was commissioned for ART AT THE STATION in 2004.
The video Watch
was informed by a lengthy period of research with the Tyne and Wear Fire Brigade. Initially I wanted to find out about a wide range of aspects of the Brigade - on the operational and community safety sides. This included watching training courses (a refresher for road traffic accident rescue and an exercise at the Merchant Navy Training Centre), participants on the Phoenix project rehearsing a fire rescue display, a Safety Works tour and an arson courtroom scenario acted out by school children.
I also spent periods of the day and overnight with different watches at a number of stations in Sunderland, Washington, Gateshead and Newcastle, with crews who would be moving to the six new (community) fire stations in the region. Ideas evolved from observation of the everyday (and unpredictable) routine as well as conversation over industrial-sized helpings of supper. I was twice given a privileged opportunity to travel on an appliance, and witnessed crews in action on an unsurprisingly eventful November 5th.
At night I was particularly moved by the eerie stillness of the stations just after a watch had been called out, with hot food left mid-mouthful, billiard cues abandoned in mid-game and television sets on. For Watch
we filmed different scenarios at four stations where routine activities - exercising, cleaning and checking the equipment on the appliance ("it's basically a toolbox") and so on are interrupted by the turnout. These sequences provide a window in to the building.
This fascination with aspects of the 'choreography' of teamwork extended to a desire to film members of the Brigade's YFA groups (Young Firefighters). An exercise was staged to give a sense of the impressive drama, speed and co-ordination displayed by the YFA when undertaking training exercises. Another filmed sequence was inspired by having watched a backdraught demonstration at the Brigade Training Centre and subsequently meeting a firefighter who is also a 'magician'. This section presents an image of the fire fighter as prestidigitator - creating and controlling a dangerous phenomenon.
Finally, since the video would be silent, I conducted some research into the history of fire fighting films and spent time viewing films at the BFI in London. From a very early point after the invention of cinema, apparently scenes of firemen in action - sometimes real, but usually pretending - became a staple theme for many filmmakers. Watch incorporates material from three short films from the recently discovered Mitchell and Kenyon archive - of the Newcastle, Halifax and Dewsbury fire brigades at the turn of the last century. It serves to remind us of the enduring fascination with the work of the fire brigade.
The Fire Service showcased silent moving image artworks at six new Community Fire Stations, sited across Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland. Between 2004 - 5, three artists (Dane Watkins, Louise K Wilson and Anna Woodford) were commissioned to produce original artworks to be shown on prominent rear projection screens installed above the external entrances of three of these buildings, and displayed on flat-screen monitors inside three additional stations. Throughout the development of the artworks, the artists explored the role of the Fire Service and its activities, and how it interacts with people and groups within the local communities.