Royal Commission

Jan Woolley meets Jamie Holman, who has been commissioned to produce a unique piece of art to celebrate an extraordinary moment in our history

A Lancashire-born artist, whose work features in international collections, has been commissioned to create a new art installation to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

Jamie Holman will record the memories of 70 people who have all lived throughout the Queen’s 70-year reign. This poetic soundscape will tell the story of our diverse Lancastrian communities and will be accompanied by seven large tapestries, each depicting 10 years of the monarch’s service to her people and the individuals who best remember her lifetime of service.

Speaking about the commission, Jamie, who studied Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art, says: “It’s exciting, but very daunting in terms of the weight of expectation and the complexity of communicating 70 years of service and representing 70 years of social history. These are always the best types of commission, the ones that make you excited but also nervous.”

When he started his initial research for the work, Jamie turned to the Talbot archive – a photographic press archive held by Blackburn College and Blackburn Library: “This archive of photographs captures both royal visits and day to day life in East Lancashire through the years and it has been really important in developing the work. The library and museum in Blackburn are both excellent for research and I spend a lot of time in both buildings working with the curators and managers there. We have an incredible amount of expertise in the county and I rely on these institutions to help me uncover unexpected pieces of research and artefacts that inform my work,” explains Jamie, who also visited the British Film Institute (BFI) in London.

“The film archive at the BFI is a resource I use whenever I’m starting a big commission. I’ve just spent two days in the capital watching hours of footage from the coronation, various jubilees and exploring footage and newsreels of Lancashire in the 1950s.”

Having studied for a degree and masters at Chelsea, Jamie started to exhibit his work internationally while he was still a student.

“I was selected for the New Contemporaries and had my first exhibition at the Tate while I was a second-year degree student. When I graduated, I continued exhibiting internationally,” adds Jamie who went on to work for the Saatchi Gallery Magazine for 10 years, writing about art in London and across the UK.

In 2016 he returned to his roots, becoming involved in the emerging arts in East Lancashire and working on the first National Festival of Making, of which he is now a director.

Jamie also works with Blackburn College and has a studio where he works in collaboration with curator Alex Zawadzki as Uncultured Creatives, delivering complex works on a regional, national and international basis.

“Recently we delivered a large-scale exhibition for the British Textile Biennial, we presented works at the Manchester Contemporary Art Fair, a print publication with Rough Trade Books, which we recently launched in London and HOWL a public performance featuring 150 people howling at Preston’s iconic bus station. That was covered by the BBC and even made it onto TV in Germany, New York and India! The work I make as an artist is collaborative, often large scale and is fabricated using industrial processes or heritage craft skills.”

Inspired by the people he collaborates with, Jamie has enormous respect for Lancashire’s rich cultural heritage and the county’s history of fabrication and manufacturing: “The potential of what I can actually make here in Lancashire is a huge influence on my work. I often encounter processes and materials that make me question, ‘What could I do with that?’ I look at how things are made – or what new technology is available. I go to factories and fabricators a lot, just to see what could happen if I could access their resources.

“I work closely with curators so the process of making work often becomes collaborative very quickly. It’s a way of working that really suits me.”

One of Jamie’s most notorious works from the past, is Once Upon a Time in the North West: “I was commissioned to respond to the provocation ‘the politics of cloth’. I made a wide range of works that included trade union-style banners that continued the story of culture in our towns and, in essence, I updated the heritage story of mass gatherings to include Acid House and explored the concept of transformation through people meeting in the workplace or in social constructs like fairs, football grounds and pubs.”

One of the banners made by Jamie was a tribute to the film makers Mitchel and Kenyon, the motion picture pioneers from Blackburn, who are famous for their ‘factory gate films’ featuring workers leaving mills and factories across Lancashire.

“I was exploring the archive at the BFI in London and stumbled upon a short clip, which turned out to be an out-take of ‘Kidnapping by Indians’ shot by Michel and Kenyon in 1899. This predates the accepted first ever western film by six years!”

To celebrate the fact that Lancashire was the home of a key Hollywood genre, Jamie decided to show the film again as part of the Once Upon a Time project: “I screened it at the Cotton Exchange, which had been a cinema when I was growing up.

“Before watching the film, we paraded 500 people from Mitchel and Kenyon’s original studio on Northgate with my banner and 30 or so wild west re-enactment experts, through the town on a Saturday afternoon. The public were served food handed to them as ‘a gift from President Abraham Lincoln’ – a reference to the food Lincoln sent to feed starving weavers, who refused to handle the cotton picked by enslaved people in the southern states. It’s a remarkable period in history.”

Looking to the future Jamie hopes to continue working in Lancashire: “My ambition has always been to establish a contemporary art practice here in Lancashire, rather than feel the need to relocate to London or another larger city.

“I don’t think there are many places in the country where I could have the size and quality of studio I have here, or the access to expertise in making and fabricating that we have across the county.

“Although I am interested in heritage, my work is contemporary. The majority of my sales are international or in London, but it would be nice if more of my large works stayed here. Aside from that, I remain incredibly ambitious and I’m hoping to work on larger commissions.”

The Platinum Jubilee artwork project was commissioned by Lord Shuttleworth and a collective of local business leaders and cultural professionals earlier this year. The footage and narrative will be available internationally and will accompany Jamie’s tapestries, which are to be exhibited.



Tedd Walmsley

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