The idea of the project, which was the result of an approach to MADE from the Environment Agency, and funded by the Arts Council England, was to facilitate artist engagement with a planned programme of flood defence works in the Witton area of Birmingham.
These necessary works have the potential to degrade the quality of the environment. Our ambition was to turn this threat into an opportunity: transforming the environment and local people’s experience of it. This was achieved through community-based arts practice, collaboration between artists, engineers and designers, and the development of public art for the site.
Through 'Tamed' we commissioned a number of artists residencies to work with communities, engineers and landscape architects as new flood defences and a pedestrian/cycle way are created along the River Tame in Birmingham.
The activities provided a vehicle to explore the wider context of the works and the story of the River Tame, influencing the design of the flood defences and adding surprising, provocative elements to the engineering structures.
The ‘Tamed’ theme enabled creative links to be made between the history of the place, the experience of the community and the purpose of the planned works.
As one of just three rivers in Birmingham the River Tame has a significant part to play in the story of the city and its people: The process of industrialisation is often seen as one of taming nature, of transforming natural resources into machines and products, perhaps also of taming people to follow the rhythms of the machines. As Perry Barr, Witton and Aston were transformed into industrial suburbs something was tamed: The River Tame was canalised, exploited for its cooling waters, made to accept industrial effluents, hemmed-in, walled and bridged.
Nature re-exerts itself. Human-made riverbanks are breached. The factories and houses are flooded. We must return to build the barriers higher. But can the nature ever be tamed? Can the Tame be tamed?
Tamed was an arts programme to explore how the Tame has been tamed, from Roman times through the industrial revolution to the current planned flood defences. Through artist residencies in the community with residents, businesses and other agencies with interest/responsibility in the area such as the City Council, schools, highways and parks we drew upon this rich heritage and current challenges to examine the notion of the taming and un-taming of nature (including our own species).
• The first residency - Research and Outreach Artist (ROA) - undertook a place-based socio-historic study of the Tame and consider the changing relationship between the river and the people who used it, exploited it and lived and worked alongside it. Jenni Coles-Harris, artist-historian began this role in March this year. You can view her progress at http://tamedproject.blogspot.co.uk/
• The Design Team Artist (DTA) role worked closely with the project team at the Environment Agency on the flood defence wall. A key aim of this residency was for the artistic practice to impact on the overall design of the scheme and explore how the involvement of an artist can bring actual change to large-scale infrastructure projects. Artists Rob Colbourne and Stuart Mugridge jointly undertook this role, you can find out more about them and their work here http://www.smabs.co.uk/ and http://www.robertcolbourne.co.uk/
• The Community Artist/Maker (CAM) facilitated workshops with the community to create pieces which were integrated permanently into the project output in some form, for example in the wall or along the cycle path. MADE recently commissioned artist Nita Newman alongside existing project artsist Rob, Struart and Jenni to underake this.
Alongside these residencies we recently welcomed artists from the University of Auburn, Alabama and their Mobile Drawing Studio. Jocelyn Zanzot and Daniel Neil took to the streets of Witton encouraging the community to explore, draw, share,and chat. To find out more about this see here