Cornford and Cross
Coming up for Air 2001

Concrete chimney in reservoir
Proposal for Making History curated by Terry Shave
Chasewater, Staffordshire, England

Coming up for Air is a proposal for a temporary public art project based on the production of an elegant and imposing landmark in the reservoir or pools of Chasewater Country Park, Staffordshire. The project aims to promote debate on the relationships between art and history, especially the changing connections between economic activity and representations of landscape. As the work has been conceived for Chasewater, and it can only be realised through the democratic planning process, it would also raise issues of geography and politics, from a regional to a global level.

We propose to build a large industrial chimney, cylindrical in form, perhaps made from smooth, pale concrete, and very plain as to detail. The scale of the chimney would be informed by current public health decision-making processes, taking account of the type and quantity of emissions, the physical geography of the location, and the distribution and density of settlements in the fallout area.

The ‘Black Country’ landscape was defined in the late eighteenth century by coalmining iron-smelting and canal-building. After centuries of deforestation and coalmining, the valley in Cannock Chase was dammed and flooded in 1797 to create the reservoir now known as Chasewater. This was a time of radical change from an agricultural to an industrial way of life, and within relations between the people who owned natural resources and the people who made them into commodities. From the outset, coal-mining transformed the landscape and began industrial society’s dependence on fossil fuel, which continues to drive the consumerist ideology today.

Coming up for Air contrasts with the Romantic tradition of the architectural ‘folly’ in the landscaped grounds of an English country house. Standing directly in the waters, the sculpture would be poised between suggestions of submersion and re-emergence. The object and its silhouette, shadow and reflection might bring together ideas of permanence with change, and perhaps operate as a metaphor for both loss and discovery.

Coming up for Air is the title of a novel by George Orwell, whose writing reached across class divisions — in this case to warn against the dangers of complacency, narrow materialism and short-term thinking. The novel centres on the narrator’s journey through the Modern landscape of England in 1939, to re-visit a pond, which for him had come to symbolize a lost paradise of youthful optimism and pristine nature.

Phillip de Loutherbourg, ‘Coalbrookdale by Night’, 1801. Courtesy of The Science Museum, London

‘An Environmental Agency Officer leads a man from the floodwater at Bewdley, where the River Severn has burst its banks.’ Courtesy of News Team International, 1998

Cigarette card, 1916. Artist unknown, Courtesy of Imperial Publishing Ltd

'Coming up for Air' 2001. Illustration by marine artist Robert G Lloyd