visual enhancement facilIty (VEF)
The Visual Enhancement Facility (VEF) was created by a small group of artists including myself, in response to the bland, grey and uniform urban environments that were being created in cities across the world. The group shared a single belief that our environments should be unique and bear the stamp of the people who call them home. They should be a riot with colour, tell the stories of their inhabitants, AND feel distinctive and memorable to those who visit, rather than create a seamless blending of urban sprawl that could be anywhere, created for and by anyone.
The VEF delivered a range of guerrilla art projects – projects that were not sanctioned by anyone and did not seek permission to brighten the public spaces created across developments new and old. VEF acted as an anonymous umbrella brand for artists, thinkers, creators and activists to test ideas, experiment and enjoy their urban spaces.
I joined the project in 2010 and chose yarnbombing as my small act of defiance – before yarnbombing became a commissioned activity in cities across the world.
An area to the south of the city centre in Leeds was fast developing, bridging the physical gap between the affluent and prosperous city centre and the residential communities to the south who are often described as ‘deprived’ despite having a wealth of culture, annual events, and a large community that had lived in the area and developed their own identity for more than 50 years. While the regeneration that was taking place was high-end and sensitively done, respecting and celebrating the areas industrial heritage, it was somehow lacking in vibrancy and distinctiveness with a place for everything and everything in its place.
This neat and ordered style of development, while easy on the eye, isn’t how we live our lives and had a feel of a development that could be in any northern town or city with an industrial past.
The project I delivered for the VEF was known as the ‘Grate Yarn Cover Up’ and involved several evenings knitting small, colourful squares that would later be attached to grates concentrated across a one mile radius. After many late night knitting sessions I had reached my goal of creating 100 knitted squares and armed with my woolly protests and a tub of tie wraps I ventured out early one Sunday morning with a mission to make someone’s Monday that little bit brighter.
In total I covered 15 grates with bright and patterned squares and attached a gift tag from the Visual Enhancement Facility linking back to its social media accounts and global community of artists. Within 36 hours all trace of my handiwork had disappeared, cut away by the official maintenance teams, but not before images of them had flooded social media and sparked a debate about the sanitisation and ownership of our urban spaces and who has the right and opportunity for creative expression in those spaces.