The artwork has been commissioned by the Whitgift Foundation and Croydon BID to recreate Croydon's fabled crocus valley, celebrating a coming together of the borough's early and recent history.
It is thought that Croydon's name is taken from the Anglo Saxon words ‘Croh-Denu’ - meaning ‘valley of the crocus’ - which suggests that the Romans farmed crocus flowers in Croydon for their saffron, a valuable spice used in food before the arrival of the Saxons.
Aether & Hemera’s artwork, a canopy of colourful origami crocus flowers, will be installed in the Bellmouth are of North End in time for the opening of the Festival on June 24th and will remain in place until the end of July.
The Heritage Festival runs from June 24th - 30th under the theme of 'Evolution' and includes a series of related creative workshops, talks, tours and performances.
On Saturday June 24th, origami flower workshops for children will take place in the Whitgift Shopping Centre, while crocus corms from Croydon Saffron Central, an award winning community garden, will be distributed to members of the public to take home and plant in their own gardens. When these flower in the autumn they will create a new crocus valley across the borough.
Croydon Saffron Central was established by volunteers as a pop-up saffron farm on a building site in central Croydon in 2015. A crowd-funding campaign raised £4,265 to plant 20,000 Crocus Sativus corms which flowered in autumn 2015 and 2016. Thanks to over 300 volunteers, the gardens have now grown 13,000 crocus flowers and harvested 70g of valuable saffron by hand, using tweezers to avoid damaging the flowers.
Like the Romans, artists Aether & Hemera – real names Gloria Ronchi and Claudio Benghi - originally come from Italy and now live in England. Their home town is Milan, where Saffron Risotto is a traditional delicacy. Since founding their artistic practice in 2008 they have exhibited nationally and internationally in festivals, public areas and arts centres including: Enlighten Canberra, Australia (2017); Light City, Baltimore, US (2016), Amsterdam Light Festival, The Netherlands (2016 and 2014) and ArtsIT at Hangar Bicocca, Milan (2013).
Aether & Hemera, artists Gloria Ronchi and Claudio Benghi, comment: “For us, origami is a metaphor of hope, transformation and evolution. One flat sheet can be transformed into almost anything. We hope that our Crocus Valley will enchant and inspire creativity in people of all ages in Croydon.”
Martin Corney, CEO of The Whitgift Foundation comments: “We are delighted to welcome Aether & Hemera to Croydon and hope that their artwork will help residents and visitors alike to see Croydon in a new light. The town is on the brink of evolution, both culturally and economically, so this is the perfect moment to think about what has happened here in the past to make Croydon the place that it is today.”
Matthew Sims, CEO of Croydon Business Improvement District comments: “On behalf of the business community, Croydon BID is proud to support this wonderful public artwork for Croydon Heritage Festival. The Crocus installation will offer a splash of summer colour to North End and will undoubtedly provide a great opportunity for residents, visitors and businesses to reflect on our history, but look forward as Croydon evolves.”
Ally McKinlay, founder of Croydon Saffron Central comments: "Supporters of Croydon Saffron Central will take great delight in seeing Croydon's flower elevated to new heights and shared in such a popular space. We're very fond of this beautiful flower and hope many more will love how it connects the community through our town’s name."
Paula Murray, creative director for Croydon Council comments: “This the first artwork of its kind in Croydon and we are thrilled to be hosting these international artists and their contribution to the creativity of the Borough. There is so much to celebrate in Croydon and Crocus Valley highlights two wonderful events at either end of our town’s history – the earliest Roman settlements and the recent community endeavour of volunteers at Croydon Saffron Central. I hope that it inspires many more.”
Roman and Saxon artefacts have been found in various locations around Croydon. You can see many of these on public display at the Museum of Croydon at Croydon Clocktower, including a whole Saxon skeleton found under a driveway in Riddlesdown Road in 2014. The Museum of London Archaeology Time Truck will be also be offering Saxon artefact handling in North End on Saturday June 24th, with objects discovered from nearby digs.
For those interested in discovering the whole story of Croydon’s Evolution – from the Romans to the present day – a Croydon Heritage Festival presentation will be made at Old Palace School on Monday June 26th at 7.30pm, supported by the Croydon Partnership.
There will be a Heritage Flowers for Bees Forum held at Croydon Saffron Central on June 24th, when the garden will also be inviting the community to come and take away their Crocus Sativus corms. Croydon Saffron Central is currently creating a giant rainbow flag for Croydon Pridefest on July 15th 2017, which will be made up from flowers and creative installations donated by the community.