Bottle of Notes
Central Gardens, Middlesbrough, England
Steel painted with polyurethane enamel
30 x 16 x 10 ft. (9.1 x 4.9 x 3.1 m)
Commissioned June 1988 by Middlesbrough Borough Council, with funding from Northern Arts and grants from the Arts Council of Great Britain and other sources
Installed September 1993
Inaugurated September 1993
In 1986 we made our first visit to northeastern England, where a program had been started to help revitalize the economically depressed region through commissions of art. We were asked to participate by creating a sculpture for Middlesbrough, once a legendary center of steel fabrication whose kilns were now shut down. The sculpture would be built in Hebburn, helping to provide employment for workers in the abandoned shipyards along the Tyne River.
We felt that a nautical subject might not be inappropriate, especially since the famous explorer Captain Cook was born in the area. After a Lilliputian investigation of the contents of the storied Gulliver's pocket -- including a snuff box and comb, neither of which seemed adaptable to sculptural forms -- and trying some kind of sailing ship, we settled on a bottle, an object that could function both on land and in water, and is frequently seen washed up on the beaches of the North Sea. A recollection of Edgar Allan Poe's short story MS. Found in a Bottle -- an account of a sailor trapped in a maelstrom -- suggested the element of writing. We realized that the bottle could be made of the writing itself, which would entail the type of fabrication in steel done in the yards and therefore reflect the history of Middlesbrough.
Coosje selected as the text for the outside of the Bottle of Notes an excerpt from Captain Cook's Journals describing an astronomer's observation aboard the ship: "We had every advantage we could desire in Observing the whole of the passage of the Planet Venus over the Sun's disk." Written out in Claes' broad, angular hand, in offwhite, this text formed the exterior of the bottle. In the interior, cutouts of Coosje's delicate script, in blue, spiral vibrantly upward, stopped only by the cylindrical cork, which the perforated exterior has rendered functionless. Character by character, nearly illegible, the swirling script spills out a line of one of the prose poems written by Coosje: "I like to remember seagulls in full flight gliding over the ring of canals." Recalling Amsterdam, the poem links the English shore to that of the European Continent.
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