The idea for City Club originated with artists Gareth Jones and Nils Norman as an ambitious project to re-imagine the public spaces surrounding an expanded MK Gallery, designed by 6a architects, animating the top end of Midsummer Boulevard with alternative models of contemporary art. It also provides a framework for MK Gallery's interim programme while the building is closed for construction.
Gareth grew up in Milton Keynes in the 1970s and this experience recurs throughout his work, which spans drawing, sculpture, installation, exhibition making and printed matter. Nils brings an international perspective on public art, play and the urban landscape, having worked on major public art projects across Europe. Below, Gareth introduces their work on the project.
'A simple question lies behind our approach to designing the new City Club: What would happen if the public art of a city were to swap places with its infrastructure? Let’s suppose that sculptures were to function as signposts, and lampposts were to be thought of as sculpture. Well, perhaps the city would be remade as a playground.
Play and infrastructure are central to our plans to remake the public spaces surrounding a newly expanded MK Gallery. Both of them are enshrined in a forgotten document from the early years of Milton Keynes, the Infrastructure Pack. Lavishly produced by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation in the mid-1970s, it carefully records designs for the seating, rubbish bins, bus shelters and street signs that were soon to become such a familiar part of the landscape.
The pack also documents the first designs for play equipment, created by Brian Milne, which closely resemble the visual art of the era. As artists, we’re both invested in this blurring of categories. I grew up in the new city in its utopian phase and draw on my memory of this highly memorable time as a catalyst for making art. Nils has for many years researched the “Architecture of Play” through exhibitions and publications, and created designs for new play equipment.
These interests collide in our proposals for a playscape between the gallery and the theatre. Two giant hand gates from the 1970s lead to an alley of lampposts surreally growing out of the ground at different heights. A schematised hand becomes a platform for play, and an early piece of Milton Keynes play equipment, the Tri-stack climbing frame, is collaged into a labyrinthine play mound for older children. Explore it, roll off it, or just think of it as a sculpture.
Along with the ideas we have for a new garden next to Midsummer Boulevard and a redesign of the existing gallery facade, the playscape exists as a microcosm of the original vision behind the new city, remade within the contemporary reality of Milton Keynes. It’s a place to play, but also a place to think about vision. Perhaps the two things are not so different.'