Steve Messam

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Date: August - September 2011

Client: Northamptonshire County Council

Location: Oxford Canal, Braunston, Northamptonshire. UK

Dimensions: variable. (Spire height 4.5m)

Materials: Waterproof Nylon over wooden frame

Fabricator: SunSigns, Kendal (plywood frame). Small Fab, Penrith (Steel cradle)

Engineering Drawings: FosketHylton

Further information: FLOW website


A landscape installation. Seven red 5m textile spires situated in half a mile of the Oxford Canal around Braunston, Northamptonshire.

The piece was commissioned by Northamptonshire County Council for the FLOW programme highlighting the journeys of water in the county.

The artwork was designed to be discovered by boat or on foot - both from the towpath, but also visible from the network of public footpaths in the surrounding countryside. Northamptonshire, despite being a watershed county, is relatively flat. The paths of canals and rivers through this landscape are pretty much lost with few elevated viewing points.

On one level, by placing vertical structures along the length of the canal, it plotted the route of the canal and revealed the otherwise unapparent undulations in the landscape. From the canal the spires appeared as a series of reveals - never seeing more than three at any one time. As visual focal points they also revealed a series of composed views of the landscape from the canal and echoed the spire of the village church - known as the cathedral of the canals.

The spires also reference Northamptonshire as the county of ‘Spires and Squires’. As part of the research for the piece I created the first audit of spires within the county - there are currently 84 in total - and documented around half of them. A community involvement weekend created a smaller installation of 84 two-foot high spires floating on a lake at Oundle in the shadow of the tallest spire in the county.

A subsequent work - NeneNine - will see nine red spires floating on a one-mile stretch of the River Nene near Oundle late April 2012.