A NEW era for public art in Sunderland began yesterdaywith the unveiling of two large sculptures.
The two pieces – giant heads made of steel mesh – go under one title, Looking out, Facing in, and are the work of Frankfurt-based artists Wolfgang Winter and Berthold Hoerbelt.
The £83,000 work has a prominent site between the Stadium of Light and the new Sunderland Aquatic Centre – but the location was determined by what was there before. The mesh heads protect a pair of essential ventilators attached to the underground workings of the old Wearmouth Colliery.
After more than 150 years, the last shift left Wearmouth Colliery in 1993, also bringing to an end eight centuries of deep mining in the Durham coalfield.
The two artists, who met as students and have collaborated ever since on projects around the world, said the Sunderland artwork was inspired by Janus, the Roman god of doorways – and of beginnings and endings.
Often he is portrayed as having two faces looking in opposite directions.
“We wanted something that would be looking forwards to the future but backwards to the history of this place,” said Wolfgang. He said the aim had not been to conceal the two gas vents but to make them integral to the work.
The pair also had the idea that the mesh heads resembled the cages in which canaries were carried into the mines in the old days, the birds being sensitive to the presence of gas.
While the steel pieces were fabricated in Germany and imported to Sunderland, the surfacing and finishing work was carried out by North East firms.
Coun Tom Martin, deputy mayor of Sunderland, said at yesterday’s unveiling that he was a fan of Gateshead’s Angel of the North. “I’m sure this work will also become iconic,” he said.
Dancers Wayne Summerbell and Rebekah Waters, of Falling Cat dance company, performed in and around the sculpture to mark the unveiling.
Zoe Channing, assistant head of culture and tourism at Sunderland City Council, said: “Looking out, Facing in is part of a city-wide programme to develop art in public places. We are aiming to create a quality environment that will further boost Sunderland’s reputation as a great place to live, work and visit.”
Other artists are working on projects in Sunderland as part of a new public art strategy in the city.