Community

Inside the Green Backyard: a conversation with artist Jessie Brennan  

Peterborough-based arts organisation Metal host artists from across the country to come and spend time in the city to develop their creative ideas and new projects. One of their current artists in residence is Jessie Brennan, who has chosen to focus her activity at The Green Backyard on Oundle Road  

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR WORK AND WHAT YOU ARE DOING IN PETERBOROUGH?
I’m a London-based artist whose practice explores the relationship between people and place, through drawing and dialogue. Over the past few years, my work has responded to contested sites, informed by their social histories, changing contexts, and a direct engagement with the people who occupy them. For my Metal Peterborough residency, I am collaborating with The Green Backyard (GBY).

WHAT IS THE GREEN BACKYARD AND WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO FOCUS YOUR RESIDENCY THERE? 
The Green Backyard is an urban ‘community growing project’ in the heart of Peterborough, established in 2009 and run entirely by volunteers. Together, GBY trustees and volunteers have transformed a once derelict former allotment site into a vibrant and productive community garden that is free and open to everyone. However, The Green Backyard’s future at this site is uncertain: the land is proposed for potential redevelopment. My project intends to explore debates around regeneration and community land rights by inviting participation from local people as a form of resistance to redevelopment. The project attempts to challenge the narrative of the need for redevelopment of the site and intends to offer alternative evidence – in the form of a visual and audio archive – for the social use and value of the land.

WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT THE GREEN BACKYARD FOR YOU? 
It’s a place of huge generosity of spirit that offers respite from market-driven ideologies. It’s a pocket of resistance to the ways in which capital and profit seem to have taken over our lives. The GBY is a wonderful example of how, together, people can create, share and cultivate an alternative environment and attitude to all that, with a particularly collaborative and human approach built on mutual respect for one another, nature, sustainable-living, culturally and socially diverse communities and society at large.

Jessie at work in the Green Backyard

Jessie at work in the Green Backyard

WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE WITH THE WORK? 
Together with trustees and volunteers at the GBY, we have converted a garden shed into a community darkroom. Our intention is to create a visual and audio archive of The Green Backyard, in the form of cyanotypes and local voices, respectively. Cyanotypes are images captured on light-sensitive papers exposed directly to the sun. They were traditionally used by 19th Century architects and engineers to copy plans and designs, known as blueprints. The process was famously employed by botanist Anna Atkins too, who illustrated the first photographic book, shortly after the invention of cyanotypes by scientist John Herschel in 1842. The wide range of objects and plant specimens documented in cyanotype at GBY will generate lasting visual traces (beyond the threatened potential lifetime of the site). Local people are also invited to visit the GBY and contribute their personal experiences of the place, which will be captured as audio-recordings. The planned archives intend to invite exchange of local knowledge around horticulture and biodiversity, and explore the environmental and social values of public space, particularly land reclaimed by – and for – local communities.

HOW ARE YOU GOING TO PRESENT THE FINAL ART WORKS? 
The work will be presented in an exhibition at Peterborough City Museum from July to September 2016 – and everyone’s invited! The archives will also be accessible online and printed in a publication. The GBY darkroom will be offered to local communities, forming the legacy of the project.

HOW CAN PEOPLE GET INVOLVED? 
Visit The Green Backyard and add your voice to the fast-growing GBY archives: choose a plant or object and make your own sound-recording telling about your choice and why the place matters to you. We really welcome your contributions – they will act as testimonials in support of GBY – and will inform the final artworks. If you’d like to take part in the project by contributing to the archives, please contact: or (with the subject line ‘Inside a Green Backyard’). The best way to find out about the project and get involved is to visit The Green Backyard! Opening hours are Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, 11am – 4pm. The site entrance is on Oundle Road, Peterborough, adjacent to The Apex. You can use postcode PE2 8AT if you are using a satnav to find it.

For updates about the project and opportunities to take part: Twitter @Jessie_Brennan, @greenbackyard or @MetalPeterb; #InsideGBY
Facebook www.facebook.com/thegreenbackyard
www.facebook.com/MetalPeterborough

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