Some of Wirral’s contemporary folklore and social history can now be explored in a new community project which sees artists condense the stories of the borough into FOUR WORDS. Each of the FOUR WORDS can be browsed and discovered on a completely free new phone app. Exploring hidden narratives through research and conversations with locals, seven artists have visited three locations – Port Sunlight, New Ferry and Spital – each with rich unknown histories to share.
FOUR WORDS: WIRRAL was funded by Arts Council England and developed by artist Alan Dunn during lockdown as he began to explore in more detail the Spital neighbourhood on his doorstep whilst walking his dog Lulu. He discovered, for example, that Italian prisoners of war were once housed in scout huts on the edge of Dibbinsdale Nature Reserve woods in Spital, not far from where Harold Wilson lived. The paths through the woods were built by those prisoners of war, which is now a nature reserve and park filled with birdsong.
Dunn invited other artists to explore the stories in nearby locations, those artists being The Singh Twins, Malik Al Nasir, Steve & Phaedra Hardstaff and Joseph Cotgrave who each unearthed historical and contemporary stories from Spital, Port Sunlight and New Ferry, some light and some very serious. The thirty final stories – all distilled down to FOUR WORDS each – reveal connections with slavery and Africa, a community in transformation after a massive explosion, hidden viruses and the power of nature and wildlife during a pandemic. The project also unearthed other unexpected links to ‘A Clockwork Orange’, Batman, PLUTO and even the Beach Boys.
“I had the idea for this project during lockdown 2020, sitting at home and needing to savour and find out more about these areas that are all within a 4km radius of where I live. I wondered if we could look afresh at the familiar and I wanted to work with regional artists only and have socially-distanced walks with them in these places, just looking, chatting, researching and meeting people, gradually peeling back the layers to reveal stories that are not just history but part of people’s everyday lives who have lived here.
I’ve been doing these FOUR WORDS projects since working with Metal 2016 when we hired the huge Media Wall opposite Lime Street, thinking that they are already too many words out there and not wanting to add many more, and I wanted to explore AR as it kind of reflects our interest in narratives that are hidden until you start looking. Some of the things we found were heart-warming, funny or occasionally disturbing but wanted this free app to encourage people to look further for themselves into various important topics.”
The Singh Twins:
“As a project developed during the covid pandemic we feel FOUR WORDS is a brilliant example of how important the arts have been in enabling people to continue to engage with the natural environment and places they live in. It shows what creative collaboration can achieve even under the most difficult and challenging circumstances.
It’s remarkable to see how well the range of words selected really express the complexity and diversity of the places they represent not only in terms of their past histories and what they mean to different communities but also how they have been interpreted by the artists. On a personal level (as artists whose work is very much about exploring hidden histories and alternative narratives through multiple levels of interpretation) we very much identified with Alan’s Dunn’s idea of challenging people to “look beyond the surface” of those places and found the challenge he set us both fascinating and rewarding.“
“With COVID-19 affecting our every move, it was difficult to produce work centred around a unfamiliar place. But the duality of the words I came up with ‘the epidemic is hidden’, provides narrative on the COVID epidemic and the lockdown of local places (port sunlight) but also brings to light the fact AIDS wiped out more than 38 million people, something which we forget when calling COVID-19 ‘the worst epidemic of our times’”.
Malik Al Nasir:
“FOUR WORDS has been a challenging project, as it’s not easy to encapsulate something so horrific as the Leverville atrocities in the Congo and contrast them to the Lever Bro’s model village in Port Sunlight. But Alan Dunn’s vision – whilst challenging – was not impossible and my four words “Port Sunlight – Plantation Darkness” when contrasted with the accompanying imagery within the FOUR WORDS app achieves this seamlessly.”
Steve Hardstaff/Phaedra Hardstaff:
“Without a full understanding of the possibilities presented by the ‘Four Words’ app. this project was initially a bit of a walk in the dark. We like walks in the dark.
I continued my long time musical/political themes, endeavouring to balance them with my responsibilities as a Port Sunlight resident. Phaedra explored Dibbinsdale, discovering Secrets, Gardens, Orphans, Foxes and Masks.
The end results both surprise and excite.”
On the project website, www.fourwordswirral.com, when viewed on a mobile phone each story is transformed into a floating Augmented Reality animation that can be ‘projected’ onto any location, creating instantaneous tiny or gigantic artworks that can then be screengrabbed and shared globally on social media using #fourwordswirral.
While each of the stories relate to these three neighbourhoods in Wirral, they resonate with Merseyside. And the augmented reality aspect, designed by Field.Studios and Alan Dunn allows people to create artwork in their backyard, whether they are in Spital or Huyton.