Peter Nencini, at the midpoint of an Arts Council / LU Arts collaboration with graphic designers Europa. Featured originally on Radar/ LU Arts ‘Market Town‘ website. 

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The commission being delivered by Robert Sollis of graphic design duo Europa and illustrator Peter Nencini for the Market Town project has proven to be enigmatic and enthralling in equal measure, discovering delight, significance, and even surprise in the most unexpected places. Their creation of a visual identity for Loughborough has necessitated extensive research into the history, commerce, and communities of the town – you may recall the intriguing images of found objects that resulted from one of their visits for this purpose. As their investigations have deepened, we are now able to treat you all to another fascinating insight into the commission’s development: a series of object-studies relating to their travels, conversations, encounters, and research in and around Loughborough. In the text below, Peter elaborates on some of their experiences in more detail, their impressions of which are echoed visually in the object-studies.

A continuing set of object-studies, made in order to digest five days of encounters, conversations and research in Loughborough.

Our scheduled visits to (for example) the University’s Sports Technology Institute, Brush and the Bell Foundry have been punctuated by walks crisscrossing the Market Place, Queen’s Park, Carillon Court and the inner ring road.

In doing so – an equivalent set of unscheduled encounters. For example, we met two ‘Loughborough Town of Sanctuary’ volunteers outside the East Midlands Immigration Enforcement Centre. They give welcome, conversation, information and the offer of a free hot drink to asylum seekers tasked with travelling weekly to sign in — and faced with the possibility of arrest and detention — from Derby, Leicester and Nottingham.

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This led us to John Storer House, who provide those free hot drinks and further conversation in a vibrant community space. There, a one-day-per-week volunteer spoke with relish of the varied requests that come her way. The port-of-call reception desk — proffering cheap, locally grown produce alongside printed leaflets — epitomised this span of exchange. So, an aggregated narrative of actions, activities and activism – oft-civic, in a climate of cuts. Each one of which might be embodied by a gesture or an object pertaining to the hand.

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A bone ‘tatting shuttle’ in the Charnwood Museum told of C19th lacemakers supplementing their factory work with this choreographically complex hand technique. Such an agile palms-fingers-thumbs interfacing with necessitated tools brought us back to The Sports Technology Institute’s Steve Carr – and his test run of bonelike low-melting-point plastic tennis racket grip adaptives, moulded from and designed for the grip of an individual para-athlete.

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Steve is Head of Technical Services, running test labs holding a cross-section of kit from ball kicking robots and motion capture rigs to lathes, drills and welders. This oscillation from hardware-to-software-to-hardware  mirrors Steve’s agility in tackling each research project – whether it be the aerodynamic testing of Adidas’ next World Cup football, or the design and fabrication of a bespoke archery frame for Paralympian Danielle Brown.

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Whilst explaining the structural composition of dismembered matchballs, he referred to the two interlocking panel types as ‘turbines and rotors’ (recalling our visit to Brush), with their surface airflow aided by tiny post-digital dimples. Again the variegation of hard-manufacturing with soft-service terminology. Always, the nimble head-hand as a navigator between the two.

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In these studies the objects are set in a stopped gesture of, for example, motion, measurement, manufacture, magnanimity which tries to sublimate a heritage reading of the ‘civic’. They interlock and interface at unlikely points, suggestive of the pre-, pan- and post-industrial texture of the town today.

The objects’ putty palette refers to a kind of animate subcutaneous materiality which binds the then, to the now, to the next – from lacemakers’ cotton thread to 3D-printed ABS plastic.

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Some studies are more directly narrative. A hotel receptionist told of her schooldays walk along the Grand Union Canal, catching a lift on a passing barge then jumping off to cut through Tuckers brickyard, on and into town. The squashed disposable plastic cup’s rim doubles up as a school sock top – and the ribbed imprint it leaves on an end of day leg.

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