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Ipswich art exhibition celebrates construction of the DanceHouse on the Waterfront

PUBLISHED: 19:00 28 August 2019 | UPDATED: 18:16 29 August 2019

Charcoal drawings by Suffolk artist Valerie Irwin of the construction of the Ipswich Waterfront including the new Jerwood DanceHouse

Charcoal drawings by Suffolk artist Valerie Irwin of the construction of the Ipswich Waterfront including the new Jerwood DanceHouse

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The home of DanceEast celebrates its tenth anniversary this year and revisits its construction with a dazzling art exhibition chronicling the building process. We take a look at the show

Valerie Irwin alongside her work at the Studios from Silos exhibition marking the tenth anniversary of the construction of the Jerwood DanceHouse Photo: Andrew ClarkeValerie Irwin alongside her work at the Studios from Silos exhibition marking the tenth anniversary of the construction of the Jerwood DanceHouse Photo: Andrew Clarke

The Jerwood DanceHouse on Ipswich Waterfront, home of DanceEast, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year and as part of the year-long celebrations, the venue is hosting an exhibition of vibrant, powerful drawings by Ipswich artist Valerie Irwin which document the construction of the building from the ruins of the old maltings.

Valerie spent five years documenting the regeneration of the Ipswich Waterfront a decade ago, mourning the loss of some classic Victorian architecture while also celebrating the arrival of some imaginative state-of-the-art design.

Her fast-flowing style captured the brisk pace of the work and the bustling nature of the site. She was an outside observer for the demolition process but after being such a presence on site for so long was invited to observe the construction process at close-hand.

Artist Valerie Irwin recording the changing face of the Ipswich waterfront with the demolition of the former Cranfield buildings. 

Picture Owen HinesArtist Valerie Irwin recording the changing face of the Ipswich waterfront with the demolition of the former Cranfield buildings. Picture Owen Hines

Valerie has displayed some of her construction drawings in the past but the vast bulk of the material which has been on public view have detailed the demolition of the existing buildings. This is the first large-scale exhibition of the construction phase with, naturally the emphasis on the building of the DanceEast building.

Out of a total of 4,000 drawings completed on site, 800 related to the construction of the DanceHouse, 49 of which have been selected for this exhibition. Exposed to the elements, Valerie captures the large pillars being lowered into position, pillars which still make up such a distinctive feature of the DanceHouse interior.

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Workmen seem to be constantly on the move in these charcoal drawings as buckets swing over head and cranes lower table-top constructions to make up the upper floors. Valerie attached herself to workmen to follow through specific aspects of the building work. Her drawings act in a similar manner to a stop-motion camera with one person repeatedly appearing all over a scene and a crane moving into a variety of positions.

"At the private view the husband of a friend of mine, who is an engineer, came up to me and asked: 'When did you learn about engineering?' I said I didn't. He said: "I have been in construction all my life and even in this small collection you have explained how to put up a building. You have shown the process. I was really flattered when he said that because I knew nothing about it. All I did was follow the men about and draw what I saw."

As the building comes together you can see different areas of the DanceHouse come into view and present recognisable vistas. The outlook from the DanceEats cafe is particularly evocative with the iron arches along the water's edge.

Charcoal drawings by Suffolk artist Valerie Irwin of the construction of the new Ipswich Waterfront including the new Jerwood DanceHouseCharcoal drawings by Suffolk artist Valerie Irwin of the construction of the new Ipswich Waterfront including the new Jerwood DanceHouse

Another image shows the original wide stairs leading down from the first floor. These stairs are no longer in place and are a reminder of how over the last ten years the building has continued to evolve as the demands on the venue have changed. The area once occupied by the stairs now forms into a multi-purpose coffee/bar-lounge, rehearsal-cum-meeting space. It's an active area rather than 'dead' space.

Speaking to Valerie as she walks round the exhibition, she can identify individuals from their body language. She doesn't paint portraits of the workmen but rather captures their body language, how they stand and how they move.

"It's intuitive. I don't really know how I do it. I think I am able to get inside people and capture something that's 'them'.

Valerie is pleased that apart from the drawings which have all ready been donated to the Ipswich Borough Council collection, every single image from her Ipswich Waterfront Project will be preserved by the new Suffolk Archive facility 'The Hold' and it is hoped that the images will be photographed and digitised and made available to all.

Valerie Irwin's Studios from Silos exhibition is on show at the DanceHouse until September 7.

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