Read the interview with Artist Alma Tischler Wood
Alma Tischler Wood‘s design for the North Downs Way End of Trail Marker was commissioned in 2010 by the North Downs Way National Trail and Natural England. The final concept includes an 8-metre long black granite “start/finish” line and a cast iron 1.2-metre diameter plaque with symbols representing the Trail. Both elements are positioned at the eastern end of the Esplanade near the existing swimmers statue by Ray Smith (1995).
How did you end up working on the project in Dover?
DAD put out a call for a submission for the North Downs Way end of trail marker and I put in a proposal and was selected, interestingly enough. It was very interesting because I remember when I wrote the proposal and I had the idea, I didn’t think it would go through because it was very conceptual; not the usual classic work that is used as public art. It’s just two words: START/FINISH.
Also, the location near the sea front – I really enjoyed it. I stood there and the view is so powerful, I thought ‘Oh what can I do there?’ You don’t want to destroy or take away from the beautiful view or the horizon. It’s such a nice spot, I love the openness. In my art practice I do a lot of paintings, but they are two dimensional or also sometimes three dimensional. I like the play between the two. It’s quite abstract. It deals a lot with space, and I love space, and I love installation.
I saw this piece as an installation but outside. Originally I was thinking of ways to create an oasis; planting palm trees and having some seating, and in the middle would be the START/FINISH line. But the palm trees were rejected as being a little too exotic, but I would have liked them. However it’s okay without them; that was just the original idea – an oasis, a fantasy in front of the sea. I did some research and apparently the Torpor palm trees have been around in the UK for donkey’s years.
I like the swimmers (in front of the installation) as they’re also conceptual; they’re not standing on the plinth, they’re inserted. It’s like they’re swimming out of the plinth into the sea. So part of the brief was that I needed to work with the piece that was already there.
The START/FINISH line was obviously the idea of the sports start/finish line, but also in comparison to monuments as they were in the past, where you have the classic monument or sculpture which is some king sitting on a horse. I always think it’s something you look up to, but I thought with this piece, the black granite inserted in the ground, is a spot where the person who stands there becomes the monument. I wanted the monument to be the people who are looking at the sea, rather than creating something else.
Also it’s a good photo opportunity to take photos or selfies and it will be a memory of a moment of something that you felt when you were there. Also, as it’s the marker of the trail, which is quite a long trail – we all have a sense of aspiration when we’re climbing a mountain or going on a walk. You want to walk a certain distance and achieve it. Shortly after the piece was installed, some children stepped over it and said ‘we’ve done it! We’ve done the walk!’ So there’s a playful element to the work, which I enjoy.
Is it the view you like best?
My favourite thing about Dover is definitely the views, although not necessarily the harbour. From up on the castle hill you can look over to France. The sky is so open as well; in London you’re never so aware of the sky as you are here. I love that. I’m the kind of person like a fish, when I see water I am happy. On the train the first time you see the sea here from the train, it’s like my heart is lightening up. I love the sea.