This week, we had a brilliant visiting lecture organised by the Surrey Hills Arts to talk about their recent project; Inspiring Views, which includes work from five artists, a poet and a sound artist, responding to five breathtaking viewpoints along the Surrey Hills.

The lecture included talks from Ali Clarke, the programme manager at Surrey Hills Arts and three of the artist’s who were selected to make the sculptural seating.

I was so drawn into this project after having attended the lecture, that I decided to go out and visit each location myself…

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I started off at The Hurtwood, which had three of the benches in it. The first of which was Matthew Burt’s ‘converse’ bench on Holmbury Hill. This was one of the benches which was designed as wheelchair accessible and the spaces between each bench is big enough to fit a wheelchair.

It is a really sociable arrangement and I like how it encourages people to enjoy the views together. Burt has used sweet chestnut to make this bench, which has such a rich colour once varnished and it looks really striking in this space. I also really like that the reason he has chosen to use this wood is because it grows in abundance in the Surrey Hills and he is conscious about sourcing his materials locally in order to maintain a sustainable practice.

From here, I went on to Reynards Hill where Russell Jukubowski’s ‘contour’ bench sits at the top of the pathway that leads from car park 4 of The Hurtwood.

Jukubowski’s bench is the only one which is made from a material other than wood, however it doesn’t feel any less of a part of the space than the other seating. The materials used are all recycled and the bench is constructed from a series of layers that build up to recreate the effect of layers of earth and marine sedimentation.

I really liked how this piece plays with depth perception and how it looks different from different angles. At the time of say I visited, the light also has a beautiful effect on these layers. My only disappointment with this bench, is that it did not make me feel as close to the space around me as some of the other benches did.

The third seating sculpture of my trail was Giles Miller’s ‘perspectives’ piece at Winterfold Hill. Unique from the rest of the works, this seating also had a shelter structure attached to it, which really felt like it transported you to somewhere magical.

 

Miller was inspired by commemorative messages that are often left in areas of natural beauty by people or their loved ones. He really highlights this with the way he incorporates new words and messages from local visitors in the work, which encapsulate their feelings and thoughts about the area.

I felt that these small editions of poetry, personal messages and contemplative thoughts engraved onto the individual ‘leaves’ of this sculpture were a lovely contribution to the space, and created a very personal atmosphere. You can tell that Miller holds his own personal connections to this place within the Surrey Hills.

The next bench I visited is situated on the most private piece of land of all the sites; on Hascombe Hill, up a small lane (Nore Lane) beside the White Horse pub. Located here, is Tom Nicholson Smith’s ‘Grains’ bench.

Comprised of individually carved wooden forms, Smith’s bench is a representation of giant grains of sand, which are piled up in a very informal manner. I felt that this bench was encouraging to be interacted with and I can imagine it would be very popular with passing children and dogs.

As it is so tucked away, this space felt like a really special, secret place, far away from any evidence of human dwellings. I couldn’t help but feel like this was somewhere very exclusive, and a place that I felt privileged to be experiencing.

The final bench is located a little further out; at Hindhead’s Gibbet Hill. This one is Walter Bailey’s ‘xylem’ and it sits among the ferns just to the right of Gibbet Hill’s main viewpoint.

Bailey has already created numerous works in collaboration with Surrey Hills Arts and his work sits beautifully in these kind of locations. This particular piece is inspired by the material charcoal and it’s historical relevance to the Greensand Way. The design was developed from photomicrographs of charcoal and the bench was charred onsite, once it had been installed.

Although it is not far from the path, and is in fact one of the wheelchair accessible sites, this bench too feels quite tucked away and it really blends in with the shrubbery. It also felt so refreshing to look out towards a different view than the standard viewpoint at Gibbet Hill, that I had visited so many times before.

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Overall, these benches really succeed in making you appreciate the space you are in more. Perhaps because you are witnessing the materials that surround you in a new form, or perhaps simply because someone else has spent the time to create something and give back to the environment. It is a very respectful project and I thoroughly enjoyed investigating each one!