Getting to #22: Bottle of Notes, in contentious Middlesbrough

Posted on 27.08.2013


Middlesbrough has been something of a running joke for a little over a year now. One of the first things I’d asked my boyfriend upon getting to know him was to tell me about Middlesbrough. At the time, I was considering a solo journey north to see it, since I had some time to kill. He laughed at me via email and asked why in the hell ANYONE, esp someone NOT from England, would ever in their right minds want to visit Middlesbrough. Then came my usual long explanation about my goal to see all of the Claes sculptures, and the lone public one in England being somewhere in Northern England. Laughing and constant jokes ensued. This might be more strange to UK residents than my accent.

DSCN9315sIt also became a running joke with his family when I met them, because I guess he’d told them about this before I arrived. I was officially ‘that odd American who wants to go to MIDDLESBROUGH’. NO ONE in England that I’ve met so far has any desire to visit the city. It was actually a lot like the reaction I got from all of my German friends when I said I was moving to Würzburg: ‘You’re moving WHERE? WHY in the hell would you go there?’.

A year and a half later, and after a LOT of nagging, I finally got my trip to Middlesbrough. It had to be added on to a camping trip up north and family visits had to happen, but I got there and now I can stop bothering him about going to magical Middlesbrough. It was actually an excellent trip, which I will discuss later, but first to the sculpture.

We chose to do it first, a ‘get it out of the way’ tactic before going to do the actual ‘holiday’ stuff. So it was our first stop after renting a car and driving northward for 5 hours. I honestly think I got to see this one because our Netherlands trip bombed: we had planned to go to Amsterdam after visiting friends, and made the mistake of driving north on a Monday. Both the Christo sculpture (northern Germany) and the sculpture park of the museum/museum itself (the Netherlands) were closed on Mondays. I couldn’t even WALK on the grounds near the Claes in the Netherlands on that day, as that whole part of the park was closed. I was near tears about all of this and really angry that we didn’t leave a day sooner. I thought things being closed on Monday was just a Baltimore thing!! Apparently not.

As a side note, my new travel tip is to ALWAYS check the open and closed times of the places you want to visit, as they might not be what you expect. This is something we were reminded of again in Amsterdam, where the museums closed at like 5.

So we drove straight there, my first time using a Satnav. Well, holding it, I let him do all of the punching in. This sculpture is ALSO attached to an art museum, as it is right in front of the mima (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art), which was also closed by the time we got there, around 5pm. No matter, I don’t think I could have convinced either of my travel partners to go inside, as we still had another town to get to and a tent to pitch at a destination unknown. It was located on a big square in front of the museum, just near a pond and what appeared to be a nice city center grass area. I’m not sure if this was ‘actual’ city center or just part of the museum grounds, but it was nice. The sculpture doesn’t even come with an address, since it’s not on a street like Paint Torch in PH is. So I had to look at the surrounding things in photos available online to even know that the mima was there, and to get the address for that. Awesome.

DSCN9313sWe got there, parked the car, and got out. Parking was free since the place was closed (great!), but the sculpture certainly wasn’t ‘closed’… it was crawling with kids. It was a literal jungle gym on  museum grounds, and it seemed to attract a lot of attention from the locals AND tourists: as I walked around it to check it out, a lot of people stopped near it, or in front of it, and took photos. It seemed to be a meeting place for local kids, as a TON of kids showed up, parked their bikes in the gravel, and immediately started climbing it (you can see this going on in the top photo). Parents brought their kids by to let them play, and even the boyfriend and his niece jumped on and started to climb.

This one, although seemingly attached to a museum, was not without its share of tags and scribbles. I will say, however, that mostly everyone kept to the INSIDE of the sculpture and didn’t mess with the outside, and special attention was given to the very top of the inside… it seemed to be the place everyone wanted to go, and once they got all the way up there, they left a reminder that they had done it. I might have actually done the same, if these weren’t so important to me. However, as I couldn’t climb and could barely jump, I let everyone else do that and focused instead of getting the photos and the feel of it before being reminded it was time to go.

DSCN9336sAgain, as with all of the sculptures so far, I was on a time schedule and couldn’t stay. But I certainly got to spend some time with it, which was good. I got my jumps completed, even though it took longer since I couldn’t jump as high, or very well, and needed MORE to get a photo that worked. I got two:)

I have to say that this one made me happy, in part because I finally got to see it (it was looking like Texas might be easier for a while), and also because it was being really well-used. I know I talk a lot about what happens to a sculpture or work of art when you give it over to the public, and it was nice to see that the public is using this one for more than just tagging practice. This one really feels like a part of the community, and I like that a lot. It’s not just some odd shape in the middle of a space that confuses people… whether or not they understand it (and this one, to me, has really great relevance to the PLACE, much more than some of the others I’ve seen), they accept it and it’s part of the family. That’s a successful piece of work, then.

The English won’t like it, but this is one of my favorites so far. The one I might never get to see again, of course.

Posted in: art, travel