This sculpture in the Meadowhall shopping centre shows three steelworkers pouring out molten metal from a crucible into an ingot mould, a process known as ‘teeming’. The huge mall is built on the site of a former steelworks in Sheffield, and the sculpture is a poignant reminder of the city’s steelmaking history. Viewed in context it is a jarring memorial to the cataclysmic economic upheavals Sheffield has experienced. As in so many other towns and cities across the Midlands and the North of England, the urban landscape has been denuded of heavy industry and manufacturing. This post-industrial desolation is characterised by rusting skeletons of once proud factories, post-demolition wastelands and the ubiquitous shopping malls and retail parks. The human cost is just as profound if less visible.
So the sculpture is teeming with meaning. Hundreds of shoppers rush by it every hour. Few seem to stop and ponder its significance. But perhaps that isn’t the point of this striking piece of public art. What it does is hold and keep the human story in a temple of consumerism that is desperately soul-less. It says “this mattered; this is part of who you are. Look and learn. The triumph and tragedy of life depicted before your eyes can pour out meaning into your soul. If you will but look deeply you can leave here richer”. This wisdom cannot be paid for with Visa, bagged up and carried home from Meadowhall’s shops. It is offered for free to those who will engage with the art. The price has been paid in the blood, sweat, tears, toil and unemployment of the steelworkers and their families.
Might the Church in our time usefully rediscover the charism of ‘public art’ and the teeming of meaning in the secular, consumerist marketplace?
Do have a look at Sally’s poem ‘Wisdom calling…’ inspired by this post