A Goddess from a disused coal mine, Northumberlandia is a massive public sculpture in Cramlington, Northumbria. She is 100 feet high and over a quarter of a mile long. Like ancient earth works before her, she can only be seen all at once from an arial view. But you can walk around the spiralling, twisting paths that traverse her body.
We went the week after the sculpture had opened to the public in September. Two helpful volunteers greeted us, and there were a few walkers with their dogs and one family on the many footpaths that wind over the sculpture. They pushed a relative in a wheelchair around the ramping paths; almost all of the sculpture is accessible, and the grades of the paths marked at the outset. The site builders worked with Disability North to make sure the site could be used by visitors of differing abilities.
The first time I saw a photograph, sent to us by my father in law, I was profoundly moved but the idea of her. M and I decided immediately to go and check it out when it opened. Walking the sculpture, one catches glimpses of the working mines surrounding her, giant yellow machines toiling away in their Mordor. The information in the press release claims that coal mining has made this sculpture possible– ah, paradoxes, big money moving around. The permission to build this was granted along with permission to open the largest surface mine in England, and the sculpture itself was made from the by products of this mine.
Despite my mixed emotions about this, there is something visionary about bringing life and beauty to the blighted landscape. No one seems to know about it, and the press features mostly a shrugging public. The Daily Mail and even the BBC snickeringly called it a “naked lady” and locals call her “Slag Alice”. She is the green giant in the land of the “Page Three Girl” and she is sublime, subversive, even.
Comparisons to Gormley’s Angel of the North have been made– she has been referred to as the Lady of the North. While Gormley’s rusted messenger has always seemed too hard, forlorn and defensive, this piece luxuriates in the history and landscape of the North.
She is the giant goddess in the sky, brought down to earth. The American landscape sculptor Charles Jenks clearly designed her to reference many neolithic sites like the Thornborough henge and Silbury Hill, among others. Many neolithic structures were positioned to give a vantage point to the heavens or to a body-like silhouette in a distant landscape. This sculpture is a wonderful mediation on the ancient temple building which honoured the connection between the earth, sky and our own bodies. A statement from Jenks,
To see the world in a Grain of Sand, the poetic insight of William Blake, is to find relationships between the big and small, science and spirituality, the universe and the landscape. This cosmic setting provides the narrative for my content-driven work, the writing and design. I explore metaphors that underlie both growing nature and the laws of nature, parallels that root us personally in the cosmos as firmly as a plant, even while our mind escapes this home.
You can walk into her forehead. She even has a third eye, marked the “eye of the universe”. One hand points to the two spirals in her earth-sky, the other points to her feet– in the pagan blessing– as above, so below.