A piece of Darlington’s heritage and folklore was the inspiration behind ‘Strang Stane’ which was displayed within Darlington’s covered market. A live performance by Endem & Leum commissioned as part of ‘Strang Stane’ marked its opening there on Friday 24 August 2018 and it remained on display for several weeks, rotating periodically throughout the day.
‘Strang Stane’ was created by London-based artists Shaun Doyle and Mally Mallinson, who were awarded County Durham Community Foundation’s Dover Prize 2016, a £10,000 bursary to develop an exhibition of works to be premiered in Darlington. Doyle and Mallinson’s practice deals with political, social and historical issues utilising an eclectic mix of cultural references and often use second-hand materials, salvaged from other sources, bringing with them their own history. The duo explored the history and mythology surrounding the Bulmer Stone, a glacial boulder that once marked the northern edge of town. Associated with engineer George Stephenson, it can also be found depicted on bronze plaques alongside the Locomotion 1 steam engine. A town crier called Willy Bulmer would stand on it to read out the contents of the newspapers while in folklore it is said to revolve nine times at 12 o’clock, though no one knows if it’s midnight or midday.
The boulder was moved in 1923 during road works and is now ‘imprisoned’ behind the railings of Central House, Northgate. Using imagery and forms associated with activism and protest, ‘Strang Stane’ imagines the Bulmer Stone being returned to its original position. The artists explained: “We became interested in the stone, both as a prehistoric landmark and because of its association with Stephenson and the railways. The fact it supposedly has the magic power of movement gave it an extra level of interest, as did its removal from its original site. We tried to research this, but all we could find were a few references to protests in 1923 from locals who called the removal of the Bulmer Stone ‘an act of vandalism’. As artists we’ve looked at the imagery and forms associated with protest movements and have imagined an attempt to return the Bulmer Stone to its original position.”
Margaret Vaughan, Chief Operating Officer, County Durham community Foundation, said: “We relaunched the Dover Prize in 2016 as a major art bursary for Darlington, to highlight the Foundation’s ongoing aim to support excellence and experimentation in the arts and creative industries in our region. Doyle and Mallinson have created an exciting and interesting piece and, through winning the Dover Prize, have helped raise the profile of contemporary arts in Darlington to make a positive impact on the town.”