Local stories to be transformed into hot air balloon for Thamesmead

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M+R, a collaboration between artists Neil Musson and Jono Retallick, have been chosen by a judging panel which includes local residents as the winner of our Thamesmead Open art competition.

Selected from 69 entries from across the world, M+R’s proposal called ‘Fields of everywhen’ is a two year project which will create a flying gallery of local stories and takes the form of a hot air balloon made of locally produced embroidered and textile creations from the community.

M+R will collaborate with local residents and local creatives such as Zimbabwean-born fashion designer Tapiwa Dingwiza, the local social initiative the Women’s Lounge. Through local workshops and collaborations M+R aim to discover more about the textile heritage of Thamesmead’s Ghanaian, Nigerian and Traveller communities, among others.

Local stories will be transferred onto an enormous 23-metre high hot air balloon. The balloon will be launched and then tethered in flight above Thamesmead in various locations over five different dates and will be visible from across London. Celebrating the rich local heritage and stories of Thamesmead, the balloon will capture these as a lasting legacy, and also become a symbol of the growing textile talent in Thamesmead. The first flights are expected to be launched in Summer 2022.

In addition to tethered flights, the balloon will also be inflated on its side, welcoming visitors from near and far to see the stories up close and illuminated from the outside like a stained-glass window.

M+R’s proposal was chosen by a panel of judges including Deborah Frimpong, local resident and chair of the Moorings Neighbourhood Forum; Pastor Bunmi Omidiran, local church minister, Dennis Low, local resident and artist; the Head of Regeneration & Community at Tate Modern, Donald Hyslop and representatives from Bexley Council and Greenwich Council. The judges celebrated M+R’s accessible and uplifting vision for the future of Thamesmead and they particularly enjoyed how it draws on contemporary traditions of textile from within the local communities and strong involvement with a broad group of local artists, residents and social initiatives.

Neil Musson and Jono Retallick said: “We’re delighted to have been selected as the artists to do the Thamesmead Open Commission. What is really exciting is the scale of this project. A lot of the work we do is based on community engagement so we wanted to create the potential for everyone in Thamesmead to connect and be involved with our project. And to now know that we’re going to be doing it, literally floating everyone’s own artwork for them to see projected in the sky, is amazing. We can’t wait to get started with Tapiwa and all of the people that are part of our team.”

Tapiwa dingwiza said: “This is an amazing project for the community to get involved in and one that is close to my heart because as a designer and tailor, I love to work with lots of fabrics and textiles. And to be able to work with the community is really exciting. I’m really proud to be part of such an important cultural project that will transform Thamesmead.”

Adriana Marques, Head of Cultural Strategy for Thamesmead said: “We were so impressed with all of the entries to the competition. It’s clear that Thamesmead with its growing creative community has a really unique and remarkable story to tell. We wanted to commission a project that would establish Thamesmead as a place of cultural innovation, capture people’s imaginations and make them proud to call Thamesmead their home. We believe Jono and Neil’s proposal does just that and I can’t wait to see local stories flying high with communities catching sight of them in their back gardens or from Thamesmead’s vast landscapes where events will be held to celebrate each flight.”

If you would like to get involved in the project and have a story to tell about Thamesmead or want to take part in the workshops once they start, please email us at [email protected]