Blight Or Beauty: Steve Messam’s Red PaperBridge Unveiled In Lake District

Does art add anything to places of natural beauty? It seems to be popular at the moment for site specific art to interact with the landscape. Many well known artists such as Richard Serra have tried their hand at enhancing beauty spots, but is it successful? The subject needs to be addressed and the public needs to ask the fundamental question of whether this is a valid practice.

A few weeks ago the Danish-Chilean artist Marco Evaristti was arrested in Iceland after local landowners accused him of vandalism after dyeing the Strokkur geyser pink. The artist poured red fruit-based food colouring into the famous hot springs, located 70 miles northeast of Reykjavik, resulting in the geyser erupting in plumes of bright pink water and steam. 

In another high profile case a contemporary gallery in London sparked outrage among the environmentalist community with its show, containing a chunk of stone apparently taken from the tip of Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. The work by Oscar Santillan, entitled ‘To Break a Silence into Smaller Silences’ was condemned by the mainstream press.

PaperBridge is a new unique large-scale temporary installation made entirely from bright red paper, traversing a flowing river at the foot of Helvellyn, in the Lake District, was unveiled on Friday (08th May) as part of ‘Lakes Ignite’, a spring arts programme organised by Lakes Culture. Lakes Culture is a cultural arts project funded by the Arts Council and VisitEngland, designed to establish the Lake District, Cumbria, as the UK’s must visit rural culture destination. Although it does not harm the environment (unless the red dye is poisonous) I’m not sure that it doesn’t cause visual pollution to this magnificent landscape. 

PaperBridge has been created by Teesdale based artist Steve Messam. It has taken over three years to make. It continues his series of  temporary installations in rural landscapes. As with previous works, PaperBridge is a bold contemporary statement in a conserved environment and bound with layers of narrative about landscape, whilst remaining accessible to all. The artist brings with him over ten years’ experience in delivering large-scale projects in the landscape and an international reputation. 

Steve Messam stated: ‘’The Lake District has a long and important history in the perception of landscape and aesthetics. Paperbridge is part of this continuing and evolving legacy and I’m so please it forms part of Lakes Culture’s spring programme ‘Lakes Ignite’. The piece is a temporary artwork made for and about the landscape of the Lake District, based on local stone bridge construction dating back to Roman times. On an aesthetic level the piece acts as a focal point within a vast open landscape. The bright red colour drawing the eye and interfering with the natural environment, while at the same time creating compositional balance with the green backdrop and flow of water.’’

The bridge is totally free-standing – no glue, screws, bolts, fixings or supports have been used to hold the structure together. The bridge has been constructed using over 4.2 tonnes of bright red paper, cut into 22,000 sheets, to create a structure 5 metres in length, with a 4 metre span over the river and standing at 2m from water to top of arch. The bridge’s gabions are filled with over 3 tonnes of stone from the gravel beds in the river.

Paper is a simple material made from wood pulp and water. The intensity of colour used in the bridge contrasts with the verdant landscape making a bold statement of form and design. Alongside this the materials used have a resonance with the natural environment and the construction of the bridge also reflects local architectural forms, specifically pack horse bridges found throughout the area. All of the paper used in PaperBridge will be recovered and returned to the Burneside Mill for recycling into new paper once the project ends. This transparent cycle is part of the overall environmental narrative of the piece.

Are artists just so arrogant these days that they feel that they can upstage nature? Please leave comments below.

Opinion: Robert Pembridge / Photos courtesy of Steve Messam all rights reserved

PaperBridge can be found between two parallel paths in the Grisedale Valley, near Patterdale, until 18th May. The bridge is a 2 mile walk from Patterdale, OS grid ref: NY 362 144.