As the anthropomorphism fades, certain details come to the fore, such as the way the shaggy grass blows in the wind. On this day, the breeze whips up the lake, but when it is placid and mirrorlike, the water provides a more striking visual contrast to the adjacent earth tiers, Downer said. Jencks has said his work is best experienced early or late in the day, when long shadows accentuate the features.
The figure provides a series of resting and viewing platforms, the uppermost on the forehead. From here, you get a view of the open cast mine, with its evident coal seams, several huge dump trucks (rendered toy-size) and the storage yard with its black windrows of coal.
The higher you climb on the Lady, the stronger the breeze gets. The wind is part of Jencks’s cosmic palette, as is the coal mine. Jencks notes that Cicero and others placed the terrain into three classes: the wilderness as First Nature, agriculture as Second Nature and gardens as Third Nature.
Jencks gives this order his own bookends. Zero Nature represents the underlying laws of nature, including gravity and electromagnetism. His Fourth Nature embodies human-generated waste, particularly industrial scrap. “Rubbish and leftovers,” he writes, “are as ‘natural’ to economic life today as perspiration is to exercise.”
The waste from coal mining, slag, caused the tabloid press to dub Northumberlandia “Slag Alice,” a play on an unflattering, fictitious character here named Slack Alice.
The name makes Downer bristle. “The local people are mightily offended when the popular press comes up with names like this.”
At his side is Katie Perkin, a spokeswoman for Banks. “People in Cramlington call it the Lady, their Lady, and there’s a real sense of ownership but also a real sense of affection,” she said.
Jencks seems sanguine about the digs. “Public art has to go through that crucible. I think she’s strong enough to take anything we throw at her.”
Richardson is reminded of the time he and Jencks were walking through the Garden of Cosmic Speculation when its creator turned to him. “Can’t you see, we are in a dialogue with the universe?”