PLANS for a massive £2.7m sculpture modelled on a pair of tights were unveiled in Middlesbrough yesterday, heralding a recession-defying art project called Tees Valley Giants.
It consists of five artworks by world-renowned sculptor Anish Kapoor in collaboration with Arup’s celebrated structural designer Cecil Balmond.
The first piece, called Temenos (Greek for sanctuary), is due to be in place next summer in the Middlesbrough regeneration hotspot of Middlehaven, a stone’s throw from Middlesbrough Football Club’s Riverside Stadium, the new Middlesbrough College and the famous Transporter Bridge.
The plan is for the other “giants” to be erected in Stockton, Darlington, Hartlepool and Redcar & Cleveland within the next 10 years – although funding for these still has to be found.
It was Joe Docherty, chief executive of Tees Valley Regeneration, who had the idea of approaching the Turner Prize-winning Anish Kapoor – whose recent works include a New York memorial to British victims of the 9/11 atrocity – to design a headline-grabbing handful of landmark sculptures.
Yesterday he said he had become frustrated at people saying to him: “What you need is your Angel of the North.”
He added: “I did agree but I also thought about what had made that possible – the ambition and the willingness to take risks.
“You need the circumstances to be right and I think the time is right now in Tees Valley.
“When I presented this project to Steve Gibson (chairman of Middlesbrough Football Club), he said, ‘If Middlesbrough can pull this off, then Middlesbrough has changed’.”
Reeling off other cities which have raised their profile by investing in stunning art and architecture, he said: “All these have had the confidence and the ambition to take risks but in the final analysis they do these things because they can. Today, I believe, demonstrates that Tees Valley can too.”
Funding for Temenos has come from Government initiative The Northern Way, regional development agency One NorthEast, Arts Council England, the Northern Rock Foundation, Middlesbrough FC and developer BioRegional Quintain who are overseeing the transformation of Middlehaven into a sustainable community with homes, offices and leisure facilities.
Alan Clarke, chief executive of One NorthEast, said the Tees Valley Giants would benefit the whole region, raising aspirations and demonstrating confidence at a difficult time.
“I know pieces of public art are very much a personal thing and people have their own strong views about them, but I went two years ago to a presentation by Anish and Cecil and was hugely impressed that they were showing an interest in this region, bearing in mind that they work all over the world, but also by their vision,” he said.
“We were awestruck by the quality of their proposal and by the catalytic effect on regeneration this can have on the whole region.”
Anish Kapoor, who was born in India but has lived in the UK since 1972, is known for innovative art on a large scale. He said he had been “floored” by the ambition of Joe Docherty but had responded “since I suppose I’m an ambitious fellow too”.
Temenos is reminiscent of earlier works such as Taratantara, which was constructed in the shell of Baltic after internal demolition work in 1999, and of Marsyas, shown at Tate Modern.
But they were made of PVC. Despite the early experiments with the tights, the Tees Valley pieces will be made of steel – although no construction contract has yet been signed.
The artist said he had settled on abstract shapes that would look different depending on where they were viewed from.
Temenos will be 110m long and almost 50m high. Despite its airy look, it will weigh 66 tonnes.
It will consist of a steel mesh cylinder stretched between two rings – one circular, the other oval – and be anchored by steel cables and a mast, set at an angle.
“One thing which will happen with this work is a changing sense of scale,” said Mr Kapoor. “There will be points, moments, where the rings appear to float in and out of each other.”
Sri Lanka-born Mr Balmond, whose latest triumph is the new headquarters of Chinese State TV in Beijing, said he was inspired by the industrial heritage of the Tees Valley.
He said as a young man he had worked for local firm Cleveland Bridge and had since enjoyed taking holidays with his family in the North East.
A formal planning application for Temenos will be submitted today to Middlesbrough Borough Council.