People Play Sculptures by Alice Irwin

A new major sculpture commission from emerging artist Alice Irwin turns the iconic grand piazza in Halifax’s Piece Hall into a playground for the artists cast of distinctive characters. 

People Play is the first outdoor installation by Irwin, who graduated in Printmaking from the Royal College of Art in 2018. Using this background, Irwin pushes the boundaries of what traditional print processes can be, expanding into a world of the three dimensional. An accompanying exhibition in the Gallery also features new and related screenprints, etchings and wall-based sculpture by Irwin, curated by YSP’s Damon Jackson-Waldock. A complementary events and activities programme for all ages will run concurrently, including bespoke sculpture and print workshops for schools, families and community groups. In light of Covid-19, much of this engagement programme has been made available through this online Learning platform for families, communities and young people to explore at home.

Commissioned by The Piece Hall Trust in partnership with The Artworks, Arts Charity Dean Clough and Yorkshire Sculpture Park [YSP] and funded by Arts Council England through its National Lottery Project Grants programme, Irwin has created a new body of work based on her bold, colourful and distinctive printed characters, with a reference to the former mill town’s textile heritage. Stepping off the page, this ambitious installation features nine individual sculptures that take over the courtyard of the former cloth hall, with a further two on display at Dean Clough and The Artworks, encouraging visitors to further explore.

Irwin works with print, etching and sculpture to reference childhood experiences and creates her own creatures from imaginary worlds. Her larger than life figures, ranging from 5-9ft tall, acknowledge the families that worked in the cottage industry of textiles, and subsequent Victorian mill workers whose contribution helped place Halifax on the world stage for cloth production.

Whilst the playground, innocence and imagination are integral themes in her practice, aspects of her work often explores a more unsettling subtext and thought-provoking themes. People Play references the importance of play and considers those children that worked long hours in the mills for whom it was not an option, and for some children around the world, is still the fact today.

Irwin commented: “Re-imagining The Piece Hall courtyard as a place for play is an incredible opportunity. The scale of the space is monumental and by adding into this exceptional example of Georgian architecture some contrasting contemporary and colourful sculptures I hope that the piece will resonate at different levels.  On the one hand, we’re creating an unusual playground for people to enjoy. At the same time, we’re recognising the roles that families and communities have played in the various stages of the cloth trade and the impact on wider society. I’m really looking forward to seeing how everyone reacts, and interacts, with People Play.”

Nicky Chance-Thompson DL, Chief Executive of The Piece Hall Trust, adds: “There is so much rich material here for artists to delve into, from the heritage and the building itself, to themes of trade and culture, so it’s fascinating to see Alice’s response to the brief. Without people The Piece Hall is simply a wonderful building and we hope that Alice’s vibrant and playful installation will evoke some of the people that worked here in the past, as well as creating new memories and fun activities for our visitors today.” 

Pete Massey, Director, Yorkshire, Arts Council England said, “The Piece Hall has already shown a commitment to sculpture with the commission of The Blanket earlier this year, and I’m delighted that we have funded this new piece by Alice Irwin. I’m sure visitors will enjoy the opportunity to interact with the work while learning more about the rich history of the hall and will also take in the many other cultural opportunities in Halifax.”

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