Silverhouses Intro

This is an ongoing self-initiated exploration into the new residential estates currently being built near where I live. I'm framing it as an art residency - an unofficial one - because I like the idea of an art residency in a residential estate. An itinerant, surreptitious, external view.

Silverhouses Journal 2018

An edited selection of journal entries.

Overcast warm day. Walked up through the Rec listening to bird song to approach the Persimmon site through the hedge from the path running through the spinney where the boundary between woodland and housing is markedly harshest. I took a right and walked around the top of the site, noticing all the domestic litter captured in the hedges and amongst stones, rubble, new grass and red poppies that frequently grow on disturbed ground. In the area still being built I noticed in contrast that the ground is fairly clean.

I intended to pick up things as I went along the way over several visits and then try and make sense of my finds in a piece of art, but, and this is something I hadn’t expected, I realised that on a single trip I could have filled a couple of waste bags with detritus if I’d wanted to. And it was hard not to want to as it was very messy, although I suppose in time everything will be grown over and the litter will be buried beneath grass. It will be interesting to compare the cleanliness of this site with the others I intend to visit. I know poor soil quality in the gardens of new builds is something new owners complain about.


6.6.18:  Sunny, breezy and thankfully cool in the shadows. 
I find I am remaking my selection criteria for the things I let myself pick up: mainly that they must have a history of human handling. This is quite easy but means I have to leave behind everything that is ‘natural’ – leaves & stones for example. I am prioritising objects of an unknown origin or use – just for their strangeness, but I find myself looking for and picking up old pottery shards beside the path that runs next to the fence separating the farm from new houses.

 A builder’s yard blue marker takes on a mysterious appearance.


Overcast, humid, storms are forecast for this evening. A very quick visit before the school run and although this was only a walk back and forth of twenty metres along the path at the top of Mallory Grange I picked up many things. This is probably because I didn’t have time to think about what to include. It’s also hard to limit myself to picking up things only from the estate, I want to pick up and photograph everything I see on the ground and around me on the walk to and from the site. 

These are decisions that will form the work and even at this point, they are pivotal in creating a delicate balance over the shape it will become. Decisions such as seeing the yellow string but not picking it up there and then, and not allowing myself to go back and get it just because I liked it, but picking it up in the end because I had to pass it on my way out. These decisions over what to and what not to include are the same ones I make when I draw and this tells me I am on the right track in making this work. However, although my finds today are interesting, I will allow myself more time to think next time I visit, as in my speed I appear to have forgotten some of the criteria I set myself last time. For example I wouldn’t have picked up two, or even a single, scaff clamp if I had really thought about what I was doing.

Warm and still, a few fluffy white clouds cast occasional shade. I have a reconditioned bike now, so I did a practice ride to the new Bovis estate at the bottom of the road. This estate is nearly finished, all the houses are occupied and only the final road and pavement surfaces are left to be done. A container on the corner near the entrance to the site, equipment and supplies for fixing complaints and niggles, provides the best opportunity for evidence of that cross-over point between construction / making / profiteering / business / capitalism – and domestic living.

It occurs to me that I am field walking; looking for finds – although I’m certainly performing very short-order archaeology – and this time I make myself stick to my search criteria more successfully.

Hot and sunny. On an explorative stroll to see if I could find a shortcut to Asda (I failed), I walked through Chesterton Meadows; another nearly finished estate located beyond the railway between where I live and Sydenham, our suburb next door. 

To get into the estate I had to climb over a fence which brought to mind how little these estates are joined up to existing communities. For the occupants to get onto the lane that runs up to the farm and onto the farm land footpaths paths, or to the church, shops or bus routes through Whitnash, they would have to climb over the fence in the opposite direction. There is a new shop and medical surgery and easy access to a pub, community centre and large supermarket, but now bus line has been extended by twenty minutes to service this estate its viability get people between this part of Leamington and Warwick is reduced. A piece of red plastic is added to my finds collection:


Hot and dry again. No rain for around a month. What few brittle blades of grass there are weave like hairs on a balding man’s head with human and construction site detritus and stronger rooted green weeds – creeping columbine and groundsel.

I picked up pieces of foam, maybe sprayed insulation, lightweight enough to catch in the wind, as well as the usual little bits of coloured plastic.

Now easy spot the differences on the ground between the inhabited land and the land being built on. The latter is a canvas prepared for work: ordered, rhythmical; works take place at their allotted time, manner and place. The inhabited is banal and chaotic; little pieces of people’s possessions and waste dropped all over between car and front door.

I’m thinking about ways to process my finds into a work, to imagine what form that might take. I don’t want to document them exactly, like finds in a museum arranged for looking at with neat little labels, but I might incorporate them in the work so they have an embodied presence – so the human means for their existence is tangible. Whether they will be used in the making, as moulds or that they will be physically present in the final work, is unknown at the moment. I might draw them, make wax rubbings from them, or use their textures in some way. I’m drawn towards making some kind of page or sheet out of them, to repeat that process of making surface out of objects, and then objects out of surface.

On my first trip around the Persimmon site I picked up a balloon nubble, and I really like the idea of either encasing that in something or 3d scanning it and reproducing it in multiple form.

Cloudy, warm, humid. I cycled to the usual Persimmon site and explored more recent developments South of Harbury Rd. Approx. 1.5 hours ride.
Today’s finds have a red light cast to them. The reason I choose to pick up certain items is often due to how they look in the light and this doesn’t translate at all well back at home. This glass chip glinted at me, shining so beadily in the mud that I had to pick it up, holding it up to the sunlight it’s at its best – field-stained glass – from all angles it clutches the sun within its edges. Later, in my finds box, it’s no more than a grubby muddy shard.

I am drawn to taking landscape photographs; the weather has changed from a lengthy spell of hot and dry weather and I newly appreciate a cloudy sky. Under clouds the houses become inseparable from their environment: purposeful shelter. In the heat they were traps. Surplus to requirement.

As I cycle round the Harbury Lane sites, at the Bellway estate, full of creamy-coloured three-storied homes, I’m reminded of those seaside towns which have been scoured clean for the tourists. They look similarly recently scrubbed and I wonder how long it will be until they will lose that too-clean look.

There was a pile of what I thought was insulation. Viewed end-on its square shapes stood out in the sunlight, bony, white; jumbled up and squashed in like the houses.

Drizzly but warm. After dropping my daughter at school I went back up to the Persimmon site expecting to see a lot of changes since my last visit more than a month ago. Actually the changes were quite small, apart from the main new construction work moving into the lower field by the farm house and there being more people working the site than I was used to seeing. 

Now we have had rain the meant-to-be-grassed areas have finally turned greener and the old, minute, detritus is hidden, although the hedge trees have caught larger pieces of litter around their trunks. 

The last area left to be built upon was simply bare turned-over soil in September and now it is a meadow. Full of flowers which I have photographed to email to mum to identify. A single lonely path cuts through it diagonally, stopping at a no-place near the corner of the plot a few feet short of the hedge between the estate and the rec. I took my time to wander slowly down this path examining the ground intently. Amongst the bits and bobs, I picked up a bit of red plastic sandwiched between white, and many tarmac pebbles.

Tarmac pebbles fascinate me for some reason. They are always grey and smoother underneath and shiny black on top with a propensity to slide away from the centre like unruly curly black hair. I want to make one in a cone shape like a melting black ice cream cornet.

Although there is effectively nothing but land here right now, this land brims with intention – so Apple Maps tells me – the address of the house that will be here one day is 32 Owen Grove. Accordingly the houses here are no longer silver, but invisible.

I collected many finds. Perhaps because I hadn’t been here in a while. After discovering a cache of blue-coloured gravel-stones I was drawn to more blue things and a large sheet of torn HDP with hawthorn leaves caught in it. They had the same preserved look as the flowers my daughter pressed this summer. I pressed them - they might have something to add to the project later on. 


And Silverhouses?

And Silverhouses
And Silverhouses
And Silverhouses.

We will have to put up
A grid of
Construction apparatus

To hold you up,
And bring in the heavy land machines
To bury your foundations
With the insects and the moles.

Oh! The alter-like calm of your clean, 
blank new walls.
Such tranquillity!

And then we will sell you,
And sell you,
And sell you.

Bony, white, jumbled up and squashed in.

This is an ongoing self-initiated exploration into the new residential estates currently being built near where I live. I'm framing it as an art residency - an unofficial one - because I like the idea of an art residency in a residential estate. An itinerant, surreptitious, external view.

Local acceptance of new housing is influenced by the need for more housing, particularly a need for quality social housing, worries about build quality, increased pressure on local services and concerns that so many new builds - 4,000 are planned - would impinge on the town's character. Changes to land surface are very obvious. Silvery forms of semi-built houses on reshaped, exposed and bare mounds of red earth. A particular mixture of construction and domestic detritus on the ground underfoot and caught in the hedges. 

Typically, to me, the change in land use was abrupt and visually harsh. When I started exploring I attempted to simply observe, to be aloof and distanced. I tried to see as much as I could, attempting to capture all the details but also keep some attention on the wider form of the thing I'm trying to make an impression of. Applied to exploration this becomes a kind of mindful way of seeing; allowing for the fact that I will inevitably become sucked in and focussed, the point at which I pick up on my emotions becoming entangled and hopefully pick out the interesting unusual threads. At least that's supposed to be how it works.

Onsite exploring in a drawing way became field walking. I'd see something and question why it had caught my eye and this would then form the basis for the day's collection. This sounds very facile but it caused quite different collections of detritus - each time I visited. Each collection was differentiated by the light, weather, how rushed I was and my mood on that day.

So I collected all these little things, but I didn't know what to do with them next.

Two things became really important to me: Some form of reconciliation between the sharp differences in land use; a kind of healing force, and secondly, that whatever I made would remain materially true to the location I was exploring and that meant using materials I found onsite or that were endemic to the area or the buildings.

Differences in old and new building materials were visible in the ground I was walking over. Fragments of old tile and brick layered over with foam and bits of coloured plastic. In the past building materials were locally sourced and processed and this area lacks good stone for building so, like so many Midland towns the houses are built of red brick. The new building works revealed huge deposits of red terracotta clay, part of the local clay deposit that once supplied Leamington Brick Company. 

These days construction materials are sourced via national and global supply chains and manufactured in comparatively complex ways. This was epitomised by the silvery Polyisocyanurate foam insulation boards. 

Such sourcing of building materials destroys the local link between settlement and land-based resource, and as such, the emotional connection of physical work to land and to the material meaning home and the house is weakened.

I wanted my work to mend this link. I brought together objects and materials from the current building sites and those which were associated with the past of the same location in the form of physical work station and ritual observance.

That's jumping ahead somewhat and covers up that I walked the sites for months in a fuzz. Wondering just how I could express the gulf in the emotional connection to the land and place that I felt these new bland brick houses represented, but which nevertheless were destined to become family homes full of mess, comfort and conversation. I say destined, they were filling up as I walked past. Gathering together trampolines, prams, plastic toys and plastic bags full of shopping.

Eventually, after a few false starts centred around trying to cast the ground, about nine months after starting the project I decided to collect soil from the edges of the building sites and investigate it for alternative uses. By the end of the year, I had cultivated it, created pigment from it, recorded what creatures lived in it, photographed it and drew with it. Most productively I discovered it was clay-rich and I learnt to process it into terracotta clay myself in my garden. For a while, my washing line dried more bulbous lumps of clay dangling in tights than it did washing.

Clay provided a light-bulb moment for me. Processing clay from the dirt was a fascinating process that produced many different and intriguing organic shapes as it progressed. It encapsulated a programme of re-use that plastics-based materials cannot hope to emulate. Eventually, pitting the two materials against each other in the format of a shrine answered my original hope that bringing them together comprises an offering to some kind of ineffable other - in the knowledge that, although we can not really know what the future may bring we can be sure that evidence of a conjuncture of these materials will last long in our surroundings.

Recent Work

Installation: Bony, white, jumbled up and squashed in
Comprising works: Europa Way Clay Processing UnitRitual Landscape & Wide-Blue-Sky Bricks
Degree Show, SLURPWarwickshire College 2019

Europa Way Clay Processing Unit 

Ritual Landscape

Wide-Blue-Sky Bricks

Reoccuring Surfaces / A Few Rough Hand - Garden Suburb
Open Exhibition for artists in the West Midlands, Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, 2019

Anthropocene Polyethyline
Group Show, The other side of June, Warwickshire College 2018