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The Good, the Average and the Ugly: Dream by Jaume Plensa

Jonathan Schofield discovers how a dream becomes reality in St.Helens

Written by . Published on May 19th 2009.


The Good, the Average and the Ugly: Dream by Jaume Plensa

Category: Good

What?
Jaume Plensa’s Dream: a 20m head of a girl in burnished white marble and a concrete aggregate mix.

Where: Sutton Manor, St Helens, on a landscaped slag heap on the site of Sutton Manor colliery, just off junction 7 of the M62. The formal public opening is on 31 May 2009 when the remaining landscaping round the sculpture will be finished.

Jaume Plensa CV?
Plensa is a Catalan artist born in 1955. He’s worked all over the globe and frequently, but not always, uses the human form. He also manipulates the effects of natural elements such as a light and water in his work. A previous and typical work is El Alma del Ebro in Zaragoza. This bears certain affinities with Antony Gormley’s Filter at Manchester Art Gallery (click here).

El Alma del Ebro

Dream me a Dream then: What we have here is the head of a pretty young girl, perhaps an adolescent, eyes closed, dreaming either in sleep or slumber. The intense white polished surface is dazzling, throwing off reflections even on dull days. Given the coal which was mined here this provides an obvious contrast with the past. The finish of the work enhances the other-worldly quality of the sculpture and its Buddha calm. Dream can be unreal, intangible. In certain light it fades to the point of invisibility despite its 20m height. The Modigliani-like elongated nature of the face, its shade and its serenity, can’t help but slow the viewer down, can't help but flick on the contemplative switch in visitors' minds. All in all this image of youth in repose is a sweet counterpoint to the former intense energy of the pit over and underground.

But does it work well in the Lancashire weather?
It works better here than it could almost anywhere else. Our contrary climate is a perfect foil. Dream needs this. If it had been located on some sun-kissed costa of Plensa’s homeland it would have had half the impact: another burnt out feature under the brilliant sun. Check out the pictures here, taken on a particularly changeable day, and see for yourself.

And the best view?
Two views. The first is obvious, get up close and then walk around the statue appreciating its tranquil power. Then fight your way through the oak, birch and hazel scrub on each side and let Dream emerge from between the leaves and the flowers like a... well, like a dream. Seen from the undergrowth, with dark cloud behind, the work defines surreal.

What does Plensa say?
To quote: “My work is first and foremost about celebrating life and the human experience of standing in between past and present, present and future, knowledge and ignorance. I fell in love with this site in St Helens as soon as I saw it. The spectacular setting, proud heritage, vision for the future, and the warmth, humour and passion of the former miners I have met are all inspirational. To capture the essence, hopes, and aspirations of a whole community on this scale is a great honour but also a responsibility.”

So you absolutely adore it?
Nope. I think it should have been twice as big. It should have been jaw-dropping five miles away not just five hundred yards away. Fortunately there will be clear sight lines cut through the trees in the fullness of time.

That’s all you don’t like?
Nope again. Call me churlish but I wonder if it’s not too saccharine? There’s power and mystery here, but Dream puts me in mind of those porcelain religious figures you get in Roman Catholic shops, maybe in this instance of a young Virgin Mary. Come to think of it this may be intended. What better metaphor for hope, renewal and salvation could you have than - if you’re religious - an intimation of the Christ child.

Head of a Girl by Modigliani: an inspiration for Plensa?

Anything else?
Oh yes. More disturbingly there’s something of that artist of dubious merit, Jeff Koons, about it. The blindingly white plastic sheen to the sculpture could be on a toy or some shiny consumer product. Dream borders on the kitsch. Maybe since the work is built on coal – the means of production that helped drive us into a consumer society - Plensa is being less obvious than we think with this work. Anyway that’s something for the girl in the garage to ponder when she wanders up – she’s the one who'll have to live with it.

The girl in the garage?
Close to where we parked there was a garage cum supermarket. As we left the site my kid asked for some sweets and a drink. The eighteen year old girl behind the checkout was shy but talkative. I think she was called Mandy, but I might be wrong, and she had a lovely, very broad, Lancashire accent. From the till you could see the pure white bonce of Dream, shimmering over the trees on the hill. “We get loads of people in here coming to have a look at...what’s it called?” Mandy said. “I like it, it’s really nice, lovely to see it there. I’ve not been up yet. I’m going to go up when it’s warmer with my friends. That’s £1.44 please?” And you know what?

What?
I’m kicking myself that I didn’t ask Mandy what she thought the girl on the hill was dreaming about.

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14 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

DigMay 19th 2009.

There's talk in the council to light it up at night. That would be a fantastic spectacle. The only stumbling block at present is distracting drivers along the M62. If people can take their eyes off the road to read signposts and adverts on wagons in fields then I don't see a problem.

AnonymousMay 19th 2009.

I noticed it last weekend while en route to and from Liverpool to listen to John Lennon's Imagine played on the cathedral bells (brilliant!) - 'The Dream' was very engaging, but frustratingly obscured by trees almost all of the way in both directions - maybe I was in a particularly 'low' car .... it would be good to cut through a swathe at one point so you can see more than her eyes and the top of her nose. But overall a real treat on a fairly boring journey from Mcr to Liverpool (why werent you on the train i hear you ask .... answer: got a lift)

Mr TaylorMay 19th 2009.

I’ve been told that driving past it on the motorway, with the sun casting its first golden rays in the morning that it looks like the withered, but aroused genitals of the great orca in full seasonal activity. Now there’s something to chew over in the rush hour.

sally daviesMay 19th 2009.

St Helens has lower crime rates than any other city in the UK.Come and see this wonderful piece of artwork and the great sense of peace and harmony that it provides.Like all great works of art (Mona Lisa, Guernica, Sistine Chapel) this beautiful white head will last for generations to come and bring happiness to the millions of tourists who will flock to St Helens to see it.Worth every penny.

DigMay 19th 2009.

And here it is!! It is well worth going to see. There's a beautiful ambience around the site.

Trevor TMay 19th 2009.

Hard place to find but worth the walk. The views are good right across this part of the north west too. Can be muddy though. I don't agree with the Koons analogy but I see what you mean. This is nowhere near as trashy.

EditorialMay 19th 2009.

Dear Boccaroo, give it up would you? You post under separate names and make these pathetic attacks on Liverpool. You really need to see a psychiatrist and sort yourself out. So please get off the site and stay off it. We like intelligent and witty comments not this inane nonsense.

DigMay 19th 2009.

Why isn't this article on Liverpool Confidential? The Dream is in Merseyside after all!

DavidMay 19th 2009.

Excellent piece, Love seeing it from the motorway. I agree should be bigger to make an impact

boccarooMay 19th 2009.

give it 2 weeks before the scum from St Helens start attacking it with hammers, paint, and using it as a target for gun practice.These are people that dont deserve a peice of art like this one is. It should be in Liverpool why doesnt anyone ever give it to Liverpool. Its not fair that liverpool is always denied these things.If liverpool cant have it no one else should deserfe it.Liverpool always loses out, no wonder our kids are dying from guns and drugs and have to steal to pay for there babies foods.l

JayMay 19th 2009.

Why all of the Lancashire mentions, this is Merseyside.The best place to see Dream is from the hump-back bridge on the A57 Warrington Road as you head towards Sankey. From that location you get a view of the motorway with the head in the background.I agree with everyone else though, it's not big enough

AnonymousMay 19th 2009.

Glad to see you have caught up with this one. Have you doen the South Lancs Sculpture Trail Jon?

Dream yesFebruary 7th 2010.

This is great once you get off the motorway. Up close it is really beautiful and also the view to the east back to Manchester is amazing.

James11364February 8th 2010.

Leave Boccaroo alone!..everyone knows it's jealous Mancunians who will do such naughty things....after all their efforts a big public art rusted away and fell apart. And as for Liverpool v Manc why do footy journalists stir up the Man United v Liverpool rivalry to suggest that fan violence is a mark of showing your support.

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