Notes on the Earthscapes exhibition at Bridport Arts Centre, curated by Sherborne House Arts
Part 1: The Project straightforwardly Described
A SCALE MODEL of a sculpture to be sited either side of the new Dorchester to Weymouth Relief Road has gone on show for the first time.
It’s on display at Bridport Arts Centre as part of Sherborne House Arts’ Earthscapes exhibition.
The work by sculptor Richard Harris shows some 28 boulders gradually rising on steel poles reaching to 3m (10ft) above the Southdown Ridge.
All the rocks - weighing between one and eight tonnes - are sourced from the 1.6m tonnes of material moved from the site where work on the road has been taking place.
If it gets the go-ahead, the sculpture will be on both sides of the road and will curve off up the slopes of the cutting following the natural geological strata.
The excavated rocks are between 160 and 65 million years old and started being formed in what would have been a tropical lagoon. The concretions are formed around small matter such as a leaf or a fossil and steadily build up over millions of years solidifying by chemical processes.
Mr Harris said: “I was asked to consider the landscape, context of the whole road and having worked on several proposals for different sites this is the idea that I feel is the strongest and most appropriate. Some of the geology has been exposed by the cutting but will eventually become less visible as the grass grows.
“This proposal puts the geology back where it was but visible continuing up above the hill indicating where it would have been before it was weathered away.”
Mr Harris said he had been involved with the project since January last year making many visits to the site and consulting with geologists.
He said: “This idea came in the late summer and only came about when the work had started and the stones had been revealed.
“The heavier stones will rise up from the ground and will get progressively smaller as they run through the air to the top of the slope.
“What I am trying to do is give an inspiring image as people come into Weymouth and to reveal the geology in a dramatic way.”
The idea of incorporating art in relation to the road was initially proposed in the Weymouth and Portland Commissioning Plan for 2012.
It stated that public art could be used to make the £87m road which is due to open in Spring next year – more attractive for drivers.
The work is being supported by Arts Council England, South West and Dorset County Council.
Mr Harris is now working with Skanska, the contractors, Dorset County Council and his own engineers to develop the project.
Part 2: ‘Earthscapes’ as an exhibition title
THERE AREN’T many better words in the English language than ‘scape’. It means so much and is so capable of forming suggestive associations. Brickscape, prisonscape, cityscape, mudscape, hedgescape, landscape, moonscape, earthscape… It’s a brilliant word for conjuring up an external scene or, indeed, an externalised one – as in moodscape or mindscape.
Then there is the word ‘scape’ taken by itself. It’s long been used as a shortened form of ‘escape’ – ‘scape’ breaks away and soon ends up leading an outlawry of meanings: a ‘scape’ is a fart; a transgression due to thoughtlessness; an outrageous sin; a slip of the tongue; a clerical error.
‘Scape’ can also be used to describe the shaft of a column, or the long stalk of a flower rising directly out of its root.
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins used ‘scape’ to denote an impression or reflection of the individual quality of a thing or an action; its quiddity, its real nature or essence.
So you can start to see why an exhibition called Earthscapes is always going to be appealing, even before we get started on that titular coinage.
Why earthscapes and not landscapes? Perhaps because ‘land’ speaks too much of ownership and class, of power and authority – whereas ‘earth’ still escapes from some of those human forms? The earth, physically and mentally, is a space that none of us can ever truly hope to control – not forever – and space of course is an anagram of scape. At which point – at the mention of anagram – your mind can start to run away with possibilities (yes, to scape), because earth is also an anagram of heart.
So you can have earthscapes as ‘heartscapes’ or ‘heartspaces’ or ‘hearts paces’; pluck out the word art and you get ‘she art scape’, or ‘he art scapes’; and so on and on…
Part 3: The Relief Road Art Work as a Work of Art
You might regard everything written above as rather wild, but it is all relevant to the Dorchester to Weymouth relief road, and to Richard Harris’s initial models.
They’re fiendishly difficult designs to photograph, and if you’re interested you should go to see them for yourself, but I hope for now the pictures here show roughly what’s on display.
So, scapes: relevant how?
Firstly: in the crudest way, there will be people who regard what’s proposed as arty-farty nonsense – and, remember, ‘to let a scape’ does mean to break wind…
But let’s chuff on.
Secondly: look at the way the stones are upheld on shafts / columns / stalks – call them what you will – they are all ‘scapes’ and there are many different ways of viewing their form and layout. The stones for the real art work will come from excavations along the route. They will – you could argue – look like the severed heads on poles that used to be stood at the entrances to towns and cities (Dorchester once used to be gristled with the rotting heads of Catholic Martyrs who’d been hung, drawn and quartered). From that perspective, the two lines of scapes, moving down either side of the road, represent a triumphal assertion of power by Dorset County Council and its contractors.
Look what we have done! We have disembowelled the earth! We have built this road and routed our enemies!
Thirdly: and for what?
More still to follow: writer is thinking (when he gets chance)!