Murmuration unveiled in official opening of St James’ Square
“Hundreds of lives and stories fly and intertwine together, like a flock of birds. Grimsby’s story is an intricate pattern, like starlings in the sky, swooping and changing direction.” Annabel McCourt
Artist Annabel McCourt’s new public artwork may surprise those who’ve come to expect her gnarly, political and often brutal work when Murmuration is unveiled in Grimsby this week as part of the official opening of St James’ Square.
On Thursday 4 November The Worshipful the Mayor of the Borough of North East Lincolnshire, Councillor David Hasthorpe will reveal Murmuration, installed on the wall of the Wilko’s building, facing St James’ Square.
While ‘beautiful’ isn’t a word ordinarily used to describe Annabel’s work, this new piece – her first for her hometown – is set to be yet another hugely thought-provoking installation, something Annabel’s got off to a fine art.
Like a flock of birds moving as one, Murmuration was created with hundreds of residents volunteering to have their photographs taken in lockdown and immortalised in tiny copper silhouettes as part of a huge community artwork.
Commissioned by Grimsby Creates as part of a £250,000 investment from the £3.2m Cultural Development Fund in the creative and cultural-led regeneration of St James’ Square, Annabel McCourt’s Murmuration is the second of two public art installations to be unveiled.
Already completed as part of the Square’s regeneration is Come Follow Me, a text artwork by Adrian Riley which features historical text, quotes, memories and stories of local people etched into the paving. The Square also features benches by local word artists led by Carolyn Doyley.
Despite the artists working separately in lockdown, the artworks have been designed to work as companion pieces, featuring the voices, stories and shapes of thousands of residents.
Annabel McCourt explained: “When you witness a murmuration of starlings, it defies logic and is a sight to behold. That’s the feeling I wanted to create here in the Square. With each look at Murmuration, visitors may notice something new from a friendly neighbour to dearly loved Mariner the cat.
“I had a clear vision from the very beginning of what it would look like and the materials I wanted to use. I wanted people to be seen and appreciated, which is why I chose to create each silhouette in copper. Every piece has been hand machined with each pose unique to the person it represents by local Grimsby company Blackrow Engineering.
“The artwork is inspired by fortune fish – the coloured cellulose fish that change shape in your hand to tell you your future. All of the silhouettes in the murmuration are shaped like a wave, like fortune fish, as we all move in life to find our own fortunes.
“It was humbling to have over 400 people from my hometown volunteer to be involved in this project, especially during lockdown. I knew I wanted to create something precious. There was fun, there was laughter, but there was also the underlying context of serious themes – freedom of movement in a society living with Covid, a sense of belonging and of spaces, and the push to create something meaningful and inspiring in an uncertain time. This is more than just an art commission. St James’s Square is part of my DNA, it’s personal.”
St James’ Square has long been a place of public art and it’s hoped it will once again be a place where residents can gather for outdoor events. Look up to see Murmuration and down to learn more about the town’s past, present and future. And on an evening, the Minster is illuminated with floodlights and projections including a bespoke one of Murmuration, as well as leaves, waves, dots, flames and snowflakes.
Adrian Riley, the artist behind Come Follow Me, explained: “The artwork is a path running across the Square and features everything from records in Parliament to local stories gathered through conversations. Each one is part of the bigger story of Grimsby, a tale that can be told from many perspectives and in which each voice is equally valid. In the path these voices are linked by common themes, shared words and playful connections.
“I like creating work that isn’t definitive or that might not even be instantly understood, and although I’ve produced a printed guide to explain some of the text, I hope the path puzzles people too and starts them on their own journeys to hunt out local stories.”
Councillor Callum Procter, Cabinet member for Economic Growth at North East Lincolnshire Council said: “We’re delighted to unveil Murmuration. It’s rare to have several pieces of art together that were both made for the public by the public, these are both beautiful pieces of public art born out of lockdown.
“Artwork featuring the voices, stories and shapes of local people made from local materials, this is a project that enhances the cultural regeneration of Grimsby, putting the heart back into Grimsby for everyone to enjoy. I personally can’t wait to gather here for future cultural events.”
The completion of the work in St James’ Square is the first part of a series of work to enhance the town’s cultural infrastructure.
Paula Denton, Founder of Our Big Picture who commissioned the two artworks, explained: “Through artists, we work inclusively with our communities to enable everyone to take part in, experience and enjoy art at its best, resulting in the collective exploration, learning, sharing, and shaping of our home.”
“These two commissions have been fully inclusive from the start we’re delighted they’re now installed for the whole community to enjoy.”
One resident involved in the project explained: “What excites me most about this project is the idea of a distinguished local artist collaborating directly with, and memorialising, many ordinary fellow citizens of her hometown. That they’ve willingly and enthusiastically donated their personal shapes to be employed in a beautifully conceived and original piece of art for their family, friends and descendants to come seek them out.”
The St James’ Square public realm works in the local Heritage Action Zone are part of a wider scheme to unlock the potential of Grimsby town centre, which was supported with approximately £3.4m from the Government’s Local Growth Fund. This was secured by the former Humber Local Enterprise Partnership (Humber LEP) as part of the Government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse.
This artwork is part of that regeneration programme for the square, funded specifically through the Cultural Development Fund, funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport funds and administered by Arts Council England.