The Public – West Bromwich
6 July – 18 September 2011
Having seen previous editions of The Steps Series in the Midlands the curation team at The Public commissioned a version for their Art of Story exhibition. in which local children create stories inspired by the work of Allan Ahlberg (who grew up nearby) and his late wife Janet. Sandwell Steps, as it came to be called, was given the job of drawing people up The Public’s winding ramp, past a range of screen based exhibits, to a park installation on the top floor.
Craig and James were familiar with various Ahlberg works from their children’s bedtime stories. Theywere given two more books to read which are more obviously set in Sandwell, My Brother’s Ghostand The Childhood of Burglar Bill. Finally they met with Allan Ahlberg when he was in town for two school’s workshops.
The final piece mixes a response to The Public’s architecture, the exhibition’s theme, the spiritof Allan Ahlberg’s work and a few direct quotes. Essentially throughout children play make-believegames in parallel with the adult world and are regularly told to ‘stop being silly’. Eventually theymeet a storyteller who encourages them to tell ‘wonderfully silly stories’. Obviously childsize footprints predominate.
Scene 1: Entrance Hall
The Town Square: an adult and infant play Peepo and older children play monsters.
The Park: children tease a park keeper by pretending to be dogs, an adult couple kiss.
Winter: a snow angel, a toboggan ride, a snowball fight, an elderly person slips over and a carrot is stolen for a Snowman.
Mrs. Lather’s Laundary: nose to the laundary window, you see all manner of creatures washed in the laundary that no longer accepts laundary.
The Railway Station: a child is evacuated to Worcester and a family arrive from India.
The Allotment: Grandad digs up carrots, one child pretends to be a rabbit whilst another digs up treasure.
The Graveyard: sitting on a bench looking at the night sky a child imagines two skeletons exchanging spare parts.
The Canal: flowers are placed beside the canal and a ghost child climbs out of the far side.
Scene 9: Telepresence Installation
The Bus Stop: a child refuses to move up because their dead brother is sitting between them.
The Queue: Whilst a queue of people wait to be hired outside the Factory Gates a group of children playfootball, imagining they are in a cup final.
The Playground: Two teachers watch on as children play a range of playground games.
The Ship Launch: Two pirates have a huge cutlass fight until their mum tells them to behave.
The Classroom: Surrounded by a class of aliens a daydreaming child spots a Flying Saucer out of the window. Their teacher is unimpressed.
The Bedroom: A burglar climbs breaks in a steels paintings but perhaps it is just a dream.
The Storyteller: After the adult’s story has come to an end it is the children’s turn to make something up.
Devised by Simon Ford, Craig Stephens and James Yarker
Photographs: Graeme Braidewood and Simon Ford.
Installed with help from Kerrie Reading, Denise Stanton and Harry Trow.
Commissioned by Ian Danby and Graham Peet