In a series of interviews, we speak to the five artists immersing themselves in industry to produce brand new work for the third instalment of The National Festival of Making’s ‘Art In Manufacturing’ series, alongside the manufacturing firm they’ve been paired with.
Artist Amy Pennington makes people the core part of her practice, working in various media including performance, drawing, film, events and conversations, she works with accessible materials such as cardboard to bridge high and low art, while also having turned walls, shops and arcade machines into socially-engaged artworks. Heritage Envelopes in Blackburn produce 50 million envelopes a week from their Blackburn factory, as specialists in printed envelopes for business as well as retail stock for high street stores and people’s personal letters.
Here Amy and Mark Sears, CEO, Heritage Envelopes Ltd, give answers in an ‘Art In Manufacturing’ Q&A.
Amy Pennington: I’m an artist who primarily works with people, often using performance, drawing, film, events and conversations. Working collaboratively with people I have been an artist-in-residence in a number of everyday spaces, such as a hairdressers, a care home and a park (housed in a motorhome). So, being in residence in an envelope factory is a new one to add to the list. I met Elena Gifford, one of the producers of ‘Art In Manufacturing’ through another artist, Joshua Sofaer’s project: ‘No Shortlists’, which was an afternoon workshop that questioned the hierarchy between commissioners and artist. By the end of the afternoon Elena and I both committed to working with each other and here we are! It’s by far my favourite commissioning process yet.
Mark Sears: I started in envelope manufacturing at the age of 19 as an apprentice machine adjuster at Chapman Envelopes. I joined Heritage Envelopes in 1989 as a Machine Adjuster when my dad was the Managing Director of the company. I spent the next 30 years working my way up the ladder, doing every aspect of the job, eventually becoming Managing Director and finally CEO of the UK and Ireland.
Heritage became part of the Mayer Group in 2011 which is the largest envelope manufacturer in Europe. We have 16 envelope machines and produce over 2.2 billion envelopes a year at the Blackburn site. We also have the largest overprint and warehouse facility in the UK, based in Walsall carrying up to 5000 pallets of stock. There are 14 overprint machines and the latest high speed digital print machine. Heritage is going from strength to strength and our goal over the next three years is to develop new technology and grow the company.
We have 16 envelope machines and produce over 2.2 billion envelopes a year at the Blackburn site.
MS: We’ve been aware of the festival since it started three years ago and have been very impressed so far, one of our key suppliers is The Cardboard Box Company and we know they have had much success with the projects over the last two years. We feel the exposure it will bring for our business within the local community will be invaluable and we hope it opens many doors moving forwards.
AP: I’ve always enjoyed artists working in the everyday. Personally I find this more stimulating than a strict studio practice. Artists Barbara Steveni and John Latham set up the Artist Placement Group in 1965 and it saw artists being placed within business or governmental contexts ie. working outside a gallery system. I feel in many ways ‘Art In Manufacturing’ is giving a nod to APG which is exciting to me. I would have loved to have seen Martyn Ware’s ‘Church Of Rare Souls’ in Tony’s Empress Ballroom. I think Nicolas Ellis’ ’Negative Space’ sculptures and practice are really interesting and her continued relationship Ritherdon (which she has just won funding for) is inspiring. I also really loved Ruth Jones’ ‘Traysway’ which saw the factory-floor movements of ten Cherrytree Bakery staff woven into a unique 15-minute choreography.
AP: I often work in spaces that people don’t expect artists to be working in I think it can make for really interesting work and collaborations. Battersea Art Centre recently commissioned me as part of their ‘Agents Of Creative Change’ programme to work with ‘Growing Underground’, an underground farm in a disused tube tunnel. I spent a day working on the farm and getting to know the business, so in that respect it feels similar to being introduced to a business that mass produces things like Heritage Envelopes do. I’m absolutely amazed by what goes into making envelopes on this scale – the engineering is something else. I’m use to embedding myself within places for six months. I drew hair portraits at Open Barbers and for nine months I was a permanent fixture at Mildmay Care Home where we set up the Mildmay Collective.
I’m absolutely amazed by what goes into making envelopes on this scale – the engineering is something else.
MS: No we have never entered into any project or schemes in the past like this; it is a totally new venture for us.
MS: I and the company are all about forward thinking, new ideas, new practices, change, environmental impact, training of staff and a better apprenticeship scheme.
AP: I won’t have all the answers on day one. I like to spend time getting to know people, asking questions, talking, drawing, noseying around, it helps me get a sense of the place which in turn helps with initial ideas of what can be made. I can be easily persuaded, bribed, by a cup of Yorkshire Tea and a Tunnock’s Teacake.
AP: It’s a very exciting prospect to be able to produce something on a mass scale especially when this could be envelopes – a primary tool of communication, this opens up a world of possibilities that I have not had the chance to play with as an artist.
MS: I think it will help to put our company on the map; we are a sleeping giant that not enough people know about. It will hopefully highlight manufacturing as a career opportunity, letting people know it’s not a dying industry.
We are a sleeping giant that not enough people know about. It [Art In Manufacturing] will hopefully highlight manufacturing as a career opportunity, letting people know it’s not a dying industry.
AP: It has been great to meet some of the engineers at Heritage envelopes. One particular engineer showed me parts he had fabricated to help fix his neighbours clutch pedal – I could see straight away how he creatively could make things work whether in the factory or with other bits of machinery – I think an engineers mind is pretty similar to an artists. It’s inquisitive, we ask questions. I told the engineer about an old one arm bandit machine that I need help making work and I think this will be one of my first collaborations in the factory. Hopefully one of many.
MS: We’re coming into this project totally open-minded with no expectations at all so I feel I can only give you a conclusive answer to this question after the project has finished. All we can hope for is that the art/creativity of the project helps open people’s eyes to what we do here at Heritage, we hope it will help engage our staff more within the business and will help our employees look at what we do in a different perspective compared to the usual “daily grind”, which sometimes leads people to forget about all the good people, processes and work ethic we have and I’m proud of within the business.
MD: Our company could not work without the envelope machines.
AP: A pen
AP: There’s not usually a set routine as it really depends on what projects are going on for me but today is:
1. Walk the dog
2. Check and respond to emails
3. Buy materials for a performance I’m doing on Saturday night at Camden People’s Theatre for Raze Collective
4. 30/30 – I’m Currently I’m taking part in 120 collectives ‘30 Works in 30 Days’ which is a commitment to making one artwork per day. It’s a great exercise to reboot and not be so precious.
5. Making work: Today it’s working on ideas for the residency. I want to do some internet research, make some drawings and research Blackburn a little more. Other times it can be meetings, writing applications and writing funding bids. I think every artist and perhaps self employed creative person battles with being creative and managing the admin – its something I’m always experimenting with
MS: Every morning I walk around the production floor and speak to the Production Director to check on how the previous day has gone and to discuss that day’s plan of action. I also speak to various personnel on the production floor asking general well-being questions.
Around 10am there is a Management meeting.
I would then check my daily diary and schedule which may consist of visiting different companies, with a weekly visit to the Walsall site and our Irish site.
MS: Blackburn has one of the highest youth population in the whole country. Blackburn was one of the largest cotton converting towns in the country. Blackburn is the only town in Lancashire with a cathedral.
AP: It has twin towns in France, Germany and Poland. Ghandi once visited Blackburn finding solidarity in local workers. 50 million envelopes are produced in Blackburn per week.