Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith
St Helens seems to be drawing on its iconic bravado lately, especially when it comes to art. It’s a town with a history built on a very strong sense of local pride, and never willing to let Liverpool have the glory. Well right now that’s getting shown off through a series of installations, exhibitions and interventions around St Helens, all getting people ready for years of seemingly unstoppable cultural momentum in the town.
The latest installation is Where Things are Different, by Stephen King, lining the banks of the Sankey Canal (image above), a photo series capturing St Helens as what it is. It’s placement along the water’s edge stops you in your tracks, at first seeming completely out of place. But at night it transforms this industrial chunk of the town into something completely magical, reflecting St Helens back at itself.
I imagine, with mild winds and a still canal, those images would take on a different life again, to the soundtrack of rushing trains and the distant bus station in the background. This isn’t one of those installations that gives anything back by the way – you know, where an artist tries to contribute in some profound way – it’s just an open reflection of what St Helens means to the photographer and his collaborators, and what he thinks is worth showing.
King worked with post-industrial workers of St Helens in an attempt to represent what St Helens means to St Helens. The images along the canal are, at times, hard to grasp. The composition of the images implies a passage through time that, held back by the water, is skewed. One image in particular is really quite haunting; Men with buckets of sand pepper the photograph, luring you into that history – their present. It’s a reality that I think the project is addressing, how crucial St Helens’ past is to the perceptions still held in the community today.
The project was delivered in partnership with Heart of Glass and Open Eye Gallery, both of whom seem incredibly comfortable working in this way now, pushing themselves away from galleries and working more directly in line with the needs of artists and audiences.
If you want to know more about how St Helens are celebrating turning 150 this year, head to Heart of Glass to keep updated on key creative events.