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Celebrating a special structure.

Byline: TONY HENDERSON @Hendrover jnl.newsdesk@ncjmedia.co.uk

ARTIST Steve Messam has traded a remote fellside for a new town as the location for his latest creation.

From July 19 to August 4 this year, Steve attracted more than 5,000 visitors to an empty hillside on Newbiggin Common in County Durham, who came to experience his artwork called Hush, which was commissioned by the North Pennines AONB Partnership to highlight the area's geology.

He installed 650 yellow flags for 400 metres along a fellside hush, a feature which is a legacy of mining in the North Pennines. Miners used dams to create reservoirs and then released the water so that the power of its downward rush scoured away earth and vegetation, leaving the rock - and hopefully lead and mineral veins - exposed.

Now Steve is to tackle a once-controversial landmark in Peterlee in County Durham as part of a year of celebrations to mark its 50th anniversary.

The concrete Apollo Pavilion will host an inflatable and illuminated installation by County Durhambased Steve.

The pavilion, an example of brutalist architecture, was officially opened on the town's Sunny Blunts housing estate in 1969, in honour of that year's Apollo moon landing.

Durham County Council is marking five decades of the structure with celebrations, which has already seen it house a light installation, delivered in partnership with Artichoke, producer of the Lumiere festival, and as the setting for a 50th birthday party which included live music and screenings of lunar-themed films.

The celebrations, also part of the council's year of culture #Durham19, are now set to continue with four inflated sculptural forms, illuminated from within, being added to by Steve to the pavilion.

"Apollo" will be open to the public to view from Thursday to Sunday, September 19-22, from 10am to 9pm daily.

The installation has been funded by Arts Council England and commissioned by the council.

Coun Joy Allen, the council's cabinet member for transformation, culture and tourism, said: "We are delighted to have a local artist like Steve involved in our celebrations of 50 years of the Apollo Pavilion, and our year of culture #Durham19.

"His Hush installation proved a massive success and having seen images of how 'Apollo' will look, I am sure it will be just as popular."

Steve said: "It's an amazing opportunity to be able to work with such an iconic piece of brutalist architecture, all within the context of the Apollo moon landings; I am looking forward to celebrating that spirit 50 years on."

The Apollo Pavilion was commissioned by Peterlee Development Corporation and designed by artist Victor Pasmore, who from 1954 to 1961 was Master of Painting in the Fine Art Department at King's College, later Newcastle University. He was appointed consulting director of architectural design for Peterlee Development Corporation in 1955 but his Apollo Pavilion became the focus for local criticism, and Pasmore returned to the town in 1982 to face the critics at a public meeting.

The story of Peterlee and the Apollo Pavilion are also the subject of a new exhibition at Durham County Record Office.

Using photographs, plans, newspaper cuttings and letters from the county's archive, the exhibition delves into Peterlee's past, starting with a planning document from 1947 setting out why the area was a prime location for a housing development.

Peterlee was to be the "miners' capital of the world," where the comradeship of the colliery could flourish in pleasant surroundings. It was named after local miners' leader Peter Lee.

Architect Berthold Lubetkin's bold plans for the town include everything from football pitches and tennis courts, to a rock-climbing centre and a zoo. However the National Coal Board opposed the plan and Lubetkin quit the project in 1950, later giving up architecture and taking up pig farming.

Eventually, the NCB conceded the coal seams under the eastern half of the town could be sterilised and work on the initial houses began in 1952.

Photographs from the town's early days show the first residents living amidst the construction, with muddy surroundings and no shops or bus services for many years.

Exhibition curator Nicola Lyons said: "We have tried to include photographs that show just how revolutionary Victor Pasmore's designs were.

"This is particularly apparent when you compare the image we have of the children in front of the kerbside coal deliveries in the north east of the town, to the photographs of residents in front of Pasmore's homes in the south west. They look decades apart rather than years."

The Apollo Pavilion divided opinion from the outset. For some it was a fine example of brutalist architecture; for others an eyesore plagued by graffiti and anti-social behaviour. Now listed, the pavilion was restored in 2009. Exhibition visitors can view Pasmore's initial sketches, as well as designs for a second pavilion that was never built. There is also a letter from the artist defending his creation, and expressing his fondness of the graffiti it later acquired.

Coun Allen said: "I would encourage anyone with an interest in Peterlee, new towns and social history to come along and find out more."

| The free exhibition is at Durham County Record Office in County Hall, Durham City and is open from 9am to 4pm, Monday to Friday.

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How the Apollo installation will look

The Apollo Pavilion in the 1970s

Artist Steve Messam next to his landscape artwork Hush
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 27, 2019
Words:897
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