Icelandic-Danish and UK Collaboration For Cumbrian Coast

Prehistoric 'Cup and Ring' inspired artwork will act as a gravitational pull
February 27, 2023

A new landmark artwork by Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson in collaboration with British writer Robert Macfarlane has been selected for the Cumbrian coastline in North West England. The artwork - which would be Eliasson’s first permanent outdoor artwork in the UK - was chosen from designs by four internationally acclaimed creative teams.

Provisionally named ‘Your daylight destination’, the winning artwork was developed by Studio Olafur Eliasson (SOE) in close collaboration with Macfarlane after a series of exploratory visits in 2021/2022. The design, which is proposed for a site near Silecroft, uses the beach as a stage for an expansive artwork utilising the daily tides, sea water and light.

The proposal was commissioned as part of a new area wide art programme for Copeland entitled Deep Time: Commissions for the Lake District Coast. Deep Time launches in summer 2023 and features seven new permanent artworks, a series of new pieces of writing, an artist residency programme and the landmark artwork programme. Curated and produced by Aldo Rinaldi, it was commissioned by Copeland Borough Council, using funding from HM Government’s Coastal Communities Fund and Sellafield Ltd’s Six Social Impact multiplied programme.

Artistic Rendering Of The Eliasson and Macfarlane Artwork

The design:

The artwork foresees the creation of an elliptical steel pool stretching thirty metres into the mud flats, together with an accompanying viewing platform that features a series of rings mounted on stands. Visitors standing on the platform see the rings appear in alignment as concentric circles around the foreshortened steel pool, which forms a perfect circle. This form is inspired by a type of prehistoric rock art called ‘cup and ring’, present in Cumbria and other coastal locations, which consists of a concave depression surrounded by concentric circles also etched into the stone. The echoes of this rock formation in the artwork link present-day visitors to ancestors who lived in this region thousands of years ago.

Twice a day, at high tide, the basin will be submerged entirely, collecting water which remains after the tide has gone out again. The resulting pool acts like a mirror, reflecting the sun, moon and sky in its surface, a ‘borrowed’ view of the sky in the sand. 

The four artist teams all spent time in Cumbria to develop their proposal including participation in a series of local talks.

The artwork by Eliasson in collaboration with Macfarlane was chosen unanimously by an expert judging panel, from a highly esteemed field of four pitches put forward by: Turner Prize-winning British artist Rachel Whiteread; British artist Roger Hiorns alongside Tom Emerson from 6a architects; and Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf who was the creative lead on an international collective called ‘SEED’.

The panel of judges included Arts Council England, Lakeland Arts and Yorkshire Sculpture Park directors. The decision was also informed by members of the public who had a chance to study the proposals and leave their comments at two public exhibitions in Cumbria, at The Beacon Museum in Whitehaven and Windermere Jetty Museum.

For more information on the inspiration behind the artwork and full biographies for Olafur Eliasson and Robert Macfarlane, CLICK HERE.

Reaction from Olafur Eliasson and Robert Macfarlane:

Olafur says, I am delighted to have the opportunity to realise this contemplative artwork for Copeland. In a sense it is a humble reflection of what is already there - the beach, the water, the sky, the plants and animals - reframed within a space that invites self-discovery in a deep-time perspective.

Olafur Eliasson (Image: Brigitte Lacome)

Robert adds,Sand, wave, tide, light, space and time: Olafur and I set out to use simple but vital elements as we imagined this artwork together. The cup-and-ring motif binds our installation to the ancient human pasts of the Cumbrian landscape, even as the individual experience of the artwork, we hope, brims with the brightness of the present moment. Collaborating with Olafur and his team on this project has been a mind-bending pleasure. Having spent eight years writing Underland - a book exploring human and geological 'deep time' - I've hugely enjoyed applying some of this thinking to the creation of our artwork, especially in the context of a landscape and region that I've known for four decades now."

Robert Macfarlane (Image: Bryan Appleyard)

What the judging panel say:

Aldo Rinaldi, Curator and Producer for Deep Time says: “It has been an enormous pleasure to work with our four teams as they spent time in the area, visiting fells, lakes and of course, its extensive coast. Olafur and Robert’s proposal cleverly captured the essence of the coast, utilising its core elements (tide, sea, and light) to generate a simple yet epic design. The judging panel loved the simplicity of their approach and its capacity to shift in appearance with the weather, whilst always keeping in mind the power of the Eliasson’s past installations to captivate publics of all ages.”

ClareLilley, Director, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, comments: “Olafur Eliasson and Robert Macfarlane offer a truly remarkable artwork whose gravitational pull to the Cumbrian coast will benefit local communities and the hearts of many people. The making of art is a human compulsion, as 290,000 year-old rock art in India testifies. The Deep Time commission extends this rich force, taking us out of the everyday and bringing wonder and delight into our lives”.

Jen Cleary,Director North, Arts Council England says: “The Arts Council welcomes the exciting news that artist Olafur Eliasson and writer Robert Macfarlane have been commissioned to create a new landmark artwork on the Copeland coastline as part of the new area wide art programme Deep Time: Commissions for the Lake District Coast. The programme’s ambition aligns with our aim to bring world class art and culture to audiences across all of the country and recognises the positive effect that art can have on a place by increasing wellbeing, inspiring revitalisation and having a positive economic impact. We’re pleased to have supported some of the public engagement activity during the commissioning selection process through our National Lottery Project Grants and look forward to seeing how the artwork develops.”

What the funders say:

Elected Mayor of Copeland, Mike Starkie, says: “It’s fantastic to see this project move forward, and I’d like to congratulate Olafur and Robert on their bold design – it will bring visitors from far and wide to see a unique and large-scale piece of art in a stunning location. We are lucky enough to have breath-taking countryside in Copeland, but public art is another key ingredient in creating attractive places to live.

“The piece will also be a driver for tourism – I am sure people will come here to experience our coast in this unique way, and also discover the delights of this ‘secret’ corner of the county. The hope is that local businesses will see a boost from this attraction, and all the other investment we’ve delivered as part of the Connecting Cumbria’s Hidden Coast project, with support from from HM Government’s Coastal Communities Fund and Sellafield Ltd.”

Judging panel:

Aldo Rinaldi, Curator and producer o fDeep Time, London (Chair)
Claire Lilley, Director, Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Gary McKeating, Head of Development and Community Corporate Affairs, Sellafield

Nick Hayhurst, Chief Planner Copeland Borough Council 
Rhian Harris, Director Lakeland Arts, Cumbria 
Irene Rogan, artist and local resident, Cumbria
Maria Percival, Relationship Manager Visual Arts, North, Arts Council England, Manchester

Deep Time:

In addition to plans for the new landmark artwork, ‘Deep Time: Commissions for the Lake District Coast’ will see smaller-scale commissioned artworks by Martin Boyce, Susan Philipsz, Atelier Van Lieshout, Marcus Coates, Yelena Popova, Ryan Gander and AVPD installed in various coastal locations in 2023.  

The programme also features five new writers’ commissions by Himali Singh Soin, Issi Nanabeyin, Ruth Sutton, Kate Davis and Richard Skelton, alongside three artists residencies hosted by the CNPPA (Centre for National Parks and Protected Areas) with Alistair Debling, Jamie Jenkinson and Cristina Picchi.

Deep Time is part of a wider coastal improvement project to shine the spotlight on this largely undiscovered stretch of coastline, Deep Time is commissioned by Copeland Borough Council and funded by HM Government’s Coastal Communities Fund, Sellafield Ltd’s Six Social Impact multiplied programme and Arts Council England.