Spectra Txt (Middlesbrough, Peter Freeman, 2004)

Spectra Txt (on the left, in front of Debenhams). Image from Middlesbrough Council brochure courtesy of Ian Stubbs

Status: Removed in 2018

“Spectra Txt will act as Middlesbrough’s very own Axis Mundi, playing a pivotal role in the town’s daily existence,” he said.

Peter Freeman, Artist (2004)

Spectra Txt (images by Ian Stubbs)

Inspired by both Captain Cook’s Tahitian travels and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner architecture (itself a product of Teesside’s industrial works), Peter Freeman’s Spectra Txt was a futuristic mirrored column of twinkling lights in the heart of Middlesbrough’s retail centre.

Commissioned by Tees Valley Arts on behalf of Middlesbrough Council and costing £90,000 to install, the 1000 fibre-optic lights on the stainless steel monolith could be controlled via text message by anyone passing by, causing them to dance in different sequences.

Image from Middlesbrough Council brochure (courtesy of Ian Stubbs), showing the 6 different light displays that could be activated by texting 07919 000077. The displays were named: blue, starvibe, xxx, pearl, boro, and chromapop.

It wasn’t just locals who could interact with the sculpture: to celebrate the unveiling of the sculpture, as reported in the Evening Gazette:

“One of the first text messages sent to the post asking it to change colour came all the way from Tahiti – where Middlesbrough-born explorer Captain Cook had visited 236 years to the day earlier.”

This message aimed to show how texting – like Cook’s journeys – made the world a smaller, more interconnected place.

Various images from Middlesbrough Council brochure (courtesy of Ian Stubbs)

According to the Gazette, the text feature proved so popular that it overloaded the column’s memory within two weeks, meaning that repairs were soon needed.

After 14 years in the town, Spectra Txt was finally removed in 2018 – by which time the text function had long ceased to work.

4 thoughts on “Spectra Txt (Middlesbrough, Peter Freeman, 2004)

  1. Tony Duggan May 14, 2023 / 9:38 am

    It seems that most sculptures incorporating light or water , have a short shelf life . The steel gantry structure on Linthorpe Road by the A66 had a ball filled with fiber optic lights that only lasted a short time and the flow form sculptural water feature on Russell Street was eventually filled in and became a flower bed .You can’t beat a sculpture forged or hand carved for longevity .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Daniel Cochran May 14, 2023 / 9:39 am

      Was it often hard to explain the life cycle of public art to folks Tony? I think the public assume things are made to last forever but that’s obviously not the case. Is there ever any expectation management done?


      • Tony Duggan May 14, 2023 / 10:19 am

        Normally as part of the commissioning process , it would be good practice to assess maintenance and durability issues . For example when the Graham Ibbeson fiberglass works on Linthorpe Road were commissioned we knew they had a short life being exposed to the elements , but Graham did visit the works and carry out maintenance . Works of stone or steel clearly have natural resilience . I think the problem area is where artists are pushing the boundaries of technology and in these instances the Commisioner is taking a risk , unless they undertake some independent risk assessment .I guess whilst not intentional , many artworks that incorporate technology become temporary , by default, but that does not detract from the artistic integrity . Fashion in Urban design is a constantly evolving , Linthorpe Road is redesigned every 10 years as new materials emerge . Some of these succeed and others fail , so resilience is a wider problem with public realm works .Ownership is critical to the success of public art and that is a two way process between the artist and the commissioner . Some artists continue to take an interest in their work following installation and others move on to the next piece of creativity .

        Liked by 1 person

      • Daniel Cochran May 14, 2023 / 10:23 am

        That’s really interesting, thanks Tony. I’m interviewing a few artists soon whose work would be considered very high maintenance. I’ll ask them about the plans.


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