Design Workshops


On 17th January 2021 the UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced new laws to protect memorials, stating that the policy of ‘retain and explain’ will be applied and historic statues will only be removed in the most exceptional circumstances.

On 9th March 2021 the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was unveiled in Parliament proposing, among other things, sentences of up to 10 years for criminal damage to a memorial.

These two pieces of legislation narrow the possibilities for creative contextualisation of contested statues by increasing the risk to participants and raising the legal barriers for their removal. However, they might also be seen as a challenge; a specific brief to the designer-activist: the statues must remain where they are, undamaged, but their hidden meanings should be explained.

At Studio MASH we are interested in developing a toolkit for recontextualising statues. The toolkit might be employed by activists as part of a demonstration, or it might be used by an institution in an effort to ‘retain and explain’ their statues. Either way, the aim remains the same: to raise awareness of hidden histories and visualise alternative inclusive symbolic urban landscapes without damaging statues. 

In the absence of adequate precedents for the ‘retain and explain’ process, we have begun a series of open design workshops on the subject. Our first workshop brought together sculptors, digital artists, painters, urban designers, architecture students, architects, arts programme coordinators and museum curators from a variety of backgrounds. We discussed the history of interventions around the Colston statue in Bristol and the two aforementioned pieces of government legislation as a starting point. We walked around the City of London – home to an extraordinary palimpsest of memorialisation – and discussed what makes a person worth remembering and the persistence of the Victorian bronze and stone memorial aesthetic.

The second half of the workshop focused on design responses to the ‘retain and explain’ challenge. We chose four well known contested memorials (Clive, Rhodes and Melville – mentioned above – and the Duke of Sutherland memorial in Golspie, Scotland) and used drawing and collage to intervene on the memorials and in the public spaces around them.

Although small in scale, the workshop was wide-reaching, productive and empowering. We hope to continue the project with larger sessions, a more diverse group of participants and the involvement of museums and heritage bodies. Ultimately, our aim is to test the limits of ‘retain and explain’ and to demonstrate the importance of radical creative input in the critical conservation process.

Read more about this project in our upcoming article in Harvard Graduate School of Design's OBL\QUE journal on critical conservation.