About the project

Delivered under the similitude of a Contemplation…

Contemplation Seats – where will your journey of contemplation begin?

The only working stretch of the old ‘varsity’ line between Bedford and Bletchley sees the installation of a new interactive artwork designed by artist Sally Annett. In the build up to the lines 170th birthday in November this year Annett has installed a series of quiet visual and digital pieces which create a realworld and virtual contemplative trail which travels directly through the landscape of Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress. Working with support from London Midland, Network Rail, Arts Council England, Luton and Bedford Community Foundation, Marston Vale Community Rail Partnership and Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity, the project was launched on 24th March, the first day of spring of 2016 and will run as a pilot for one year.

Annett has sited a series of linked artworks; ’Contemplation Seats’, or points, one on each side of the 12 platforms of the Marston Vale Community Rail line. The pieces take the format of aluminum panels, attached to existing station furniture and are installed onto the two London Midland trains on the line. As part of the project Annett commissioned this project website to develop mid-anthropocene, real world artistic practice/treatment alongside new technology.

Each panel displays contemplative visual and text-based artworks created by Annett as part of the ‘snakes and ladders’ project extended research and interview. Inside the train carriage further artworks and weblinks highlight a designated ‘contemplation seat’ on each train.

The work looks at the aesthetics of and experience of travel, pilgrimage and population migration. Whether from the perspective of the commuter, the local shopper, or international tourist and unwittingly referencing or echoing the past and present actualities of refugees.

Annett’s work utilises waiting times (and occasional delays or diversions), understanding what it is like to travel as a stranger, as a lone female, as ‘other’ or as part of a community; attempting to making these positive reflexive experiences, embracing ideas about place making, meta-narratives and trail-making, but encouraging the contemplation of inner and outer landscapes. The projects overwhelming aim is to increase wellbeing and enhance the reality of 21st century train travel on one of the oldest tracks and most famous landscapes in the world. Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress has at times, out sold the Bible and is translated into 200+ languages. Every art panel has a QR code and weblinks which enables the visitor/traveller to access this project website, which provides more detailed information about each artwork as well as links to information about each locality, its history and current cultural and community offers.  As an arts trail it aims to engage passengers, allowing the stations themselves to add to community mini-hubs or become cultural focal points, it provides the communities Annett has been working in, with a tangible, artistic outcome, which they can participate in and integrate into their daily living and working routines.

The continuation of Annett’s original work alongside curatorial elements is well documented and the ‘Contemplation Seats’ are central to this practice utilising the human body and existing street or public furniture in conversation with digital and original artworks. The images on the panel combine digital photography and etchings, the photographs have been taken by Annett over the course of the past three years, walking, cycling and riding through the valley and are true depictions the landscape and natural features which are also referenced by or inspired Bunyan’s work, for example, ‘House Beautiful (Houghton House), Mount Sinai, The Village of Morality (Ridgmont), the Wicket Gate, House of the Interpreter (St.John’s) and the Hill of Difficulty (Ampthill Hill) can all be seen from the train or remain within a mile of their named station as the crow flies, linked by footpaths like the Sandridge Walk, Cycle paths (route 51) and bridleways. Annett herself lives in the Slough of Despond and is aware of the vast history of the Vale of Marston, with is prehistoric quarries, the clay of which fed the kilns of London Brick Company’s factories from Bow Brickhill to Kempston Hardwick and whose dilapidated works and few remaining chimneys (Stewartby) can be viewed best from the train itself.

These real world natural images are paired with etchings of chairs that exist in reality in the space, some of which have a personal meaning to the artist, her grandmothers sewing chair and her fathers leather office chair, now resident in her studio, as well as Bunyan’s own chair, with the legs cut down after his death to accommodate a shorter preacher (kept in the Bunyan Museum Bedford) and the Chair used by the Bishop of Oxford, now residing in St. Mary’s Church Bletchley which lies only a few hundred yards from Bletchley Station, separated by the enigmatic buildings and artifacts of Bletchley Park. The chairs are visual icons, place holders and partner the written contemplations, created so that the traveller is able, should they wish, to begin and follow a series of contemplations which are designed to create a sense of relaxation and wellbeing, dissipating the stress of travel. The concepts of these contemplations are taken from many sources and traditions which incorporate folklore, for example, the writings of Theresa of Avila, but also embrace modern developments in cognitive biology, and neuroscience, referencing writers such as Nicholas Humphreys and Oliver Sacks. A traveller, even if they are only travelling part of the physical journey, can travel the full virtual journey online through an android phone or tablet device.

Annett is collaborating throughout the year with international artists and musicians including, Johanne Rae, Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Jonas Read.
The project opened to the public on 24th March 2016 and is free to all train users. Travellers are encouraged to send photographs of their favourite places of contemplation to the artist and these are being posted on a specially created gallery within this website. As part of the 170th birthday of the line, a series of events and activities will rollout in conjunction with the Marston Vale Community Rail Partnerships and its supporters and partners throughout the year.

There is a full press pack available on the website (click here)

For further information please contact:
Sally Annett email or telephone 07918030445

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