As this blog is relatively new, with still under a dozen articles published, and still finding its own voice in the world of art, I hadn’t imagined that an important debate on my doorstep about art, more specifically about monumental sculpture within the landscape would be something that I would feel confident sticking my nose into, but here I go.
Ascendant: The Elizabeth monument was proposed a few years ago by Viscount Devonport who wished to erect a monument to the queen. There was a brief contest where a winning design was chosen, the artist Simon Hitchens won this and would be awarded the commission to build what is essentially a 180-foot high red metal spire in a location which is close to the highest point in a group of central Northumberland hills, The Wannies. There have been challenges to the planning permission, to the plans and the design themselves until finally, Devonport was forced to go to the planning inspectorate to overthrow the decision of the local council, and to grant permission for this artwork in direct violation of the wishes of the local people and their attempts to use local democracy to keep their landscape wild.
The wilds o the wannie is a Northumbrian, and heard a little further away too, it describes a place that is out in the middle of nowhere, hard to get to and desolate. The wannies are still desolate and windswept, but they are bounded on both sides now by major roads, arguably they run through the hills, but that’s another argument. Between them is a small road between Knowlesgate and Risedale, setting off along the eight-mile road through the hills, you pass the tree of soles, a tree that has had shoes hanging from its branches for as long as I can remember, maybe even longer still. Around the middle of this road, there is a laneway leading over the A68, three miles away and it leads through a wind farm which is infesting this section of the wannies.
The windfarm here is bad enough, it’s visible for a very long way, some sections of Hadrian’s Wall, the site of the battle of Heavenfield, even from a hill thirty miles away at Kiln Pit Hill. So, if the wind farm can be seen from such a distance, then a taller monument should be able to be seen also… or should it. Unlike the icy white turbines which spin like demented daisies on the high moor, Ascendant will be a rusty red colour, so not as strikingly visible, certainly not at a distance. So, why the furore?
Do the locals believe it will ruin an already ruined landscape? Do they actually still think the wannies can be considered a wilderness given its proximity to major roads and infrastructure? Are they just nimby’s? or have they just had enough of having projects that no one asked for, which have little economic value within the local economy thrust into their space? If I was to hazard a guess, I would say it was the latter of those that have sparked such a vicious row over a monument in their midst.
The Elizabeth landmark website has a few images of what the completed landmark will look like close up, and I have to say, I like it. I may not like the setting they are choosing for it, but the artwork itself is quite nice. What they don’t do however is show what It will look like from a distance. This omission is something that leaves it to the imaginations of those around the assumption that it will be some kind of monstrosity when in fact it’s a considered design.
The artist Simon Hitchens posted about it on his social media soon after permission was granted, he has been inundated with angry messages from those in the community around the area who all opposed the landmark, but have now had their opinions and wishes, which they fought hard to have heard, thrown out by a faceless bureaucrat who in all likelihood has never even seen the area where the monument is to be erected.
The local Facebook campaign group, Keep the Wannies Wild have posted a statement of their disappointment at the outcome of the review and have stepped up actions to draw attention to the artwork before it is constructed and shoehorned into an environment where it may not have as much impact as it would if it had been say, in a city centre setting where the number of people viewing it would be greater.
Another issue with this landmark is that it honours the queen and commonwealth. At a time where the recontextualization of our history is occurring to highlight the misdeeds of the past, and where statues of white men, in particular, have been vilified as pressing an agenda of white supremacy by the iconoclasts in groups like black lives matter, is it really wise to be throwing up new monuments dedicated to the commonwealth at all? It could in retrospect become a place for counter-protest, guerrilla artworks critiquing the installation itself or even open vandalism.
As I have already said, I am in support of this artwork being put up, but in a more appropriate setting than the one proposed. Northumberland does have much more wild spots than what the wannies are these days, but the accessibility of those spots is nowhere near as accessible as the wilds o the wannies themselves.
Keep the Wannies Wild (Facebook) https://www.facebook.com/groups/692227884581665
The Elizabeth Landmark https://www.elizabethlandmark.co.uk/
One thought on “Ascendant: The Elizabeth Landmark”
They don’t show it from a distance , for example from the north looking south as it will look quite ok against the giant wind turbines. The wannies are not wild you can walk to wannie top in 25 mins . For villages like Ridsdale and Woodburn it could generate extra tourism . I think the thought of a rich man putting his idea up is what people are against. I tried once to cycle through his estate , even though on the map it was a bridle way I was told I could not go through the gates were padlocked . So I don’t mind the idea of the monument but not sure about his notion of what he is trying to do or achieve . Oh and where the money is coming from to provide for it . So at the end of the day I’m still sat on a fence as the real facts seem very hard to find . I am a resident of West Woodburn