This is Changes by the Icelandic sculptor Gudrun Nielsen, a monumental piece that has just been unveiled at Greenham Common where US bombers used to land – you get the references just by looking at it. Since the Greenham Common women saw off the last of the Right Stuff in 1988 the trees have returned along with the birds and the rest of the flora and fauna, and the military buildings have either been demolished or converted by the Greenham Common Trust which now owns it. Nielsen won a competition along with the late Michael Kenny, but that was 12 years ago and while Kenny’s large geometric form, Broken Symmetry, was unveiled almost immediately by Ringo Starr (a Kenny fan and local resident), Gudrun’s was a little tardy in taking off, as it were. The reasons, the trust tells me, are a mixture of funding difficulties, siting problems (“given the heroic scale of the proposal” – it’s 24 metres long and in nine parts) and planning issues, and it now stands – or lies - at the entrance to the once loathsome site.
But the unveiling also marks a coming of age for New Greenham Arts because the former military base is now a mixture of business estate and arts centre, under the chairmanship of the hotelier, wine importer and sculpture freak Sir Peter Michaels. It now has a studio theatre, used by the Corn Exchange at nearby Newbury which effectively runs the centre for the trust, and the trust contributes £200,000 a year to the artistic programmes; an exhibition space for its programme of visual art; and studio space for everything from life drawing to stand-up comedy rehearsals. There are also four resident theatre companies. “It’s been an extraordinary transformation, bringing this place to life, and a long journey, but it’s been worth it and Gudrun’s piece is rather the end of the beginning for us” Michael told me.