the latest in a series of exciting Creative Estuary Co-commissions – the initiative which aims to showcase 60 miles of the North Kent and South Essex region as one of the UK’s most dynamic and creative areas in the whole of the UK

About the Artist

Lu Williams is an artist living and working in Southend. They use research and community engagement to produce zines, print, sculpture, drawing, writing, events and workshops. Lu is interested in social history, accessibility, labour, DIY culture, protest and explores this through a personal experience of queerness and working-class culture.

They founded Grrrl Zine Fair in 2015 which platforms womxn, trans and non-binary artists and zine makers through workshops, events, Grrrl Zine Library, based at The Old Waterworks, Southend and Grrrl In print Zine. In 2021 they Co-founded Dog Ear, a place for sculptural dog toys and artist publishing.

As a third generation Southender, Lu will be reflecting on Southend’s history as well as imagining the high street of the future and what could be done now. Members of community groups and other local creatives will be invited to consult and contribute to the design of the public artwork through facilitated workshops and printed matter to gather thoughts, memories and ideas.