A response to 'God's
Bridge' in the North Pennines, UK.
To me the North Pennines are a special place. They are
vast and wild and full of secret places. Landscapes are
built from a multitude of layers. These are both physical
and metaphorical. Physically the land is layers of geology
which in turn reveal themselves like the rings of a tree
trunk - mapping out eons and epochs, not just years. God’s
Bridge is one of those places where the land sheds its
skin and reveals its flesh and bones - its inner workings.
What has happened at Gods Bridge is not unique - it’s
happening all over the north pennines below the ground,
but at that one point there is a gap, an anomaly which
creates a ‘place’. In that confined place the geological
story of that part of the north pennines is most easily
read - one of limestone and water and peat and Vikings and
myth and industry.
In response to that sense of place I want to capture the
wider experience of the landscape and transport the
audience back to there. I wanted to find a solution beyond
visual representation, but also beyond just that hole
through the rock, but plant it firmly within its wider
sense of landscape.
The North Pennines are a lonely landscape – big swathes of
nothing. A great place for solitude. However, remote
places are rarely empty and certainly never silent.
Birdsong has a strange way of summoning up landscapes.
By far the sound that best sums up the vast open
landscapes of the North Pennines for me is the whirl of
the Curlew. The sound comes from way up above and bubbles
across vast distances. It trails off in a descending tone,
a built in doppler effect which seems to accentuate the
vastness of the landscape.
The ‘Curlew Machine’ is a mechanical attempt to recreate
the sound and experience of the call of a curlew high
above the fells and dales of the North Pennines. A small
electric motor will drives a series of cams which in turn
will power small bellows and a ‘whistle’ to emulate the
call in a very analogue and physical process. The
mechanism will be clear to see - presented unenclosed and
on one level works as a piece of kinetic art.
The work is to be presented in the top floor painting
galleries. The acoustics of those galleries will enable
the sound to be heard as a distant call around the whole
of the museum, invoking that original experience of the
distant, lonely Curlew. It’s proximity to the Silver Swan
makes connections of a contemporary approach to an idea of
natural automata. Both can be seen as man’s attempt to
create artificial life - or ‘God Machines’. The presence
of the work within the painting galleries can also be seen
as an extension to the representation of landscapes in
painting and drawings.