ex terra lucem

I returned to Lancashire for the weekend, and went for a walk with my mum and dad.
We parked the car near the colliery gates. . .


. . .and we made our way over the landscape which covers the site of the mine. The trees thinned and the ground rose up before us.


Then this appeared, luminous among the weeds and rushes.


We went to get a better view.


Those of you who live in Lancashire, or who have been watching Channel 4’s Big Art Project will know that this is Dream, the arresting and very beautiful piece of public sculpture commissioned from Catalan artist, Jaume Plensa. Mining has been at the heart of St Helens for four hundred years until 1991, when Sutton Manor Colliery closed. A group of ex-miners nominated the colliery as the site of a new landmark work of art: a piece that they felt should not merely be commemorative or contemplative, but forward looking and inspirational. After conversations with the local community, Plensa designed a piece that is suggestive both of the “dream of light when you are working in darkness” and the old Victorian motto of the town, “ex terra lucem” (out of the earth comes light). The finished sculpture was unveiled on May 31st, and quietly sits above the landscape of Sutton Manor Community Forest, the focal point of a space that is emphatically for public use.


Dream is a child in sleep, her features smoothed away. But there’s a promise about her too that is more than a little discomfiting. Those eyelids might well flicker into life. What will she see if her eyes open? Will she rise up further from the earth?


When we were there, there were lots of people. Everyone spent time looking at the sculpture, and everyone seemed to want to touch it. Kids ran about, adults posed for photographs, lay on their backs in the sun, ate picnics. Several hundred thousand people have apparently already visited Dream since its unveiling on May 31st, and I’m very pleased to have been one of them. Local feeling about the sculpture is incredibly positive, though there have been a few sadly predictable complaints that Dream does not dominate the landscape enough to be seen from the motorway. There’s not much you can say to someone whose test of whether something is a landmark or not is its visibility from the M62, but why not actually stop your car, get out, and take a look? Why not walk the less than half a mile up over the old pit, through this great landscape that the forestry commission have now transformed? Why not sit on the steps around the base of Plensa’s Dream, and look back down on the amazing space of the North West all around you?


Dream stands twenty metres high but is not in the least monumental. It wears its status as a piece of public art quite lightly. The child’s face, the closed eyes, mean that there is an intimacy about it and the space in which it sits. This intimacy, and the way the work speaks back to the landscape of St Helens, means that the piece will not just be an end in itself, but will become the occasion of other dreams for this landscape. All good.