The Colour Happened on the Inside

The Tricorn centre was designed by Owen Luder Partnerships in 1962 and opened in 1966. In its early days, it won the Civic Trust Award for its ‘exciting visual composition’ whilst at the same time being voted as Britain’s fourth ugliest building in a poll of 500 designers. Nearly 40 years later, the building is being demolished to make way for a more standard retail outlet. Over that period the centre has achieved a rich and chequered history holding memories good and bad for residents and visitors to Portsmouth.

In October 2003, Jeannie Driver began work on her project ‘the colour happened on the inside’ for the hoardings on part of the perimeter fence around the demolition site of the Tricorn. Using Marmite jar graphics (‘you either love it or hate it’) as a starting point, people were asked to provide statements about the Tricorn centre and their memories, opinions and thoughts on it. About half the comments were gathered prior to the installation through advertising in the local press, in local businesses such as Dress Code (a shop that used to be located in the Tricorn), and various days of interviewing market traders, shoppers and clubbers who used to frequent the centre. E-mail correspondence was useful to this process and allowed people to participate remotely. Due to the notoriety of the building, people actively sought opportunities to give their opinions and many comments were added to the “empty” Marmite jars on hoardings when they were installed on site

‘the colour happened on the inside’ was emblazoned in text across the hoardings to recognise and celebrate that the Tricorn did have a “life”, and held valued memories and experiences for many. Meanwhile, the media were rewriting the history of the centre as a failure economically, socially and aesthetically – the voices of the people who had developed their small businesses (as opposed to high street chains), musical and fashion culture, and community were ignored.

Using the graphic language of signwriters and advertising, printed words appeared on the hoardings to offset the handwritten comments on the Marmite jars. This was a deliberate device used by the artist in order to detract from the expectation of the graffiti and tagging that might appear on the boards. This added authority to the project.

The piece became a site where people could have a voice on the Tricorn and it’s history. It encouraged debate outside of the aggressive media campaign to get the building demolished.

The project was initiated by Portsmouth City Council and funded by Centro’s Miller, the developer of the site, as part of their social responsibility strategy around the Tricorn while the site was prepared for demolition and rebuild. When Jeannie Driver won the tender to make a socially interactive public art work on the hoardings in Autumn 2003, there were assurances that the project would be relocated to a different part of the perimeter fence during the site’s redevelopment. Less than a year later the Tricorn is gradually disappearing, and the project ‘the colour happened on the inside’ (or Stand and Stare as it was also called) has been destroyed. In the end, the work was in situ on the hoardings for less than 8 weeks and this online version of the project is an attempt to recreate some of the spirit of the piece and the memory of the Tricorn itself.

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For a more detailed article on this work see Brute Ugly: heritage, memory and decorated boards (PDF 53K)

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