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Nine Things to Do on a Bench

In 2001 Julia and glass artist Cate Watkinson won the pitch to design new benches for Grainger Town in the centre of Newcastle with their idea of ‘Nine Things to Do on a Bench’.

The words (by Julia) and glass designs (by Cate) were to ‘compliment and interact with each other, rather than being illustrative’.

Julia said that ‘Each sheet of glass is supposed to look a bit like a postcard. The words are intended to be straightforward and to aim to speak to whatever human condition you might be in’.

Cate recalls the process of the commission

The commission came about through Grainger Town Partnership and Newcastle City Council. They worked with Matthew Jarratt of Arts Council North East to shortlist three artistic pairings that would collaborate to produce a proposal for creative interventions in the glass back of the seating designed by Insite Environments based in Newcastle.

I received a phone call from Matthew one day saying: ‘Find yourself a writer to work with, you’re shortlisted for the commission.’ So having attended some of Julia’s readings and read her books, I really liked the idea of working with her. I rang her and she agreed, which was great.

We had a series of meetings to decide on our approach and initially I was quite daunted as I wasn’t very confident with working with the written word. We decided that we would take quite a domestic approach. What would you do or think about when sitting on a bench in town?

Initial ideas revolved around shopping lists. Quite quickly we came up with the idea of Nine Things to do on a Bench (as there were nine benches to work with). The ideas for titles very quickly started to come from both of us, thinking about the location of each seat.

Julia was incredibly easy to work with and generous with her ideas so in the end it was entirely collaborative experience with both words and images. Titles for benches included eat, read, wait, collect, rest, think, kiss, meet and talk.

Each seat had the nine things to do on a bench logo like a stamp in the top right hand corner as if the back of the seat was a post card. The words and images were added with acrylic sprayed onto the inner surfaces of the glass sandwich. Two outer layers of 10mm toughened glass and two inner layers of untoughened 10mm made a 40mm laminated glass sandwich with a stainless steel strip protecting the glass edges.

All the work was completed and installed by middle of 2004.

The project coming to life