Plans for Sheffield's largest-ever public art commission unveiled

Plans for Sheffield's largest-ever public art commission unveiled

20 September 2017

Plans for family of four sculptural, red brick chimneys that border, bridge and illuminate the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal have been unveiled as the largest-ever art commission for the city and region.

Almost ten years since the demolition of the Tinsley cooling towers, artist Alex Chinneck has unveiled Onwards & Upwards - a sculptural trail that highlights the past, present and potential of the area.

Four towering chimneys, each stretching up to 30 metres high and spread across one mile, have been designed to act as spectacular cultural beacons – attracting visitors from the length and breadth of the UK.

Each sculpture will be equivalent to the size of a 10-storey building, making it one of the most ambitious public artworks ever conceived. Together they will have a collective height of 150 metres, incorporating 100,000 bespoke curving bricks, wrapped around a stainless steel core.

The artist’s permanent proposals for the area, his most ambitious to date, comprise:

•           A cracked chimney broken into 250 pieces, beautifully illuminated from within

•           A hovering chimney with an upper section that appears to miraculously float

•           Two leaning chimneys, standing 45m apart, that dramatically bridge the canal

•           A curving chimney, made of over 25,000 bricks, playfully tied into a knot

Together they'll create an immersive sculptural experience, linking Sheffield and Rotherham, that can be enjoyed by foot, bike or boat.

Artist Alex Chinneck, who was appointed in 2016, said: “Tinsley has a proud and important industrial heritage and many chimneys once lined the canal. Through a process of architectural re-introduction, sculptural re-imagination and modern manufacturing, we have attempted to create a regionally relevant and nationally significant cultural attraction. ”

“The artwork is being made for Sheffield, by Sheffield, and represents a monumental achievement that is only possible by working in partnership with the unrivalled concentration of world-class companies found in the city.”

Previous projects by the artist include a hovering building in Covent Garden, which attracted more than 1.2million visitors over a four-week period, and a house made of 7,500 wax bricks, which proceeded to melt over 45 days. 

Most recently, Alex installed a temporary sculpture in Tinsley, which appeared to show a one-tonne car hanging upside-down from a curling strip of tarmac. The artwork attracted 5,000 visitors over five days, including the whole of Tinsley Meadows Primary Academy.

Alex has partnered with a team of local creatives to articulate his vision, including illustrator Ella Worthington, a graduate of Sheffield Hallam University, photographers Martin Hogg and Marc Wilmot, Lunar Animation and drone-specialists, Fleye. 

A project board made up of Tinsley residents and key decision makers is backing the proposal.

Councillor Mary Lea, cabinet member for culture, parks and leisure, said: “Alex’s proposal is truly born of the place - knitting together its fascinating past and present, and evolving through collaboration with local businesses. We hope this permanent sculpture will be embraced by the community and enjoyed by people from far and wide.”

Partners on the three-year project include Sheffield City Council, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, Tinsley Forum and Arts Council England, together with sponsors E.ON, who awarded the commission to replace the much-loved towers.

As the project has gained momentum, recent additions to the board include major sponsor, British Land, the co-owner of neighbouring Meadowhall, landowners Yorkshire Water and the Canal and River Trust, and Sheffield Cultural Consortium and Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust. Together, they are working towards the project's completion in summer 2019.

Luke Ellis, site manager at E.ON’s Blackburn Meadows biomass plant in Tinsley, said: “Our renewable heat and power plant continues the long tradition of energy generation at Blackburn Meadows and we wanted to support a landmark public art project with a theme of energy to honour that past and also look forward to the future of the city. 

“We are excited about Alex’s ideas for this public art project and hope it will be something that unites the local community and provides a landmark of which they can be proud.”

Tim Eastop, executive producer at the Canal & River Trust, is responsible for delivering Arts on the Waterways - a collaborative arts programme situated on and inspired by Britain’s waterways.  He said: “We’re delighted that Sheffield is embracing its industrial and waterway heritage through the work of Alex Chinneck.

“We hope this major new commission will help even more people to get to know their local canals and rivers as fantastic places to relax, reflect and enjoy art.” 

Following on from initial investment in the project by E.ON, further money has been pledged from the private sector (British Land and IKEA) to support the delivery of this once-in-a-generation cultural project.

Darren Pearce, Meadowhall Centre Director, said: “We are very proud to be supporting this important initiative.  Awe-inspiring and thought provoking in equal measure, Alex’s work will bring a great deal to the community.  This is a very exciting installation in a very important and prominent location.”

Alex Chinneck will be presenting his plans for this exciting project as part of the Sheffield Waterfront Festival on Saturday 23 September. The exhibition will be held on the ground floor of the Hilton Hotel at Victoria Quays, with Alex on hand to talk through his vision.  The festival is part of the Canal & River Trust’s plans to reconnect the local community to their waterway over the next 18 months, ahead of the Sheffield & Tinsley Canal’s bicentenary in 2019.

For further images and information, see, Instagram @alexchinneck, #onwardsandupwards.