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Modern Art At Hadrian’s Wall

August 26, 2022
Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian’s Wall, in Northern England

While London may be the place to go for foreign tourists in Britain, people are being drawn to the northern English countryside to see a recent addition to one of the country’s oldest structures.

Hadrian’s Wall is an ancient Roman fortification that runs seventy-three miles across the width of northern England. When soldiers garrisoned it, it marked the northernmost border of Roman Britain. Though the wall has been abandoned for most of its existence, it continues to inhabit many people’s imagination and cultural consciousness in Britain and beyond. The wall has frequently played a role in stories about Roman Britain, including in many books and movies. George R.R. Martin used Hadrian’s Wall as inspiration when writing about The Wall featured in his Song of Ice and Fire books, which the television show Game of Thrones is based upon. It has always been a popular destination for school trips and family outings. But while much of the wall and the old forts are gone thanks to local farmers needing stone to pave roads over the centuries, tourists might be pleasantly surprised to find a newer, far more colorful addition.

Housesteads is one of the best-preserved forts on Hadrian’s Wall and consequently is one of the more popular spots for visitors. So a large, colorful, appropriately fort-like structure may seem a little out of place for visitors to the site at the start of August. Created by the London-based installation artist Morag Myerscough, the structure is entitled The Future Belongs to What Was As Much As What Is. The structure is part of a series of art installations meant to celebrate the 1900-year anniversary of the wall’s construction starting in 122 CE. Myerscough made her structure with scaffolding before covering it with bright, neon-colored posters and placards featuring various words and slogans. The messages convey an array of thoughts and images related to the wall itself and provide insight as to what the wall means to local Britons. Some are simple and descriptive, like “Cold Wet Stone” or “Mossy Stone”. Others are more abstract, like “Being on the Edge of Something”, “Warning or Welcome”, and “Connections”. A group of volunteers from the surrounding communities made many of the posters. It’s thought-provoking because it seems a little out of place, being so loud and colorful amidst a sea of simple greens and grays. But also, Myerscough’s art fort is roughly the size of the original fort’s gatehouse. So while standing out and sending a message, it also restores part of the ruins to their former scale. Additionally, it acts as a reminder that such an old relic from a different age can still serve an important role both locally and worldwide, as a piece of tangible heritage and as a symbol or an idea. Myerscough’s fort will be standing at the Housesteads fort until October, weather permitting.