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Journey to the island of the dead

An unusual artwork created to encourage people to connect with local history has been voted the best piece of public art created in Kent in the past two years.

‘Ghost’ in Sheppey, by Kent-based international artist Adam Chodzko, has won the Liberty Kent Public Art Award 2011, which is given by Kings Hill developer Liberty Property Trust UK Ltd and Kent CountyCouncil.

The work was commissioned by the Whitstable Biennale 2010 and project managed by Art at the Centre Swale. It is a specially made kayak/sculpture, which ferried people to Deadman’s Island, off Queenborough, Isle of Sheppey. The island was used as a burial ground in the 18th and 19th centuries for those who had died on the prison hulks moored in the River Swale.

Made from hundreds of strips of cedar, mahogany, oak and ash sealed with resin, the vessel’s surface incorporates iconography relating to the theme of a deathly voyage.

In 2010, one by one, members of the public were ferried to the island, laying down flat in the vessel like a body in a coffin, their head slightly raised for the solitary, slow, meditative journey. The passengers were given control of a video camera mounted at the bow of the vessel and encouraged to make their own film of the journey, participating in the creation of an archive of film.

These films have recently been shown in Athens and the artist is looking for opportunities to show them in Kent. The kayak is currently being shown in an exhibition called ‘The Profane Myth’ in Newcastle.

The award was judged by an expert panel, headed by design guru Wayne Hemingway MBE, which also included: Mark Davy, founder of Futurecity, the UK’s leading arts and placemaking agency; Stephanie Fuller, Senior Manager for Regional Planning at Arts Council England South East; Rosa Ainley, a Kent-based writer/artist and Anna Harvey, a Young Arts Ambassador for Kent.

Announcing the award at the Kings Hill Golf Club, Wayne Hemingway said: “Public art used to make me despair, but over the past decade or so towns and cities have started towake up to how art can really contribute to placemaking.

“Adam Chodzko's Ghost references the community in which it was made and experienced. Some will say that this is a brave choice of winner with its transient and experiential nature, but I believe it reflects the innovative thought processes that are creating clever works in the public realm that make us connect with the history, geography and community of thespaces that surround us.”

Now in its 17th year, the Liberty Kent Public Art Award carries a substantial total prize, which this year was increased to £17,000, with the first prize of £7,000 going to the winning artist and £5,000 to the winning work's commissioner. The commissioner of the winning piece receives the Rouse chair, designed by Kentish craftsman Will Glanfield, with their details engraved on it, to keep in a place of honour for two years.

The second prize goes to the runner up artist but this year the panel decided to award the prize jointly. Judge Mark Davy from Futurecity was so impressed with the quality of the entries that he added another £2,000 to the second prize, making a total of £5,000. Futurecity has agreed that this donation to the overall award prize pot will be on an ongoing basis.

Mark Davy said: “Futurecity’s decision to contribute to the Liberty Kent Public Art Award reflects the growing importance of the competition and recognises the extremely high calibre of artists nowapplying for the award. 

“In the past 8 years Futurecity has encouraged a more imaginative, multidisciplinary approach to art in the public realm, an approach that has seen Futurecity set up hundreds of commissions for collaborations between artists and architects, engineers, scientists and writers. We predict the award will continue to grow in stature and are proud to support it.”

This year the runner up prize was awarded jointly to Out of Tune in Folkestone and Iconic Site in Margate, each receiving £2,500. ‘Out of Tune’ by Norwegian artist A K Dolven, is a 16th century bell that was removed from a belfry because it was out of tune and suspended 20m above the town’s seafront. 

‘Iconic Site’ by Sans façon, a collaborative art practice between British artist Tristan Surtees and French architect Charles Blanc, is a red neon text on the derelict Fort Road Hotel and was designed to change the public’s perception of one of the town’s landmark buildings. This strategy appears to be working as property developers have now been invited to tender to create a visitor accommodation appropriate to Margate’s creative aspirations.

Andrew Blevins, managing director of Liberty Property Trust UK Ltd said that ‘Ghost’ was an exciting artwork that met the criteria of good public art. “Public art should engage audiences and communities, generating interest and understanding of the environment and the community in which it is situated – and ‘Ghost’ did this excellently.

“For the first time ever we awarded the second prize jointly because both are so impressive and fitting for their locations. The quality of entries for this year’s award wastremendous and it is encouraging to see that there are so many quality commissions in Kent. We are looking forward to working on the next Liberty Kent Public Art Award, which will be in 2013.”

Sally Staples, head of Kent County Council's Arts Development Unit, added: “I am absolutely delighted to see Adam win this award. He is an exciting Kent based artist creating work of international repute. It is fabulous that his work can be hosted in the county. 

“We are also delighted for Whitstable Biennale who have been bringing superb work into the county for many years. Kent County Council are pleased to be working in partnership with Liberty Property Trust to bring an award to Kent that recognises success. We are confident that the Liberty Kent Public Art Award will help support Kent's creative practitioners and grow our cultural offering.”

For further information on the Art Award visit www.libertykentpublicartaward.com

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