Mid Pennine Art’s Creative Director, Nick Hunt, reflects on the recurring intersections of art and two-wheeled sport that lured him into signing up to a distinctly foolhardy challenge.
I blame Bradley. None of this would have happened without him or all that extraordinary stuff that happened through the summer of 2012. An Englishman winning the world’s greatest bike race, the Tour de France. Unheard of. And not any old lycra robot, but a proper laconic, old-style, neo-mod antihero. Allez Wiggo.
And then the London Olympics, and the Cultural Olympiad, and all the extraordinary, euphoric moments of home-team success, all wrapped up in the discovery that London could be a place of collective joy where Tube passengers smiled at each other and mounted police high-fived spectators in the enormous, teeming crowds. And Wiggo blitzing the Olympic Time Trial was one of those amazing moments and surely life would never be so uncomplicatedly sweet again.
But then we heard that the 2014 Tour would come to the Yorkshire Pennines. And the rains stayed away, and the world saw the Pennines and the Dales at their best, and two million people came out to welcome Le Grand Depart and it was another once-only, euphoric experience. Not just that, but we were able to commission one of Pakistan’s most celebrated contemporary artists, although hugely in demand across the international art world, to come to a reservoir near Ripponden and create his first work in landscape.
A hair-raisingly close call, but it worked out in the end, after which we were able to immerse Imran Qureshi and ourselves in the weekend of the Tour, with a ceremonial start at Harewood House, a rickety two-seater giving the artist a few aerial shots of his work, and then Stage Two coming right past the site. And the small-boy feeling of lying in a meadow for hours to catch a few fuzzy
shots of the world’s best cyclists as the peloton whizzed past Baitings Reservoir…
I blame, too, the Landmarks project, and the partners in Bowland Revealed who made it happen… As memories of Le Tour 2014 started to fade, my working life took on the onerous necessity of regular trips out into the Forest of Bowland AONB to meet artists, make site visits, progress check installations. It’s a tough job. I knew it was there, of course, Bowland, lurking somewhere the other side of Pendle Hill, but I kind of took it for granted. I had sort of overlooked that, north of Clitheroe, you soon slip into another, slower, pre-industrial, magical world of breathtaking beauty. Professor Tolkein’s Middle Earth. And if you approach stealthily, you get close to some peculiar fauna. Mamils, everywhere. Hordes of them. Many of quite mature years, like me. All putting in the miles while enjoying a particularly intimate engagement with that fabulous landscape. And I started to envy that connection, the breeze in your nostrils, the sun on your cheeks. And I started to think, if those often somewhat podgy seniors can do it, why not me?
So Landmarks was a great project for us, but it cost me. To be precise, £650 of new-to-me carbon-framed hardware. And then I just needed a little extra motivation to get me out on it.
MPA’s work has always celebrated our landscapes, and so over the years, it has found recurring connections with cycling, and cycle routes… The Padiham Greenway engagement programme, introducing 7,000 people to their new cycle route. Valley of Stone, commissioning sculptures for the lunar landscape of Lee Quarry’s extreme cycling trails. And this year we will renew those connections, as we pilot a programme of creative interventions for a new, countywide programme of strategic cycleways developments.
But meanwhile… Coming up fast is MPA’s fiftieth anniversary, in 2016. We want to make the most of this landmark date, and need to raise extra funds to do so. We want to celebrate MPA’s work in a way that looks forward more than back. And how better than to promote a new opportunity for Lancashire’s next generation of artists? A competition award, yes, but one that comes with a real commission, to create something substantial in one of Lancashire’s special places… And we want to name it after the feminist writer and activist who inspired the founding of MPA back in 1966, Doris Nield Chew. Our award/commission will be The Doris.
As a committed member of the APPL organisations Catalyst group, we are especially conscious at present of the need to encourage individual giving, and to crack the challenge of crowdfunding. So I started to think about what sort of individual challenge I could take on to help make The Doris happen.
And at the creaky old age of 63, I have found one to stretch my ligaments to snapping point. But irresistible because it climaxes in Paris. Three days in early September, London to Paris, around 80 miles a day. Arriving under the Eiffel, channeling a little bit of Wiggo 2012 of course.
That’s the plan. Between now and then I just have to get on the bike, become a real rather than fantasy cyclist, put in the hard miles and toughen up all round. Simple.
If you would like to add your encouragement, as I put myself through all that pain in support of Lancashire culture, you can contribute at:
You can be sure that I, Mid Pennine Arts and the future recipients of The Doris will all be very grateful.