This gallery in the great outdoors is part of a network of sculpture trails constructed along Britain's disused Victorian railways by Sustrans, a charity founded 12 years ago to build and maintain trails and to commission sculpture.
The Consett-Sunderland route follows one of the country's oldest railways, where steam locomotives and horse-drawn wagons once worked the track: the line once served the largest complex of steelworks in Europe. Today, the trail boasts a serpentine mound of earth shaped by Andy Goldsworthy to slither along a quarter-mile stretch, and Sally Matthews' cows made of scrap metal (pictured above). The sculptures punctuate a journey, lend character to a path and inspire enjoyment of public art.
As David Gray, project manager in the North-East, puts it: 'We like to think that for a lot of people . . . who might not otherwise visit galleries . . . it demystifies art and sculpture a little bit. And perhaps we get the habitues of art galleries on their bikes . . .'
West Midlands Arts Public Art Programme's entry by Kevin Atherton, an artist from London, was an 'Independent'/ Gulbenkian plaque winner.
Atherton was commissioned by West Midlands Arts to produce a work of art to 'brighten up' the railway line between Birmingham and Wolverhampton. 'It's an infamous stretch. Queen Victoria ordered that the blinds in her carriage be lowered whenever her train passed through.' He decorated the line with 12 steel horses - six going one way and six the other. Having left the first horse on the platform of Wolverhampton station, the traveller gradually glimpses others from the windows of the train. To Atherton, it is like the story of the tortoise and the hare. 'There is a version in which the tortoise organises all his mates and the hare passes a succession of different tortoises who all look the same. That is what appears to happen on the train. You are looking at static horses, but travelling at 80mph, so the horse seems to be racing you.' Atherton hopes for a reaction to his horses: 'I want someone to write some graffiti on them to spell out a message. That's not vandalism - it's a positive response. If no one does it soon, perhaps I'll do it myself.'
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