Lotte Karlsen, born 1974 in Hammerfest, Norway is a multidisciplinary artist working fluidly across the boundaries of fine art, social practice, sculpture and craft. Currently living and working in Manchester, UK, Karlsen earned an early degree in glass blowing from the world renowned Kosta Glass School in Sweden's Crystal Kingdom. Later obtaining an MA in Art as Environment at Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design (MIRIAD), her work in recent years has blurred the lines of conceptualism, artivism and craft. She has exhibited her work in London, Milan, Tokyo, Seoul, Barcelona, Paris, New York and throughout Scandinavia.
Karlsen founded Alexandra Arts in 2010, an artist-led-collective based in Manchester's Alexandra Park. In additionally to working with a number of partners, Alex Arts works with volunteers, local and international artist throughout the year. Starting in Autumn 2014, Lotte launched the successful Pankhurst in the Park. Pankhurst in the Park is an Arts Council England funded programme of free events, artist commissions and an international artist residency. It celebrates Alexandra Park’s rich historical connection to the iconic leader of the Suffragette Movement, Emmeline Pankhurst, who was born and bred only yards from the Park in the neighbouring Moss Side estate.
Karlsen’s work with Alexandra Arts, an artist-led collective based in Manchester’s
Alexandra Park she founded in 2010, evidences the way in which her work operates in many contexts and communities, translating easily across industries, disciplines and their seemingly closed social and cultural networks. Lotte’s community-oriented, social practice based work with Alexandra Arts has gained her much recognition, including an invitation to join Her Majesty the Queen for afternoon tea during Manchester’s 2012 Diamond Jubilee Celebration.
a sculpture proposal for Manchester's Alexandra Park
Alexandra Park as a Nucleus of Community & Social Progress
A park is the most natural nucleus of community – a stomping ground for invigorating recreation, social uplift and the restorative catharsis only nature can provide. Over the past eight years, Alexandra Arts’ grassroots community initiative has carved out an enlivened space for visitor participation and social integration in the park. House of Emmeline, a site-specific sculptural-forest garden and permanent, environmentally friendly platform of community engagement, is the most natural outgrowth of the non-profit organization’s work. A symbolic nod to our shared herstory, the House of Emmeline sculpture memorializes the legacy of visionary feminist leader Emmeline Pankhurst.
Honoring Alexandra Park’s Suffragette Legacy & Women’s Contributions
Radical suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst (1858 –1928) was born in Manchester Moss Side and went on to bravely organize and lead some of the most important social marches for women’s rights gathering thousands of supporters right within the grounds of the park. Locally, the facts of Pankhurst’s activist work – which forever changed for better women’s rights on a global level – are not publicly acknowledged locally and deserve to be celebrated in the public space of the park. Based on the Pankhurst legacy and a celebration of women as community organizers, nurturers, peacemakers and stewards of the earth; the House of Emmeline project is an outgrowth of Alexandra Arts as a comprehensive social sculpture. Taking form as a forest-garden, the sculpture fuses Victorian ornamental culture with the organic beauty of woodland ecology, and champions art as a catalyst of social well being and belonging. The park having recently become a celebrated center of inter-connective community, horticulture and leading recreation facilities, the sculpture itself is designed as a living sanctuary of socially engaged community initiatives past and present. As an outgrowth of the recent Alexandra Arts activities including workshops, woodland tours, heritage bike rides, performances and an international Artist-in-Residence, the sculptural-forest garden not only celebrates Emmeline’s historical socio-political achievement, it is a larger symbol of Feminine/Earth wisdom, positive evolution and dynamic intentional community.
Formal & Conceptual Elements of the Work: Sculpture as Community Platform
Formally, the sculpture is comprised of ornamental steel frames that elegantly sweep over the garden. Inspired in part by the work of Alexander Gordon Hennell, the chief landscape architect in charge of designing Alexandra Park in 1868. Hennell is known for having made a bold departure from the more angular geometry in fashion for Victorian landscapes of that time. Influenced by Eastern aesthetics and keen on rounded and rhythmic shapes, Hennell’s innovative approach to designing the sweeping curved footpaths and oval recreation areas of Alexandra park is one important element of heritage embedded in the project. Painted white, one of the three symbolic colours of the suffragettes, the steel frames are designed to arch gracefully in and through the naturally green and purple hued landscape. Architectonic in scope, the sculpture also makes reference to the grand glasshouse that once existed in the park. Under Ms Pankhurst watch, it was bombed by militant suffragettes in 1913. Reminiscent of the area’s Victorian heritage, the proposed sculpture will contain an edible forest garden as well as a designated sheltered space for community arts education and performing arts. Slithering oval lines and bold curvilinear shapes invoke the spiritual ecology of nature as a type of dramatic, at once ordered and chaotic feminine principle, that which is deeply intertwined with the health of humankind. Ultimately, the sculpture’s sheltered space serves as a versatile platform for integrated community education and holistic arts.
Sculptural Symbolism: Balancing the Masculine and Feminine Principles
Using the inspiration of the fiercely executed suffragette movement and the wild beauty of woodland ecology as its catalyst, the House of Emmeline sculpture takes an abstract approach to honouring the qualities we traditionally associate with the feminine and the Earth - compassion, life giving properties, intimacy, communal space. Just as the curves of the sculpture’s frame accentuate the undomesticated wisdom of the woodlands, a concrete platform for social-emotional uplift lies at the heart and center of the work. Aesthetically striking a balance between what is most chaotic and unforgiving (Nature’s wrath), and what is most loving, nurturing and everlasting (Nature’s love), this work is a powerful visual symbol of feminine energy in concert with male wisdom and power. As a meeting place for the whole community honouring the legacies of both important men and women who have contributed to the park, at a deep symbolic level the sculpture paves the way for a civilization in which male and female energy maintains a healthy equilibrium and peaceful harmony.
Positive Environmental Impact: Sculpture as New Ecological Model
The edible forest garden incorporated into the sculpture invokes the existence of ‘forest gardeners,’ and thus imparts important ecological lessons. Introduced to Britain by Robert Hart in the 1960s, ‘forest gardening’ is a sustainable, productive multi-level ecosystem. The earth at the base of the work is the natural home of shrubbery, perennial vegetables, cover flowers, edibles and rhizomes. The top layer of the work, offset by vertical climbers, forms a ‘canopy’ aligning with the uppermost reaches of the sculpture; mimicking the way the sky naturally arches across and works in symbiotic harmony with the earth. As a microcosm of the greater wild woodland, the symbolic space of the sculpture demonstrates how naturally occurring ecosystems offer ancient, practical and sustainable ways of meeting humankind’s need for food, medicine and fuel. Forest gardens provide a haven for other species and are rich, life-generating spaces to behold. The proposed sculpture – both powerful visual icon and lived space of community arts education– connects us to the deep medicine of nature and Mother Earth. As a total schema, the structure upholds the core values of a self-sustaining culture, including a natural solution for an environment well suited to climate change and community use.
Conclusion: Fulfilling Alexandra Park’s Historically Moral Purpose
Alexandra Park has a long history of reflecting a moral purpose. Paid by public subscriptions, when it was opened by Manchester’s City Mayor, he declared Alexandra Park “the people’s property.” Alexandra Arts upholds that successful public spaces entail positive community involvement and a sense of ownership and place. Building a sculpture honouring the legacy of radical activism past and present celebrates Alexandra Park as a permanent place of forward thinking community. As a formerly neglected public space, the restoration of Alexandra Park coincides with an important community initiative, one that debunks old conceptions of the park and the adjacent area. As a stunning, abundant and shared symbol – a site-specific forest sculpture in Alexandra Park serves to instil in community members of both the neighbouring localities a sense of ownership, belonging and shared purpose. Alexandra Arts’ grassroots approach to reinvigorating the park as a historical sight of dynamic community, creativity and spiritual ecology has been met with unparalleled support by residents and community partner organizations. Locals and visitors are coming out to the park, as they once did to champion the just cause of women’s rights, with Alexandra Arts largely to thank for it. What better way to commemorate Manchester’s dynamic history and future progress than a site-specific sculptural-forest garden providing a clear and designated home base for dynamic socio-cultural evolution. As a symbol of the greater work Alexandra Arts is doing to integrate local communities, The House of Emmeline ushers in a new paradigm, one in which society has made the return to gender balance and living peacefully on and with the earth.
A Park of National Importance
Alexandra Park sits on the border between two very different communities, Whalley Range and Moss Side. This Park covers a total area of 60 acres and has been serving these two densely populated communities for 144 years. It is one of the earliest and most complete of Manchester’s Victorian Parks and is regarded as being of national importance based on its heritage; it is Grade 2-listed on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens. For more information, see here