Edith and Hans
Stoke Bishop, University of Bristol
The University of Bristol has commissioned prominent British artist Sarah Staton (b.1971) to create a permanent new outdoor artwork for a meadow in the grounds of their Stoke Bishop campus. Edith and Hans is a 21st century folly: a ‘social sculpture’ for the public and students living nearby, launched in September 2016. Suzanne Heath was appointed to work on behalf of producers Field Art Projects to oversee this commission.
The brief set out the ambition of the commission to ‘create a highly visible, extraordinary, permanent artwork for Stoke Bishop, which responds to the natural environment and acts as a gathering point and social space for students to enjoy in the future.’ The artwork is intended to encourage students to spend time in the beautiful grounds adjacent to their student accommodation which have historically been under-used.
Located between the Wills Hall and Hiatt Baker halls of residence, the new artwork is conceived as an ‘outdoor room’, somewhere between a ruin and an archaeological find. The highly textured sculpture is constructed from artist-designed wood-fired tiles, reclaimed red and blue bricks and pennant stone. The artwork provides a place for contemplation, a meeting space, a site for picnicking and a locale for stargazing. Surrounded by Elizabethan meadow planting designed by the artist and orientated to harness the warmth of the afternoon sun, the sculpture offers long views across Avonmouth and into Wales in one direction, and in the other, a view up to Wills Hall past its inspirational chimneys and beyond to the stars.
Staton’s practice combines design and art history influences with formal sculptural values, often mixing traditional craft techniques with cutting-edge technology. She draws together various influences in her work: in the case of Edith and Hans, making multiple references to both the historic site of the artwork and its contemporary context. This encompasses the formerly grand 19th century Downside House that was extended to become Wills Hall in the 1920s, and the five other halls of residence representing different architectural styles from across the 20th century that occupy the site today.
The sculptures are named after the artist’s grandmother Edith and great uncle Hans who both had personal connections to Bristol. As Director of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Hans knew the Wills and Hiatt Baker families who were patrons of the arts and gave their names to the adjacent halls of residence.
Staton was selected both for her ability to deliver projects of national acclaim and her approach, which creates site-specific sculptural commissions that are sensitive to their location and aim to encourage practical use. During the development of her proposal Sarah carried out extensive research into the history of the area, in particular the green spaces and buildings at Stoke Bishop.
Edith and Hans was commissioned by the University of Bristol and produced by Field Art Projects. It is the first permanent commission to be delivered as part of the University’s Stoke Bishop public art programme and forms the second phase, following on from an artist residency by Melanie Jackson carried out in 2013.
The public art programme at Stoke Bishop forms part of the University’s commitment and overall ambition for public art set out in its 2008 International Public Art Strategy. It seeks to meet a number of objectives that include adding to its growing collection of outstanding temporary and permanent artworks, reinforcing the distinctive aspects of the different types of gardens and parkland surrounding the halls of residence. The programme is also creating distinctive new landmarks throughout the grounds that can become meeting and talking points, promote orientation and encourage new uses of overlooked spaces.
The public art programme is funded by the University through condition 20 of the planning consent arising through the building of new student accommodation at Hiatt Baker Halls of Residence at the Stoke Bishop campus.
The process involved liaising with Bristol City Council’s Public Art Officer, the University’s Estates team and their planning consultant, co-ordinating and writing the successful planning application (including Design and Access Statement) and working closely with the artist, her engineer, the University and the building contractors Aztech to oversee the physical installation of the artwork and to ensure the project was delivered to a high standard and on time.
Edith and Hans was officially launched on 15th September 2016. Sarah Staton gave a talk about her work, including this commission, at the Arnolfini in Bristol on 23rd November 2016.
The University of Bristol halls of residence at Stoke Bishop
The Stoke Bishop residential campus falls within the two Bristol City Council conservation areas of Durdham Downs and Sneyd Park. It comprises six halls of residence built at different intervals from the 19th century until 2014.
About the artist
Sarah Staton (b.1961) creates work combining a sculptor’s sensibility with design, landscape and architecture. Her commissions have explored the interaction between audience and environment, for example becoming habitable or capable of supporting life. Sarah is interested in the tactile qualities and mix of hard and soft materials in the environment, an idea she returns to repeatedly in her work.
Staton’s work is held in collections all over the world including the Arts Council of England, British Museum, Henry Moore Institute, MIMA, Sunderland, South London Gallery and Tate, as well as private collections in Europe, North America and Japan.
Staton is Senior Tutor at the Royal College of Art in London where she also lives and works. www.sarahstaton.com
Construction of the artwork
The artwork was constructed by Bristol-based building contractors Aztech Building Services, with groundworks by Earthworks. The bespoke wood-fired tiles were produced to the artist’s design by specialist brickmakers H G Matthews, and reclaimed bricks were sourced from Ronson Reclaim in Gloucestershire. The pennant sandstone was sourced from Royal Forest Pennant in Gloucestershire. The installation work was carried out by Aztech Construction and by the University Estates Office’s landscape team.