Projects / The Forest Billboard

1999 until 2002

In late 1999 the leafy glade of Farra Grain, an area of Grizedale Forest close to the village of Satterthwaite, was selected by director Adam Sutherland as the perfect spot to install a full-size billboard which would provide a platform for artists to show two-dimensional work in an outdoor, site-specific context. It was the first artwork to be conceived and created by the 'new' Grizedale Arts, growing from collective discussions between the organisation and resident artists.

The object itself was undoubtedly confrontational; designed by artist Calum Stirling, it was intended to look as urban as possible, standing on steel legs and surrounded by a grey steel frame (this was later removed to make the image sit even more starkly against its surroundings). Standing around fifteen feet high and twenty feet across, the structure was amongst the largest and more conspicuous artworks in the forest.

Marcus Coates was the first artist commissioned to produce an image for the billboard, which was described by objectors as "Huge, ugly, quite out-of-keeping with the forest, an eye-sore, an insult, a garish intrusion".

Further commissions included works by Graham Gussin and Adam Chodzko, and the billboard remained a point of contention until 2002 when Grizedale initiated a collaboration with the village of Satterthwaite to mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee. In what was intended to be a sincere and open-handed gesture to the local community, Grizedale listened carefully to the wishes of the villagers and proposed to sensitively augment and facilitate their plans for a Jubilee celebration. One leaf of this olive branch was an offer to the village that they themselves create a piece of work for the billboard; their work need not necessarily be a printed image – they were given free rein. A meeting was called, and the consensus returned to Grizedale that the villagers would like to burn it.

After further meetings and clarification about the implications and overtones of the gesture, and establishing that this was absolutely what the villagers wanted, the date for the burning was set for Jubilee Day, 4th of June 2002.

The final image to grace the billboard was by resident artists Roddy Thomson and Colin Lowe, which combined images of themselves standing in a rainy Lake District car-park with a vitriolic text which fired wrathful curses in all directions.

Come the burning, nobody from the assembled crowd seemed prepared to take Adam Sutherland's offer of a burning torch until a tourist was pushed forward from the crowd and grabbed it enthusiastically. The billboard burnt rapidly, without any jeering or celebration, only a sense of rueful acknowledgement of the limitations and inflexibilities on both sides of the debate, and of a shared failure, or at best a very weary stalemate.

Colin and Roddy's text in full:

"The Quadruped/Biped Divide:

Consign to the guinea-pig cage of history : Artworks that read like five day old newspapers
Go home : Those of you that want a perfect environment, yet run the shops with a milking machine mentality
Gelignite : 1D ideas, spawn of ill-digested theories, recycled and left in the woods and home grown malice alike
Parishioners : Understand the recent pestilence and disease as a harbinger of the fragility that should undermine your arrogance
A Hex on site specific sculptures : That curdle the air and writhe on mediocrity's gibbet
Hominoids : Rise up and moan about what you don't understand with psychotic indifference, it's not the Krypton factor
Everything is an ordeal with an ice-cream ending"

The full chronology of billboard works was:

Marcus Coates, 'Wild Animal in its Den', 1999
The People from Off (Anna Best, Karen Guthrie, Nina Pope and Simon Poulter), 'David Shuttleworth (Rally Hopeful)', 1999
Jenny Brownrigg, 'Other', 1999
Grizedale Arts, 'Natural Billboard', 2000
Graham Gussin, 'Nothing I Know, Something I Don't Know', 2001
Adam Chodzko, 'Better Scenery', 2001
Roddy Thomson and Colin Lowe, 'The Quadruped/Biped Divide', 2002
Villagers of Satterthwaite burn the billboard, 4 June 2002