“The city that blends the urban, the industrial and the natural environment” – Laura Merrill and Jim Ghedi on ‘From The Estate’ exhibition
As part of this year’s Sensoria Festival, Sheffield musician Jim Ghedi and photographer Laura Merrill have collaborated on ‘From The Estate’ – an exhibition exploring green spaces within four council and social estates in Sheffield: Gleadless Valley, Herdings Park, Jordanthorpe and Stannington.
Ahead of its opening at S1 Artspace next month, we spoke to Jim and Laura about the process behind the project, which brings together field recordings and images to reflect the Steel City’s quite unique relationship with green space across urban settings.
Can you tell us about what inspired the ‘From the Estate’ project and how you two came together?
Laura: I had a project in mind on something I wanted to explore, just to get myself back out and about really. The initial idea was around how people decorated their own front gardens, the different ways people would approach that. Not too long after, Jim got in touch about working with me on a project he was thinking of submitting to Sensoria. We had a bit of a chat and it came out that we were both interested in exploring different council estates in Sheffield. We both have our roots in working class backgrounds, and we wanted to explore how Sheffield was seen both as a green city and an industrial city too. We picked four areas to explore how green space was utilised within them: Herdings Park, Jordanthorpe, Stannington and Gleadless Valley. We wanted to explore how the interesting architecture in places like Gleadless Valley is juxtaposed with the greenery and its natural environment.
It’s quite unique because council estates are often associated with dull greys, but in Sheffield that’s far from the case.
Laura: Yeah, definitely. What was also interesting was the absence of people while I was out taking the pictures due to the current times. This meant we could focus on the green spaces themselves rather than the people who lived there; that was where the idea of it being more of a landscaped photography-focused project took hold.
Jim: I guess with me and Laura sharing quite working-class backgrounds, she was the first person I had in mind to approach with this project. I think there’s an interesting point in that Sheffield today gets its reputation as a green city, an outdoors city, but I find the representation of that can be very much about more middle-class outdoor activities and its connection to the Peak District. I find that in Sheffield’s representation as an outdoors, green city there’s a lack of representation of the working-class communities who also utilise the green space where they live. I know plenty of people who lived in Gleadless Valley, for example, who were obsessed with walking around the area, with experiencing the green spaces and wildlife on their doorstep.
How did combining the images and the audio narratives work? Was it case of Laura getting the images and Jim bouncing off them?
Laura: Pretty much exactly that. I went out on four separate occasions and took the pictures. I went at the same time of day, first thing in the morning, for continuity purposes but also because it was quieter. I planned a route and headed out with my camera, then came back and gathered all the best images together. Together we trawled through the images and chose the ones that might inspire Jim with his field recordings. We decided on a final 40 images.
Jim, can you talk a bit about the sort of soundscapes you came up with to accompany the images?
Jim: I’d go into the green spaces on each of those council estates. For instance, I parked up at Stannington and dropped down into the Rivelin Valley. It kind of evolved. The first aim was to get the journey of urban into rural, the council estate going into the green space. However, as soon as I got there that changed. I became more interested with the community itself, how they were engaging with those green spaces, so I kind of changed the focus and tried to capture people in that environment, that entanglement of community and nature. I went out with a zoom mic and captured things: nature sounds, birdsong, random conversations, conversations I’d start with people about the area. And then I’ve been trying to piece together a score to go with those recordings. As I’ve spent time piecing things together it’s already begun to feel like it’s going to be something I’m really proud of.
How will these two elements be brought together for the exhibition?
Laura: It’ll be taking place at S1 Artstpace. The walls will host 10 mounted A2 prints and there’ll also be a projection which will show all 40 images. I’m currently linking each image to the next so it flows through. Jim’s audio will run to coincide with that, but it will also be a sort of separate entity in itself. It won’t be synced, so the experience will be a different one each time for the viewers. All of the audio works with all of the images and we’ve made it intentionally abstract.
What would you like people to take away from the exhibition?
Laura: What I’d wish to see come out from the experience of the exhibition is for visitors to see Sheffield beyond being just the gateway to the Peak District. Instead seeing it as the city that blends the urban, the industrial and the natural environment – something which cannot be experienced elsewhere in the UK.
Jim: I don’t like putting anything on people in that respect, I’d like it to be their own experience. But what I will say is, until you put a mic out and really tune in, you often don’t realise just how much is going on around you in your environment: wildlife, snatches of conversation, a plane flying overhead – Sheffield is such a good city to lose yourself in spaces that are on your doorstep. Maybe it could help people to tune in a bit more to the environments we have around us?
I’ve been doing a lot of the recordings this week in the Moss Valley, which is south Sheffield, and there are these slag heaps in the woods, and trees had begun to grow out of them. I got into a conversation with some of the old boys walking around the area and started talking about all the mining shafts, how their dads and grandads were miners who worked there. Seeing those areas turned into green spaces and natural conservation areas for the communities to enjoy kind of epitomises what Sheffield was for me growing up: former industrial spaces turned into these open green spaces to enjoy.
until you put a mic out and really tune in, you often don’t realise just how much is going on around you in your environment: wildlife, snatches of conversation, a plane flying overhead – Sheffield is such a good city to lose yourself in spaces that are on your doorstep.
On a more general note, are you both looking forward to the festival? It’s not your first time is it, Jim?
Jim: Yeah. Nigel and Jo [festival co-founders] say I’ve only missed one in about six or seven years. They’re great people, and it’s a great festival. I’m glad they’ve managed to pull it together and I hope people can get out and see some of the stuff on offer.
Laura: There are loads of good events this year. Sister Wives are doing a performance in collaboration with an artist at Site Gallery. I’d highly recommend people go down to see them – they’re a fantastic band. There’s always plenty of interesting things going on at Sensoria; it’s a real credit to Sheffield.
‘From the Estate’ is free entry and runs at S1 Artspace 2nd-5th Oct. Opening times below.
Sat 2 Oct: 11am-5pm
Sun 3 Oct: 11am-3.30pm
Mon 4 Oct: 11am-4pm
Tues 5 Oct: 11am-4pm
For the full lineup of events taking place at Sensoria Festival, head here.