An art project at Pooley Country Park
To spend time quietly in nature, in the same spot, observing the cloud formations and changing direction of the wind is a calming experience. To have the opportunity to witness a sculpture slowly growing up from the ground towards the sky over a period of weeks, verges on meditation. At least, it felt like that for me, as project assistant on HCIBD – a participatory art project created by PP at Pooley Country Park in North Warwickshire this summer.
The sculpture sits on what was Pithead No.1 when Pooley was a colliery. Closed in the mid-60’s, the site has since played host to new-age travellers, motorway construction teams, narrowboat dwellers and now families as they enjoy a day-out in the fresh air.
Despite the constant rumble of the M42, the park has an air of tranquility that belies its industrial past and a vast array of flora and fauna that is slowly taking back and healing the scarred landscape. The colliery may be gone but the memories of those who worked here and for whom mining was in their blood, live on through stories, photographs and artifacts.
HCIBD is inspired by a quote from Tony Mellors, a former miner at the site who has spoken about the teamwork that was essential to life down the pit. Fifty-seven interlocking sheets of blood-red Perspex form a pyramid, a house of cards, each sheet dependent on the next to make the structure. The resulting sculpture is reminiscent of a Hindu Yantra – the maze-like patterns used in meditation. The over-riding shape is that of a giant upward-pointing triangle – symbolic of masculine energy – rising up from the place where men once descended hundreds of metres in a terrifying drop. The more subtle shapes within are the rows of downward-pointing triangles – the symbol of female energy – less overt but just as much part of the design. It just depends which way you view it. This reminds me of the way PP have explored the notion of support: all the wives and mothers from the past who supported their menfolk, the pit props, the motorway bridge and the pledges made by visitors to safeguard the future of the park.
HCIBD has been constructed piece by piece by members of the public who have been curious enough to wander across and see what is going on. As people have added their bit to the sculpture, they have also added to the story of Pooley: the woman who worked on the switchboard in the fifties and was visibly moved to be back for the first time; the man whose tales of rides in the cage raise the hairs on the back of your neck; the sons, so proud of their Dad’s profession; and the daughters, who can lovingly count the generations of mining in their families. It has been a privilege to hear the recollections of such a strong and brave community.
And when the crowds go home, and I have sat alone with the artwork, with maybe only a butterfly or dragonfly for company, it is then that you feel its silent power. The reflection of clouds may drift carelessly across the many facets of the sculpture but its energy is a dynamic conversation between what lies below and the sky above; between the grit of the miner’s life and the future potential of this intriguing place.
How Could It Be Done Without the Other?
October 1 2012