Cotterrell ‘s contribution to this Environmental Art Community
Consultation was a work of mystery: an inexplicable ‘geyser’ in the middle
of a Birmingham suburb, which from May to August daily shot 500 litres
of water in a column 30 metres high.
Saltley has a long history of immigrant populations: Victorian industry
attracted Irish and European workers from a variety of faiths and today
many residents are from Southern Asia. A large proportion of the area is
fluent in Urdu or Bengali but many speak little or no English.
Cotterrell was interested in creating a piece of public work capable of
transcending language barriers. Like the party atmosphere of a Brooklyn
summer, when fire hydrants are tampered with to allow water play,
Cotterrell’s geyser served as a meeting point for the local community of
Couchman Road Park.
A hole measuring 10 metres in depth and 30 cm in diameter was dug by
Roger Bullivant Ltd using a mini digger powered by an hydraulic engine.
The hole was reinforced with steel sheets and a pump was suspended close
to its bottom. Midlands Electricity Board supplied a 3-phase electricity
inverter to power the pump. Piping was attached to the pump and fed up to
a nozzle concealed just below ground level. Cotterrell dug a 20metre trench
from the road into the park, into which a pipe, supplied by Severn Trent
Water, was fed to supply the geyser’s requisite 500 litres of water a day.
At 4pm, The Saltley Geyser would promptly erupt. Local residents
gathered in the park to witness the event. Within days of its installation,
news of the ‘phenomenon’ had spread, and people were making an effort to
meet at the geyser in order to chat, catch up on gossip and watch their
children play in the water.
This public green space was in a state of decline: many residents avoided
the park as there seemed to be constant supply of burnt out cars decorating
its landscape. But the same people responsible for various acts of
vandalism took ownership of Cotterrell’s geyser; keeping the site secure
became de rigueur for local teenagers in the months their geyser was