Endless Convenience (Albert Park, Stewart Park and Parkway Centre, Andrew McKeown, 2021)

From left to right: Endless Convenience sculptures in Albert Park, Stewart Park, and by the Parkway Centre. Images courtesy of Andrew McKeown.

Commissioned by Navigator North, Andrew McKeown’s Endless Convenience is a series of sculptures in Middlesbrough parks inspired by the forms and shapes of throwaway plastic food containers. A comment on our society’s relentless reliance on convenience food in plastic packaging, and a tongue-in-cheek homage to Romanian artist Constantin Brâncuși’s Endless Column. This new series of public art is a step away from Andrew’s work that explores the natural world, and despite its title, will be removed from public display in the not so distant future.

In tackling the subject of consumerism and waste, Andrew explains that his sculptural intervention was an idea he had been working on for some time. ‘For me, it was as much about wanting to explore the use of shapes that exist in packaging as it was tackling the subject of waste.’ To make his sculptures Andrew made moulds of supermarket plastic food packaging (like Tesco’s Stir Fry vegetable packs) and then cast the columns using rubber crumb (recycled car tyres) and recycled glass granules. ‘Mould making is central to my work and I have made sculpture inspired by moulds in the past, such as ‘Breaking the Mould’, and earlier pieces were cast into moulds made from waste packaging. I have been collecting various tubs and thrown away containers for years and have numerous other sculptures planned or started using these shapes.’

This is not the first sculpture by Andrew to be constructed from recycled materials. A lot of his metal sculptures have been cast using recycled iron; a testament to Middlesbrough’s iron industry. However, it is the first time for a commission he has ‘created a new conglomerate material’. McKeown explains that this ‘was a lot of trial and error with different mixes, grades, resins, paints, etc. especially to make them as durable and fire retardant as possible. I felt more like an industrial chemist at times, quite a challenge really.’ The colour of the columns are bright in contrast to the muted colours of Andrew’s previous public artworks, an intentional decision to make them look as man-made as possible.

The title and shapes of Endless Convenience are a playful spin on Constantin Brâncuși’s 30-metre-high Endless Column, alluding to the vast amount of single-use plastic in our society. ‘In a creative way discarded and waste packaging is also an effective way to create multiple sculptures using numerous repeated shapes to build the sculptures just as Brâncuși created his Endless Columns. The sculptures also refer to industrial mass production, repetitive mould making, and casting something which Teesside is famous for through its iron and steel heritage, foundries, and steel mills. These processes are also integral to the way I create most of my sculptures.’

Commissioned in 1935, Endless Column commemorates soldiers who fought to defend the Romanian city of Târgu-Jiu in World War One. The artwork still defiantly stands to this day, even though it was deemed degenerate art in the country’s Communist era and survived an unsuccessful attempt to pull it down! Brâncuși is a notable figure in the modernist art movement of the 20th century, Andrew is a big fan of his work and notes that perhaps some of his previous works have probably subconsciously been informed by Brâncuși.

Endless Convenience sculptures made by Lingfeild Primary School pupils. Image courtesy of Andrew Mckeown.

Part of the commission involved community outreach through a workshop with school children from Lingfield Primary School in Marton. The Year 5 class made their own Endless Convenience sculptures with recycled packaging they had collected, and Andrew helped them to cast smaller plaster versions of the sculptures. These were glued together over steel poles and painted in bright colours. Andrew said that the children ‘were very excited to see their pieces on display in the school foyer and in Stewart Park, Coulby Newham and Albert Park.’

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