Blade Revisited

Almost certainly the single thing that brought most attention to Hull’s year as UK City of Culture – at least so far – was the appearance in the city’s main square of a giant wind-turbine blade, made at the Siemens blade factory now occupying the former Alexandra Dock in East Hull.

Seeing them as we do on the horizon as we do from Hornsea  and elsewhere along the East Yorkshire coast they look small and rather delicate, but close up the 250 foot long blade seemed pretty solid – and, dare I say it – rather boring.  Though it was hard to imagine it having the strength to stand up to North Sea gales.

I’d previously seen – but failed to photograph (thanks to Fuji’s short battery life and my lack of preparedness) – wind turbine blades in a yard beside the Kiel Canal, but those blades in my memory were rather shorter and stubbier and seemed more likely to provide large amounts of power than this slender object.

But is it art?’ some asked, and certainly it lacked the shock and re-purposing of an upside-down urinal.  It reminded me more of those odd lumps of machine parts we used to come across visiting various railway preservation sites of which one of my son’s young friends, desperately trying to lift something several times his own weight asked ‘Is it spare?’

Late at night – not very late, but as usual the centre of Hull was deserted when we arrived back on the bus from Beverley – it became a sword reaching up into the sky, perhaps looking rather more like an art-work than a rather large bit of junk.

But I couldn’t help thinking that Hull at the time had a considerably larger and perhaps even more impressive work of art, one that snaked its way across the whole of the city with those thousands of orange barriers turning the centre into a maze, making some areas difficult to penetrate.

I’m not sure what has happened to the blade, now long gone from Queen Victoria Square, though there were plans to exhibit it permanently at the Siemens factory. But I am worried too about the future of a rather more significant publicly sited art-work, the ‘Three ships’ mural designed by Alan Boyson for the Co-operative Society shop in Jameson Street in 1963, commemorating the Hull fishing fleet (and you can read HULL at the top.) And at the time I took this picture it was totally surrounded by those orange barriers over one of which I was leaning.

The mural is a monumental mosaic of Italian glass, with 4224 foot square slabs, each made up of 225 small glass cubes, fixed on  a 66ft x 64ft concrete screen – a total of over 950,000 cubes.  Co-op became BHS and BHS went down, failed by Sir Philip Green who suck out the cash and gave away its husk. Leaving the future of the mural in doubt.

One of the major disappointments of Hull’s year as UK City of Culture came when Historic England announced ten new Listed Buildings to celebrate the year, but failed to include this mural – which they had also previously turned down for listing the previous November.  Like a number of other recent listing decisions they have turned down – including those of the Robin Hood Gardens and Central Hill estates in London – there are suspicions that their decision many have been influenced more by commercial interests than made on artistic grounds.

You can see many more pictures from my visit to Hull in February on My London Diary.

I photographed Hull extensively in the 1980s, and there are many pictures from that era on my Hull Photos site, with a new image being added every day during #Hull2017 to celebrate the city’s year as UK City of Culture. I also post these every day on Facebook, along with a comment on the image.


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My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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