Former Londonderry army block to go green for art

Image caption,
Ackroyd & Harvey covered the Theaterhaus Gessnerallee in Zurich in grass in 1993.

It was once an accommodation block for married soldiers, but now the Cunningham building in Londonderry's Ebrington Square is about to be transformed - with grass.

The building's dark stone facade will be covered with a 'pelt' of the greenest grass by artists Ackroyd & Harvey.

It is part of a UK City of Culture project by Derry gallery, Void.

"It's about taking disused spaces and transforming them into garden spaces, but this is an unusual approach which really pushes the boundaries," said Maoliosa Boyle from Void.

"It's very much about working with the architecture of the site.

"The Cunningham building is such a beautiful building, it'll put another spotlight on it and it will take on a different form and meaning because of that," she explained.

Artist Dan Harvey said he and his partner Heather Ackroyd have been working together for 23 years.

"Living grass is a material we've been using for all that time, and we try and push the material as far as we can.

"This is a fantastic opportunity to do something on a very large scale," he said.

"It will look like a pelt, a pelt of grass," said Heather. "It's very sensual, and transcends our normal perception of the grass.

"The whole process usually takes about 18 months with all the developing and the planning, so that when we actually arrive on site things are in place and we know exactly what quantity of materials we need.

Image caption,
The Cunningham Building will be covered in a 'pelt' of grass from late August.

"We're going to be arriving at the end of August and then we'll be around for a week preparing everything and germinating the grass seed.

"Then we'll be working on the building for about four days.

"The whole building will be under wraps - it'll be scaffolded, and we'll have nets, so it'll be a case of watering it and making sure the grass is growing well, then we'll open to the public a week later."

Dan said the hardest part will be keeping the grass damp.

"You have to be very careful, especially the way we grow the grass.

"We put on a very thin substrata of clay mix, and if that dries before the grass has grown very much, it'll literally shrink, crack and fall off, so the whole piece has to be kept damp all the time.

"We were hoping in Ireland that wouldn't be a problem," laughed Dan. "It's a bit like having a young child, you have to be there all the time."

The green facade of the Cunningham building will be on display for about six weeks.

"At this stage we're not saying too much about exactly what it will look like," said Maoliosa Boyle.

"It'll be for people to come across and find about themselves, but they won't be disappointed.

"It's incredible."

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