Near Holme, Call  Your Home Poetic, 2018

Near Holme, Call Your Home Poetic, 2018


A3 project/exhibition pamphlet, photocopied and folded to A5

Text by Fiona Boundy

Accompanying Near Holme – Call your Home Poetic public art project and exhibition

What is in a name? Near Holme – Call your Home Poetic
A new public art commission by Bettina Furnée
‘We know that investing in a new kitchen or bathroom, or revamping the front of your house, are good ways to add value to your home. But there’s one property change you can make that could actually add thousands of pounds of value to your home.
And that’s giving your home a name…Memorable is good, but the inner snob in many of us means you can genuinely add value to your home by giving it a great name….
So now the question is… What will you call yours?’
Good Housekeeping, 4th April, 2017

Picture if you will a very smart, somewhat unusual looking urban village, aesthetically set apart from the ubiquitous sprawling ‘cookie cutter’ new build housing developments. Claridge Park, Milton Keynes embraces an architectural vocabulary from clap board cladding to porticoes, with a palette of deep ocean blues, crisp whites and honey coloured yellows combining to evoke seaside memories and ubiquitous Nordic design. This is the setting and context for Near Holme – Call Your Home Poetic, a new public artwork by Bettina Furnée.

Claridge Park is perhaps a near perfect example of aspirational place naming, with the property developers no doubt looking to make subliminal references to the infamous Claridges Hotel often frequented by Royalty. Whilst Good Housekeeping extols the virtues of adopting a similar approach to naming your own house for financial gain, Bettina Furnée had alternative and slightly subversive aspirations in mind, picking up the mantle from where the property developers left off, in order to truly capture and evoke the quintessential ideal home.

As an artist who initially trained as a letter cutter and art historian, Furnée’s practice uses language as primary material, playfully enjoying and revelling in the beauty, poetry and surrealism of words. Often working site specifically and in collaboration with others, her work sensitively reflects place, time and situation, with migration as a recurrent theme.

For Near Holme – Call Your Home Poetic, Furnée proposed to work together with the residents of Claridge Park to name their homes through the creation of a unique plaque, which would be installed on the façade of each house. By proposing a participatory, collaborative naming process, Furnée created an opportunity for residents to tell their own story through a juxtaposition of words pertinent to each household, creating a poetic textual portrait of a community, at a particular moment in time.

Using a wide variety of approaches, including an ambitious poster campaign, door-to-door pitches, community events with hot dogs and folksingers, Furnée encouraged, cajoled and enticed 20 households to sign up to her process. Playfully referencing sales pitches adopted by Estate Agents, those who agreed were presented with a catalogue of design options, with a serious colour palette, enticing typography and the offer of a beautifully crafted bespoke enamel sign created by Furnée at the factories of A J Wells and Sons – the Isle of Wight based company responsible for fabricating London Underground’s roundels.

Home visits, cups of tea and conversations followed. Framed around a set of fixed questions: What attracted you to move to Claridge Park? Where did you live before? What was the name of your first pet? What is your most memorable holiday? Furnée worked closely with residents to find their own poetic. The recorded conversations, some of which form part of Furnée’s associated exhibition in the Project Space at MK Gallery are poignant testimony to the power and resonance of language, the malleability and poignancy of words, and most importantly the confidence and imagination of those taking part, brought to the fore through Furnée’s sensitive and timely interventions.

In one such interview, Bruno Freedom’s owners explain that growing up they never had a pet, due to the constraints of living in a flat and instead named their teddy bear Bruno, after their Father’s favourite tobacco. Moving to Claridge Park offered freedom, easy access to green open spaces, cycle routes – a fresh start. Whilst Reunion Valley’s owners gently argued about why they had moved to this particular housing estate… ‘it wasn’t the Nordic feel – it was more about feeling like being on holiday all the time… we are from Reunion so when we go there it’s not a holiday… yes it is.. everyone is there.’ Asfoor Tyr meaning “the bird that flew” in Arabic was arrived at as the owners first pets were a pair of canaries called Asfoor and Asfoor (meaning bird and bird). Their memorable holiday place was Tyr, their home town of Tyr or Tyre in Lebanon, but Tyr also means to fly.

These are just a handful of examples which capture the innate charm and charisma inherent within all of the name plaques. Some are imaginatively humorous, others more traditional. Some present you with a seductive and exotic image of a place, whilst others remain on more familiar well-trodden territory.

Milton Keynes, probably the world’s most successful and thoughtful new town has always welcomed newcomers. In the early days, the city’s founders ensured that artists were given the opportunity to live and work alongside new communities to create public artworks – to define a sense of place together. Often when public art commissioning processes are discussed today, be it in the context of a critical text or civic strategy the term ‘place-making’ is referred to. This of course can mean many things, but in MK, genuine and successful place-making sees a continuation of a collaborative public art approach, where artists will always be given the opportunity to work alongside and with local residents.

Through Near Holme – Call Your Home Poetic, Furnée has created a memorable, sensitive, engaging collaborative public art commission that has captured a community’s imagination and created a shared history, whilst giving voice to individual stories. Looking at Furnée’s images that capture the community picnic where the plaques were unveiled to residents, it is clear to see pride, ownership and a sense of belonging. You are also very movingly reminded of the passing of time. The plaques will always remain with each home, rather than moving on with the occupants. When Claridge Park is no longer a new build development, when MK is no longer a new town with 106 roundabouts and infamous Concrete Cows, the plaques will remain as a lasting testimony to a time, a place and a community.

Fiona Boundy, 2018