...and Blackpool's rise in my estimations
Despite our unseasonably wet, cold and downright miserable 'Spring' months, a glimpse of sun on a Saturday had me leaving Manchester's city air for a day trip to the seaside. The first attempt was to Southport, but the seaside turned out to be all 'side' and not a lot of 'sea' (the water was miles away and not even a hint of salt in the air), so we kept going towards the familiar tower landmark that we could see on the horizon. Now I've been to Blackpool before, quite a few years ago, when you don't really know any better, but I still remembered the tackiness and general downtrodden air about it.
But I'm pleased to say my view of the much maligned seaside destination has improved somewhat. Part of this is how much better it looks in sunshine- if the Blackpool Borough Council could only control the weather for some of the time, I think it's troubles would be over. Secondly, the beach and sea were a lot cleaner than I remembered or expected, meaning a stroll across the beach on the water's edge was really exceptionally pleasant, if not for the biting wind coming off the Irish Sea. The third reason for my current extolling of the Lancashire resorts virtues, is The Comedy Carpet. I had been told about this while chatting at a recent BLAB Talk and made a mental note to check it out (thanks Ben).
While I came across it today more by accident than design, I was certainly glad I did. The project, opening in October 2011, is a collaboration between artist Gordon Young and design agency why not associates, and one of many typographic based environmental 'installations' they have worked on together. I was aware of these projects as I went to a lecture by why not associates while I was doing my degree and remember their Morecambe projects and have also visited The Yorkshire Sculpture Park and it's Walk of Art.
I am very much attracted to this sort of playful mixed typography and have been known to dabble in it more than a little myself. While probably a little scorned by typography purists, I love the look and find it very enjoyable to do as well. However I'm not sure I would be feeling the same after doing something the scale of The Comedy Carpet! A vast collection of British comedy excerpts, well known sayings all laid out in 3 colour cast granite in a mind boggling amount of typefaces. The work involved at each stage, must have been enormous, but the outcome is brilliant in my opinion. I must have read or looked at only a small percentage of it, meaning I would definitely go back for a good long wander over it at some point. The icy wind on the coast meant you couldn't really feel the strength of the sunshine in the air, but the stone 'carpet' absorbed the heat and felt lovely and warm and smooth to the touch. I was very tempted to just lie down on it, but managed to resist on grounds of maintaining an air of sanity. The granite caught the light beautifully in the bright sunshine, and the well known phrases jumped out at you and just beg to be photographed. It captures something we do terribly well in this country; comedy and does it playfully, but beautifully.
It was a £2.6m project which I hardly need say is a lot of money and while it may seem that that sort of figure could be otherwise spent more directly to help a run down area, I think it was well worth it. I have been telling people about my change in attitude towards Blackpool and also encouraging people to visit, and I'm not the only one, so the tourists pounds will filter back in Blackpool where it's needed. So this is perhaps design showing it's economic benefit to Britain plainly (as discussed at Manchester Design Symposium 2012)- albeit with the help on considerable amount of public cash. Although I imagine the actual return on investment of this piece in particular against the wider seafront makeover will be hard to measure, I think it should stand as an example of art and design's place in regeneration and the economic recovery of the country.