Harris Flights

In Certain Places worked with architectural practice Research Design to examine the original plans for the Harris Museum & Art Gallery, drawn up by architect James Hibbert, and to create a new temporary staircase, which invited people to move directly from the space of Preston’s Market Square into the heart of the Harris building. The Flights took people through the ‘front door’ of the building on the first floor, allowing them to experience the neo-classical, Grade I listed building in an entirely new way.

The project emphasised the relationship between the front of the Harris Museum and the Market Square in which it sits. Standing in the square, individuals can feel architecturally divorced from the interior of the museum. However, by taking people straight up and into the building, the Flights increased museum visits by 70 per cent. Moreover, there has been local debate about whether the original design for the building included steps, and the difficulty of navigating the entrance. This is coupled with a desire to create wider access to the podium, which has been a focus for ceremonial occasions, and vantage point for important visitors, such as kings and queens, prime ministers, football teams and celebrities to address the people below. Harris Flights was therefore designed to extend opportunities for all people to see the city from what has previously been the viewpoint of a privileged few.

The Flights also became a new destination in the city centre: a space to ‘hang out’ and a cultural hub for performances, contemporary art installations, workshops, demonstrations and talks by artists and university and community groups. It was a stage for an audience to watch from the Market Square, and, at other times, a stadium from which to view events below. During the four weeks of its installation, over 60 events were organised on and around the Flights.

Artists:  In Certain Places and Research Design
Location:  Harris Museum & Art Gallery (Preston)
Years:  2013
Partners:  Preston City Council, Harris Museumt
Funders:  Preston City Council, UCLan

‘Einen Augenblick’ by Patricia Walsh

Einen Augenblick (A Moment) by Patricia Walsh was presented as part of the Harris Flights project. The audio piece is a combination of original music along with found and/or manipulated sounds all of which form, in various ways, a link or connection with the term ‘flight’. The resulting aural interactions relate to aspects of rising up or uprisings, challenges and encounters, and incorporated the physical disturbing of the atmosphere and the displacing of space itself. The inherent resonances of flight, in any permutation, induce a sense of hovering or drifting between the opposing states of safety and danger.

‘Thirty Instruments Loaned by Ladies’ by Jeni McConnell

When the Harris Museum & Art Gallery first opened in 1893 it was reported that one of the most interesting and popular displays was in rooms set aside for a show of microscopic and other apparatus, of which, thirty instruments were loaned by gentleman. As part of the Harris Flights project, McConnell redressed the balance by presenting to the public, through performance and display, thirty personal objects loaned by ladies.

Normally, a new museum display appears almost silently, away from the public gaze, objects arrive through back doors, carried out of internal stores and down hidden corridors to be presented to us the viewer as we arrive in front of the display case; the presented objects quietly inside.

The grand staircase of the Harris Flights called for an equally grand gesture, a public performance to announce each object individually as if a guest at a formal dinner, carried slowly upwards on a red cushion as their personal stories are told. Each object is passed at the top of the stairs to a gloved museum attendant, who, in turn places the object into a display case.

The publication which accompanied the performance was also featured in the Royal Photographic Society Summer 2014 issue.

’29, 028′ by Martin Hamblen

As part of the Harris Flights programme, Martin Hamblen spent four weeks performing his piece 29,028. This durational performance of the phrase ‘Two steps forward, one step back’ saw the artist walking up and down the Harris Flights. Hamblen likens the performance to climbing a metaphorical mountain. Walking two steps forward and one step back is a positive message. Regardless of life’s struggles, people carry on with their everyday endeavours.

‘Unpickling Aspic’ by Olivia Keith 

Unpickling Aspic was an unspoken performance piece; duration thirty minutes,which took place as part of the Harris Flights programme. It developed from a jelly project with residents at the local Sue Ryder Care Home during which tools were adapted and a repertoire of gestures and actions uncovered. It was to resonate with elements of ‘Literature, Arts and Science’ and specifically referenced Mrs French’s huge collection of scent bottles at the Harris Museum.

Polished metal tableware, concealing colourful jellies, were formally brought out from the museum building by one of the staff and delivered to a dinner table. The steampunk staging had three animateurs systematically dismantling the jellies with the aid of corers, corkscrews, cheese wires, slicers, a samovar and a spirit burner. Each jelly encapsulated an historical perfume, releasing odours and revealing their natural ingredients. By the end of the piece sections of dismembered jelly had been reassembled to resemble the cut glass vessels of the collection.

In Certain Places

VB005A, Victoria Building
University of Central Lancashire
Preston, PR1 2HE