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Ancient carvings inspire forward looking sculpture
Thursday 02 March 2023

An article by Mark Brown on theguardian.com - ‘Message to the not yet’: Olafur Eliasson plans sky mirror for Cumbria coast - reports on the contemporary artist Olafur Eliasson who has been commissioned to create an outdoor tide-trapping sculpture which has been inspired by prehistoric carvings and which seeks a vision of the future.

prehistoric cup and ring carvings northern Europe Neolithic Bronze Ages sculpture Olafur Eliasson Cumbria coast Robert Macfarlane
An artist’s impression of Your Daylight Destination, the provisionally titled work by Olafur Eliasson that will reflect the sky in tide water on a Cumbrian beach. Photograph: Deep Time.

A monumental mirror to the sky is to be created in a wildly beautiful but little visited stretch of coastline for Olafur Eliasson’s first permanent outdoor artwork in the UK. Eliasson is one of the world’s most popular artists, known for his mesmerising, often mind-bending experiments with nature and the weather. In a collaboration with the nature writer Robert Macfarlane, Eliasson has won a contest to create a landmark public artwork for the west Cumbrian coastline.

prehistoric cup and ring carvings northern Europe Neolithic Bronze Ages sculpture Olafur Eliasson Cumbria coast Robert Macfarlane
A cup and ring carvings site in Northumberland. Image: Bradshaw Foundation.

The Eliasson team hopes to “astonish” people. Provisionally titled Your Daylight Destination, the idea is to use a beach near the village of Silecroft as a stage for an artwork which uses the twice-daily tides to create a thing, they hope, of wonder.

A 30-metre steel elliptical basin will be installed on the mud flats, like a sea vessel which has just landed. At high tide it will be submerged and when the tide goes out the water will remain in the basin. There will be a viewing platform and from there, looking through rings, the basin will – because of optical trickery – appear circular and be like a mirror, reflecting the sun, moon, sky and weather.

Eliasson, a Danish-Icelandic artist, said he was excited at the prospect of having a permanent work in the UK. “Sometimes you feel fortunate to be an artist because it is a beautiful landscape, special people and it’s public,” he said. “Robert is a wonderful wordsmith so I was very humbled and grateful for the opportunity to participate.” Eliasson said he was excited by the west Cumbrian weather and its incredible sunsets. “It is quite beautiful weather, even when it rains … but you don’t find a lot of tourist brochures advertising the wonderful rain of the area.”

A starting point for the idea was an event in Iceland three years ago when a funeral was held for its first glacier lost to climate breakdown. A plaque was left which was a letter to the future explaining how humans knew how it had happened and what needed to be done. “Only you know if we did it,” read the last line. Eliasson said he asked MacFarlane something along the lines of: “Maybe we could do a project that could be about listening to messages of your not yet living version of yourself?” MacFarlane was interested and talked about the “will-have-been” perspective he writes about in his 2019 book Underland.

He also drew Eliasson’s attention to prehistoric cup and ring carvings made across northern Europe in the Neolithic and bronze ages. Some of the most famous examples are on boulders in the Lake District valleys of Grasmere, Langdale and Crummock. In the planned artwork the pool is effectively the cup, looked at through rings from a platform on the dunes. Macfarlane said the hope was to make Copeland district’s “hidden coast” visible.

The planned work is part of a wider art programme called Deep Time, which will also feature smaller permanent art works along the Lake District coast. It has been commissioned by Copeland borough council using money from the government’s coastal communities fund.

It is hoped the Eliasson work would be in place within two years.

Click here for the Rock Art of Northumberland

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