The Singing, Ringing Tree and Panopticons - Not Just for Terrorizing Prisoners Anymore

We found this video of a rather peculiar public landmark project emerging from the Lancashire midlands, not far from Manchester. Abandoned and depressed since the industrial revolution revolved to Asia, with all the mines and factories shuttering into oblivion, the region has had to start getting creative about how to reinvigorate the local economy.

One of their methods of getting creative is by building a series of unusual monuments, readymade landmarks to drive any kind of tourism up into the English hinterlands, dubbed "Panopticons" with a peculiar interpretation of the word. The "panopticon" we know is the one developed by Jeremy Bentham to provide total isolation and awareness of prisoners, later picked up by Foucault and others to describe the terrorizing surveillance that governments inflict on their citizens. Which is to say, the word coined by Bentham, leaves a bit of a bad taste in our mouths.

One of the most peculiar of these "Panopticon" landmarks is the unfortunately named "Singing, Ringing Tree." Built near a site known for its history of witchcraft, the tree is made of twisted pipes that pick up the wind and thus sing, emitting a truly spooky sound, one that could be easily, and cheaply, used by a horror film for the sound of lost souls. The fanfare and the rhetoric surrounding the project are a bit weird, but the structure itself is so strange and unintentionally beautiful that it doesn't matter. I say unintentionally (given its name and the city press release) because seems an odd way to reinvigorate a dying region by giving voice to its lost souls.

But it works. We think it's truly worth a road trip to Lancashire.

1 comment:

Gayle said...

Hello, I'm part of the project team that co-ordinated the Panopticon project so I thought I'd add a few thoughts.

Firstly, thanks for featuring Singing Ringing Tree - if anyone wants more information they can visit where you can also see info about Halo, Colourfields and Atom, the other sculptures in the series.

Just for clarification - people in the UK use the word 'midlands' to describe the area around Birmingham. Lancashire is about 200 miles north of that so I don't want people to be confused about the location.

The word Panopticons was selected because Pan meaning panorama and opticons meaning all seeing - gives a very apt description of the purpose of them i.e. taking people to the tops of hills to see the amazing panoramic views available in Lancashire.

You also question the name Singing Ringing Tree - the artists, Tonkin Liu, were inspired by and old German TV programme from the late 60s with the same name.

I hope all that helps.

And yes, they truly are worth a visit.