Future Fossil will be a huge piece of public artwork situated in one of the newer estates in Milton Keynes, Oxley Park. It's being created by artists Andy Merritt and Paul Smyth who are known collectively as Something and Son.
Future Fossil has been inspired by archaeology, the passing of time, our relationship to the natural world, home and future ways of living.
I catch up with Moriam Grillo and Ursula White who are both engagement producers on the project.
DO YOU BOTH HAVE CREATIVE BACKGROUNDS?
I come from a family of artists and grew up within the art scene of Milton Keynes. I have a drama and performance background. I've had my own theatre company and I've also worked within the film industry. More recently I’ve been working as a producer on various projects, including the Milton Keynes International Festival.
My background is also in the arts, my second cousin is probably the most famous and important artist in Nigeria, Yusuf Grillo.
I initially trained in photography and film and later went on to do ceramics. I've always been a maker it's part of my background. More recently I've trained as an art psychotherapist. Community engagement is a core part of my work, I work a lot within communities and I'm delighted to be working with Ursy on Future Fossil.
WHAT IS FUTURE FOSSIL?
Future Fossil is a piece of public art by an artist collective called Something and Son, they were originally commissioned around 4 years ago so it has been a slow and evolving project.
This has partly been to do with the pandemic but also due to the scale of the artwork, large scale artworks take a long time to develop and install.
The artwork itself will feature a life size section of a typical Oxley Park House. It will appear to rise up from the ground as if newly excavated from the future. The house will be embedded into the landscape and will be fossilised due to the passing of time and the exposure to climatic and environmental change.
It’s also a place intended for nature, the reverse side of the fossil will be almost like a cliff face providing a habitat for birds and insects. This is very much how Something and Son work, they work to try to find new ways to invite nature, to establish new habitats.
However what's also really important is to make this a place for people to come and enjoy. A place that people can come together and reconnect.
WHAT’S YOUR INVOLVEMENT IN THE PROJECT?
We’re both engagement producers, our role is to build a network of connections with communities. Being able to bring local communities together to engage in the project is really important to us.
We've been working with community groups and schools on various aspects of this project, all based around Future Fossil and the place it will become.
We've been working on this fabulous Picnic Blanket with two local schools, and two artists, Jane Charles and Mary Hearne. They have been working with the schools to create squares of printed fabric which will make up the blanket. These squares will then be passed to other community groups to embellish with stitch work, so it's become a real community project.
So far we have over 600 squares measuring 20cm squared so you can imagine how big the final blanket will be!
The blanket will become this wonderful testimony to intergenerational engagement from local communities. It will feature within the space around Future Fossil during our official launch later this year. Oxley Park will eventually take ownership of the blanket and it will be displayed within the school.
We've also established, Future Word, again something we're working on within schools as well as with local community groups. The idea of Future Word is to work together to create a poem using interesting words depicting ideas of time and of the future. Spoken word artist, Kat Anderson is leading the project and will gather all the ideas and words and create a poem. The poem will be recited during our launch.
We're also working on a time capsule project - We've asked schools to collect pieces of plastic that can be embedded into the sculpture. It will be a wonderful opportunity for children to know that they have been a part of the building and the construction of the fossil, something that belongs to them and exists in the space forever.
We've also launched, Future Producers, a project we're running in collaboration with Milton Keynes College and AHA (Arts & Heritage Alliance). We're asking young people to put together an event, this could be about poetry or about dance and movement, anything creative. It’s an opportunity for people, particularly young people, to begin to use the space for themselves and in different ways as well as to encourage that cross mix of potentially inter generational connectiveness amongst the community.
"We want to embed a mechanism in the cultural landscape of Milton Keynes that has a focus around young people being the creators"
We felt it really important to have young people at the heart of this public art sculpture which is very much focussed on the future.
WHY DO YOU THINK PROJECTS LIKE THIS ARE IMPORTANT TO THE COMMUNITY?
They bring the community together and offer the opportunity for civic pride, it’s an opportunity for the people of Oxley Park, one of the newer areas in MK , to be part of something. There isn’t currently a public art piece within the area so there’s an opportunity to engage people in creative ways and open up conversations about climate, about time, about our relationship with one another.
Our role is to build a network of connections with the fossil and communities. At the moment there’s nothing in the landscape as the fossil isn’t there yet…. we have to imagine it. That’s been quite interesting because it's a bit like imagining the deep future, nobody can go that far ahead, it’s too far, we can just about do tomorrow or next week! Our abilities to stare into the future is really difficult and having to ask people to imagine this fossil has been an interesting process.
We’ve had longer than we initially thought on the project which has been great as we have had more opportunities to make connections with not only the local communities but networks across the city through Arts and Heritage organisations.
Earlier this year we hosted a walk and talk event. This type of simple event that we can hold outside has been really useful in connecting the community, and in drawing people across the city to that area. The informality of just walking and talking is great as you can meet people from the communities to discuss what this artwork means to them and what inspires them about it.
MILTON KEYNES IS KNOWN AS A NEW TOWN AND PERHAPS SEEN AS SOMEWHERE WITH LIMITED HISTORY DOES THIS THROW UP CHALLENGES?
It’s always a challenge in MK to a certain extent, but it’s a good challenge. I think my early memories in MK are around those simple events such as bonfire night as well as artist led projects that were initiated within schools. Events that mark a time in the calendar that bring people together. Those simple events have been incredibly important in creating culture, I think that rich culture takes a long time to develop and perhaps people underestimate that.
Something that is really important about art is that it gives people the opportunity to think, live and behave differently and that’s something that the fossil is hoping to do. Provide a space of invitation for people to connect in a more traditional way such as a butter cross. Creating a place where people come together and gather.
AT THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR YOU HAD A SERIES OF TALKS, TELL ME ABOUT THESE AND HOW WE CAN VIEW THEM?
We've had a wide ranging set of talks over the last few months with many of our contributors coming from across the globe.
Our first talk Time and Transformation, looked at the materials of time, such as what happens to plastics. This is an area which Something and Son are fascinated with. Looking at how plastics become transformed by time, by sea, by being in our landscape and what remains of them.
This was followed by a talk entitled, Artificial Traditions. Looking at how people create culture, and how people make places significant.
The last talk we did was entitled Collaborations – This was around how Something and Son work with communities and the idea of igniting something in people. Starting with an idea that grows, the ecology of culture, so for example the fossil over time will slowly be inhabited by insects but it will then gradually become part of our cultural identity in the city.
The talks are essentially a resource for people to come back to if you wanted to find out more about the ideas and the thinking behind Future Fossil. They're all available to view on the Future Fossil youtube channel
YOU’VE RUN SOME WORKSHOPS AT WESTBURY TELL ME ABOUT THESE.
We had two workshops earlier this summer aimed at families. The first one "Bugs & Things" was all about making bug costumes such as wings and masks. This was run by local artist Jane Charles.
The second workshop, "Messages to the Future" was a banner making workshop. This was run by local artist Anna Woodhead, and involved the making of banners with wonderful messages for the future. Very much thinking of what we want to send forth to those living in our deep deep future.
WHAT WILL THE LAUNCH LOOK LIKE?
The final launch has been pushed back due to covid so we are waiting to confirm a new date so do keep a lookout for this on our website: https://www.futurefossil.online/
We'll be having a procession and the costumes and banners made in our workshops will form part of this ceremony. The Future Word poem mentioned earlier will also be recited so they'll be something for everyone!
WHEN DOES THE PROJECT OFFICIALLY FINISH?
Artists Something and Son like to collaborate and work with the community on an ongoing basis. Once we've officially unveiled the Fossil we're hoping that it will begin to take on a life of its own and that there will be continuing activity and engagement around the fossil. We hope that the friends of the fossil will take it forward and continue to encourage the use of this space. We need the community to look out for the fossil in the future as after all this will be a place for the people.
If anybody is interested in becoming a friend of the fossil please go to our website for more information.
"The Fossil is a place for the people"
To find out more about Future Fossil visit the website at: https://www.futurefossil.online/