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New artworks set to bring Dunston Staiths back to life again


The Jetty Project is set to transform Dunston Staiths on the banks of the River Tyne through a series of iconic artworks.?

Believed to be the largest timber structure in Europe, the staiths is one of the last survivors of a coal trade which underpinned the North East economy for hundreds of years.???

It has fallen into decline in recent years, but now The Jetty Project, along with Heritage Lottery funding secured by the Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust, is starting to turn that around.??

Bringing together artists, architects and social scientists from Newcastle University and the University of Manchester, it is hoped the artworks will provoke both professional and public debate around sustainability, particularly about how it can work within often conflicting environmental, social and economic agendas.???

At the heart of this debate will be Wolfgang Weileder’s sustainable sculptures, which will not only be made from recycled materials, but will also be recycled after use. The initial artwork – Cone – will be made out of Aquadyne, a sustainable drainage material made from 100% recycled waste plastics more commonly used in green roofs.

During special organised tours, visitors will be able to explore inside the temporary installation, which is designed to evoke memories of old glass kilns. It is expected to take about a week to build and will be integrated within the Grade II listed wooden structure from late June, then on show throughout the summer. There will also be a series of public events connected to the artwork.
Apprentices from the Mears Group, currently studying at Gateshead College, will be instrumental in pre-fabricating some of the components and working with Prof Weileder on site to construct Cone.

?“Through artwork such as this, we’re looking at how fine art projects can make a meaningful contribution to the debate around urban sustainability as well as being exciting works of art in their own right,” says Weileder, Professor of Contemporary Sculpture at Newcastle University.??

“In order to make sense, something like this needs to be credible, which means it has to say something meaningful to everyone from architects and artists to people who lived in Dunston when the staiths was still operational.”??

As part of the Jetty Project, research associate Angela Connelly, of the University of Manchester, has interviewed relevant professionals and held two community workshops to generate conversations about what should happen to the staiths and what the artworks might do.??

From this research, over 70 unique ideas were generated and in terms of the artwork, people were keen to see something that would symbolise a transition between the past and future.Some also wanted any new structure to consider environmental issues in the area, such as the rare birds that use the staiths.??

There is also a supporting cast of construction specialists ensuring everything goes to plan. rBau Ltd, who have worked previously with Prof Weileder on large-scale structural projects, are constructing Cone’s supporting core, alongside their role in developing the scaffold design and specifications in collaboration with Layher. ????

The Jetty Project is AHRC (Arts & Humanities Research Council) funded and led by Newcastle University in collaboration with the University of Manchester.

About the Jetty Project: Art as a Catalyst for Sustainability

At the heart of The Jetty Project is the creation of a temporary large-scale architectural artwork integrated within the impressive wooden structure of Dunston Staiths.

??It aims to answer the question ‘how can a practice-led fine art project meaningfully contribute to the multi-layered debate around sustainability in the urban realm?’ through the development and realisation of temporary artworks.  ??

Of architectural scale, this series of artworks will be determined by the context of Dunston Staiths, considered to be of international historic and ecological significance.

??The project also hosted an international symposium at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in March, which brought together leading researchers and practitioners to contribute to a conversation about the role that artistic practices play in promoting urban sustainability.?

About Dunston Staiths

Dunston Staiths is a landmark Scheduled Monument and Grade II structure on the south bank of the River Tyne in Newcastle Gateshead. It is also on English Heritage’s At Risk register.???

At its height, 5.5m tonnes of coal a year was taken by rail from the Durham coalfields and loaded onto waiting ships on the Tyne. It has lain dormant and decaying since the pits closed. Arsonists also destroyed a large part of the middle section and wooden pillars close to the bank.??

The staiths were gifted to the Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust in 1996, who have been looking for ways to preserve it ever since. They secured £420,000 worth of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund at the end of last year to make it into a sustainable visitor attraction. ??

Some of the ideas include making it part of the nearby C2C cyclepath or creating a high level urban park similar to the High Line in New York. ????

This month (June), the first new timbers have just been grafted on as part of the restoration programme.

Main banner photo credit: David Summerside

published on: 17 June 2014