Well glade! Artist's £½m for forest football pitch
IF YOU build it, they will come. An artist plotting his own "field of dreams" has won a £460,000 grant – to create a full-size football pitch in a secluded part of a Scottish woodland.
Craig Coulthard, 28, has been selected to create one of 12 artworks across the UK to help celebrate the staging of the 2012 Olympics in London.
The artist, who lives in Edinburgh, will spend the best part of 18 months creating a football pitch in the Borders – which can only be seen from the Edinburgh-London flight path. But the pitch will only be in use for one day – just before the Games – before being left to be "taken over by nature".
Mr Coulthard will represent Scotland as part of the 80 million Cultural Olympiad coinciding with the Games after beating off competition from 98 artists north of the Border.
A full-size pitch is envisaged by the Edinburgh College of Art graduate, who plans to organise two matches – one for men, the other for women. The games will be played by volunteers who have gained British citizenship since the last Olympics.
The dozens of trees expected to be chopped down to make way for the pitch will be recycled to create spectator benches capable of housing up to 1,000 spectators. Fencing is also planned around the pitch while changing pavilions will be retained to host an exhibition about the project.
Mr Coulthard had dreamed up the idea for the "Forest Pitch" before hearing about the challenge to Britain's artists to "use the nation" as a blank canvas.
He was inspired by memories of playing football for the village team at Wilgenrath, in West Germany, where he lived until he was 11. They played on a pitch inside a forest clearing, but on a return visit last year he found it abandoned and grown over.
Mr Coulthard said: "It's not the kind of project you do without a substantial grant or subsidy, so I was delighted to hear I'd won. I've been speaking to a number of agencies, like the Borders Forest Trust, but we haven't settled on a particular site. The main criteria is it must be hidden from view.
"The plan is to work with the local community in the area that is chosen to build the pitch, but also decide what happens afterwards. The idea is that it is taken over by the natural world, but that has to be properly managed and it could become a community woodland, for example."
However, not everyone was impressed with the choice of winner. The Scotsman art critic Duncan MacMillan said: "What a waste of money. It seems like a huge missed opportunity when it is really only going to be in use for one day, and will then be gone without trace."
Some 2,163 ideas were submitted and panels of experts across the UK have spent two months whittling down a shortlist of 59. Other winning entries include: three 30ft hand-crocheted lions, which will be displayed in a huge case in Nottingham; an environmentally-sustainable watermill to float on the River Tyne, and the recreation of Coventry icon Lady Godiva as a giant human puppet, who will lead a cast of thousands in a processional performance.
'Lovely and mysterious, this work is an imaginative leap forward' – Moira Jeffrey
FIRSTLY, I am delighted that this prize has gone to a younger artist and not one of the usual suspects for awards like this. I felt it was the best project that came forward.
Although Craig is based in Edinburgh, it is also very good that this project will be happening outside Scotland's Central Belt, and particularly not in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
There is something lovely and mysterious about Craig's proposal in that his football pitch is going to be hidden away from view in a forest or woodland.
It does seem to touch on a lot of our ideas about sustainability and the environment at the moment.
It also throws up important questions about what the legacy of the Olympics is going to be, and what we want to get out of the Games being held here in 2012.
There is obviously a long history of forgotten sporting arenas around the world.
This project very much fits into that idea and takes an imaginative leap forward.
Artists have long been working within the landscape around Scotland, but this is different to other projects we have seen over the years, and will ask us questions about what we want to use our landscape for.
I will be really interested to see what happens to the football pitch in the end and what ideas come forward for its use.
It does sound as if there is a lot to play for, and I think that it could really capture the imaginations of people.
• Moira Jeffrey is art critic for Scotland on Sunday.
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