As part of the redevelopment of the Cane Hill site, Barratt David Wilson Homes commissioned artist Holly Graham to produce a public artwork, which is entitled “While the Piled Cumuli Sail Galleon-Like Above”
Holly discloses on her website that the name derives from a poem published in the Cane Hill Chronicle in 1950, as seen at the local archives. The Chronicle was a hospital magazine, featuring articles and poetry by patients, excerpts from which appear on the artwork. The piece also features a sundial.
Holly has kindly provided some additional information about her artwork.
“I was first made aware of Cane Hill through the commissioning process. I spent some of my teenage years in Thornton Heath, in the northern part of Croydon and for the past few years have worked with artist-run space Turf Projects, in central Croydon, but up until that point, I hadn’t really spent much time at all in South Croydon and Coulsdon in particular. It was through the project brief that I read about Cane Hill and the previous life of the hospital there.”
Barratt David Wilson Homes were looking for a new public artwork or series of works to be developed for the new community that was still very much in the process of settling in Cane Hill Park. They were keen for it to draw on histories of the site in some way, and wanted to ensure that there was a level of input from local residents and members of the local community in terms of getting a sense of what people might like to see on their doorstep. They had done some research into artists with connections to Croydon and the local area, and invited several individuals to put together project proposals. My art practice is often site responsive or takes into account particular contexts or histories, so I felt that my way of working was quite well-suited to the brief, and I was quite struck by the different layers of narrative it could be possible to unpick within the project. I was initially drawn to the clock tower, which had taken on the form of a landmark of sorts locally, and I liked its connections to time, so I took this as a starting point for my proposal.
It felt really important to me to draw on a broad range of elements in order to develop the work. In my initial conversations with local residents, the idea of connecting to a history of the site was mentioned repeatedly. I think perhaps this felt like a particular concern given the newness of the development as a whole. There was a desire to maintain a sense of place, narrative, past, and belonging. To some degree, this means the work becomes a story-telling exercise. I’m really interested in attempting to include multiple voices into the work I make – to push back against singular or linear narratives and acknowledge histories as complex, layered, and subjective. It felt really important, therefore, to invite in as many voices who might have a stake in the place and the work as was feasible. I wanted to ensure voices of former hospital residents, who had previously called the place home, were included. Drawing on the Cane Hill Chronicles, held in the Croydon Museum Archives, seemed like an effective way of doing this.
I thought long and hard about where I wanted the work to be positioned. The initial proposal included not one, but two artworks – a sundial and a weather vane; with the weather vane situated at the far end of the trim trail of trees looking toward Coulsdon South Station, and the sundial near the pond. In the end, there wasn’t enough budget to stretch to two artworks, but the sundial is placed at the spot initially proposed. It did feel important to locate it within the old footprint of the main hospital buildings, close to the heritage buildings that have been maintained and renovated as part of the development. Crucially I liked the idea of it facing towards where the former clock tower stood as part of the administration building. As the artwork takes the form of a sundial, the location and positioning is key in order for it to function. Where it now stands is also one of the highest points of the site, ensuring it catches as many of the sun’s rays as it can. It’s double-faced and faces south-east and north-west.
It was in some ways quite haunting to see the structures of the water tower and the crumbling administration block amidst the new houses. It was also really interesting to bear them in mind while looking at images of the former site in the Croydon Museum Archives and on blogs online. I took some inspiration from the colours of the brick and exposed plaster, which I was told the architects would be preserving.
I felt the idea of a sundial embodied a broader sense of time than the hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute time-telling we’re used to in our day to day. I think it’s easy to draw links between hourly time, and controls or restrictions. However, the form of the sundial is rooted in local time – it links time and place very specifically. Time becomes relative. This form felt really interesting to explore in the context of Cane Hill Park, a new residential location, with layers of pasts. It’s also partly for this reason that the sundial doesn’t detail hourly time, but simply outlines noon (local time, not GMT), when the sun is at its highest point in the sky.
It was interesting for me to work with fabricators – it was my first time working with an external team so extensively. I’m not used to outsourcing the making of the work, so although I visited the workshop to make decisions and edits at various points along the way, it felt really startling to see the work itself being installed in the end. It was really exciting. The project was pushed back by covid so the timeline was quite extended, and so I’d had quite a bit of distance from it. It was great to see the project through to fruition. In the end we didn’t have a full opening, but a softer launch, with just 6 people present. There were people from Barratt and David Wilson Homes, a photographer, and two members of the Residents’ Association, so a very small gathering.
The choice of material was really significant in terms of my thinking about visualising change over time. The corten should slowly darken from a bright rusty red to a darker more in-depth almost black tone. The copper should continue to shift with the weather, moving through mottled greens to chalky marbled whites. I’m excited to return and see these shifts!” (Holly Graham, 2021)
Further information is available at Holly’s website