Created by artist Gordon Young in collaboration with design studio Why Not Associates, a new typographical artwork called the Comedy Carpet now occupies a 1,720 square metre space between Blackpool Tower and the seafront across the road. The artwork (right) is a monumental celebration of Blackpool’s rich and unique comedy heritage, made up of approximately 180,000 letters carved from Indian granite set in specially formulated bright white concrete. The work features monologues, gags, punchlines and catchphrases uttered by the hundreds of comedians from Britain and beyond who have performed at Blackpool over the years.
The artwork was commissioned as part of ReBlackpool, a 15-year regeneration plan to breathe new life into the seaside town, which has been financed by a combination of the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Arts Council, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), and Blackpool Council.
The first part of this scheme saw a series of new headlands built along Blackpool’s seafront which would act as sea defences. “I was brought in by the director of developments as an artist to be involved in all the landscaping, so it wasn’t just engineers and landscape artists working on it,” explains Young. “Blackpool has this extraordinary set of traditions, it’s not a normal town, so a team was put together with that in mind. A historian of tourism in Britain and of Blackpool’s own unique culture was involved too, all of us working as part of a team to keep the sea out and work out how the public could get the most out of the promenade.”
Following a suggestion by Young, one of the new headlands, now called the Tower Festival Headland, was actually manoeuvred to sit directly across the road from the Blackpool Tower. When it was mooted that the headland should have an architectural or design-led link to the tower, Young came up with the idea of a comedy carpet. “In my research I couldn’t believe the history of comedians coming to and performing in Blackpool,” he says. “I also couldn’t believe the poor quality of the more recently built environment around the promenade. The reason I came up with the notion of a carpet is because it’s ridiculously posh. I wanted to give credit to the history of the place in the poshest piece of hard landscaping.”
Young enlisted regular collaborator Andy Altmann of Why Not Associates and the two, with invaluable input from local historian Barry Band, began compiling a list of comedians who have performed at Blackpool, researching each performer, reading dozens of biographies and histories, collating jokes, sketches and catchphrases which they could commemorate in the artwork.
Taking design cues from the vernacular of comedy programmes and posters housed at the archive at the Winter Gardens, and found on eBay and in specialist shops, Altmann and his colleagues at Why Not started to design sections of the Comedy Carpet.
The word ‘carpet’ is perhaps misleading with its suggestions of shag pile and wool, after all the artwork is outside and has to endure more than simply Blackpool’s weather. “The headland, when it’s all finished, will regularly host live events for 20,000 people,” explains Young. “The carpet had to be able to accommodate crowds: part of the spec was that it should last at least 100 years.”
Initially Young had thought that he would get contractors to manufacture the artwork to his design, but in the end he set up a dedicated factory in Hull with regular collaborator Russell Coleman where they could fabricate the Comedy Carpet themselves.No small feat: the artwork is made up of 215 individual 2×4 metre, four-ton, granite, concrete and steel sections.
It took over a year to source (from India) the black and red granite used.
It also took months to formulate the concrete that could flow like cream into the counters of all the letters, some of which are only 30mm high. Now, four years on from concept stage, all the slabs are in place, awaiting one final polish before being sealed. The work will open in early October to a public sure to be impressed by its sheer scale. “It’s far more mental when you stand on it than I’d ever imagined because it’s so big,” says Altmann. “It’s huge,” affirms Young. “You’d be a miserable bastard if you didn’t smile walking across it!”