reaching north

client: east riding county council | size: 27 x 64 meters | site: humber bridge roundabout, east riding, yorkshire | material: stainless steel

“Reaching for the world, as our lives do,
As all lives do, reaching that we may give
The best of what we are and hold as true:
Always it is by bridges that we live.”

Philip Larkin
From ‘Bridge for the living’

Two grand elongated elegant forms swell like a magnified raindrop and taper to join high in the air. They lean towards and push upon each other, resolved in an eternal moment of truce. One side replies to the strength of the other. Two vast chambers of conversation, encouraging and provoking, declaring independence and character in the rhetoric of a strong-minded people.

Reaching North comprises a single vast stainless steel arch that swells and sweeps from the ground in a grand and commanding arc. The move from earth to sky plots the wholly natural trajectory: a stone being thrown into the air or a ball kicked into the sky only to fall to earth again. The swelling forms at the base speak of the Herculean effort to raise itself from the ground. The arch climbs to a peak and descends to the ground setting up a perpetual rhythm, rising and falling like the tide in a perfect balance of equilibrium and poise.

Reaching North is both a visual challenge and a sympathetic response to the grand skies, industrial heritage and expansive landscape of East Riding. It stands 50 meters tall like the feet of a vast Colossus, bridging the entrance to a singular land. It marries daring with sensitivity, complexity of thought with simplicity of form. Rising high into the sky, Reaching North traces an arch of shiny enigmatic clarity. But rather than being merely confrontational, it seeks to complement the industrial monuments and open spaces that provide its backdrop.

The surface at the base of the work shows the history of its making. Plates of polished stainless steel, pressed and worked are joined in a latticework of forms that resemble the field patters or dry stonewalls of Yorkshire. And as it rises the chaotic pattern orders and resolves into a single unified span. The polished surface reflects its surroundings, absorbing on its surface the land that it inhabits, thus forging an intimate link with place. This rhythmical reflecting and echoing can be read in many ways. As a direct reference to the two towers of the Humber Bridge, a type of solidified inverse of the wires that suspend the bridge, or the necessity of opposites in reasoned discourse, two sides of an argument. It is about cooperation and of the value of the individual.

The piece’s liquidity deliberately mirrors the site’s historical origins. The shiny surface brilliance of the piece suggests the elemental presence of water in its eternal state of springing from the earth. And not only is water an integral part of the landscape from the open sea to the Humber estuary, it is also evident in the chalk that Reaching North is sited on. Open and inclusive, the piece thus mixes past and present in its synergy of forms.

Reaching North is a resolutely abstract work. It does not seek to interpret traditional emblems or received visual codes for the essential character of Yorkshire, but to exemplify some of its most enduring characteristics. Honesty, ambition, tenacity and grandeur. Its visual language is not descriptive but evocative.

Reaching North lifts the eye of the viewer high into the sky, only to return it back to the gravity bound volume on the other side. A perpetual tide of ascent and decent. It embodies grace, strength and ambition. Like the Humber Bridge itself it suspends mass over air, yet Reaching North introduces the metaphysical to the material. Its form hints at a drop of water, neurological connections, at shimmering shoals of fish or elastically stretched materials, yet it remains resolutely even stubbornly itself. It is a bridge, an arch, mercury or air, a pneumatic form made solid.

Motorists will respond to its energy and instinctively enjoy the tensions it sets up. People will be able look through the gracious over-arching structures. Indeed, the play of negative spaces is an essential part of the design. As the vistas shift, so do the lines of sight, and the sculpture affords a series of carefully calibrated angles, making the most of the three-dimensional axis of the site and marking out the North – South – East – West axes on the map.

The ambiguity imbedded in the title, Reaching North is a direct response to Philip Larkin’s poem written in April 1981 for the opening on the Humber Bridge. In it he reflects on the “domes and cranes and enormous skies” and the “wind-muscled wheatfields.” He wonders aloud how the new bridge will change the place he had grown to love, and answers his wondering in his final verse where he transforms the “swallow-fall and rise” of the new bridge into an icon for the aspiration of the human spirit. Complex, demanding, tense and forward looking, but above all reaching for the world.

Reaching North will be a dramatic, assertive and commanding presence in the landscape. A gateway, a landmark and a poetic vision.