It’s been 15 years since the Angel of the North was raised on its perch in Gateshead, where it dominates the skyline, gazing out across the A1 and the North East mainline. At the time, Anthony Gormley’s sculpture caused controversy, but it quickly became a much-loved icon for the region.
As part of the Festival of the North East, Northumberland writer and artist Stevie Ronnie is asking for contributions to his latest project, Dear Angel. He would like you to write a letter addressed to the angel discussing your feelings about the North East. The letters will then be used to create an interactive artist book that provides a lasting record of how we view the area.
Letters can be handwritten, or can take the form of an email, video, recording or even a tweet.
The work will be displayed at the Globe Gallery in Newcastle, before moving to Holy Island and then Durham, to coincide with the journey of the Lindisfarne Gospels to Durham this summer.
Having been interested in creating a project based around the idea of letters, Stevie was inspired to tie this concept to the figure that so represents the transition from the industrial to the modern, technological world. “I’ve been thinking about making a piece of work involving letters for a couple of years now and when I saw the call for the Festival of the North East it just seemed to fit.
“Initially the work was to be called ‘Letters Home’ and I was going to invite people to send a letter home to the region. During the development of the work I started to realise that ‘home’ was a very abstract concept and it would make more sense to ask people to address their letters to something more specific.”
But why The Angel of the North?
“The Angel was the only physical thing I could think of that unites the North East. We have other great symbols such as bridges and monuments but none of them have an appeal that stretches from Berwick to Teesside and beyond.
“The Angel symbolises both our past and our future. Good or bad, almost everyone with a connection to the region has an opinion about it and that’s an amazing achievement for an artwork. Practically, I think that the siting of the Angel in Gateshead near the main transport routes and the fact that it was manufactured in Hartlepool have helped too. Then there’s the scale of it – visiting the Angel physically is a powerful and memorable experience.”
The project has been running for several weeks and Stevie and the team have already received some passionate and heartfelt contributions. “The quality of the responses so far has been brilliant. There’s a large element of risk in making a piece of work like this and I’m surprised and heartened by the way in which people have really taken time to consider their letters. There’s a lovely mix of letters from professional writers and artists alongside those from members of the public. There’s also a real spread in terms of age (from 3 to 91 and a half) and they are arriving from all over the world.
“One of the inherent characteristics of letters is that each one is as individual as the person who wrote it. When they are brought together into the book then I think that this will be one of the main ideas that the work communicates. The responses have been overwhelmingly positive in terms of how people feel about the Angel, although not entirely so. I’m also noticing that people have very personal connections to the Angel and the letters reflect this. There’s a sense of pride in the region which is coming across strongly too.”
As well as being a writer, Stevie also specialises in digital art and Dear Angel is a fascinating way of combining the traditional handwritten letter with more contemporary methods of communication. Contemplating his plan for incorporating modern technology into the project, Stevie commented: “While I’m unashamedly nostalgic for the handwritten letter I’m also excited by the new ways in which we can communicate. When I was growing up I’d never have dreamed that it would be possible to send 140 characters to a global audience from a device in my pocket that is no bigger than my hand. I want to acknowledge these new ways of communicating in the work so I’ve invited submissions via Facebook, Twitter, email, the Dear Angel website and I’m open to audio, video and image content as well as text. At the moment it looks as if the majority of the responses will be handwritten letters but the final book will be embedded with technology so that letters in a wide range of other forms can be included too.”
It sounds like Dear Angel is going to result in a very personal glimpse into how we feel about the North East and I’m looking forward to seeing the results.
If you would like to write a letter to the angel, you can find out how here. The closing date for submissions is the 20th May.
Dear Angel was commissioned by Festival of the North East, New Writing North and Arts Council England with support from Lindisfarne Gospels Durham and Globe Gallery.