Seminar- Second Site- the Context of Art.

DSC_1463Hestercombe Gallery, nr Taunton, Seminar, 12th February 2014, 1pm – 4.30pm

This was the 3rd of a series of seminars at this new Contemporary Art space in Somerset. It is complementary to the exhibition, ‘Second Site’, currently at the gallery that presents new work by 5 artists who have responded to the galleries reclaimed space through exploration of Hestercombe’s history and recent re-unification between the house and gardens.

Their work encapsulates a diverse range of media from drawing and sculpture, interventions to sound and film. The show not only relates to indoors and outdoor spaces, it also builds collaborations with others that work at Hestercombe and the surrounding areas.

Four of the artists featured in the exhibition where invited to talk about ‘The context of art’, relating to their works in the exhibition, followed by a talk by artist, Alex Chinneck, known for his large scale public installation in Covent Garden, London, last October.

 Jo Lathwood, who has been artist in residence through out this year managed to talk quite clearly with regard to her work. She spoke about how it was made in response to the site- it was site- specific– and as such would not hold up at a different site, and some of the work would later only exist in the form of documentation. She referred to the materials– again coming from the site, and as with the copper cabling, referring to the historical links to the fire service, and pewter collected from volunteers who work in the house. She used these materials to make a bronze sculpture, ‘According to rules and legend’, pointing out that this piece could exist outside, but would always be about Hestercombe. She then highlighted some of the historical links that impacted on decisions she made about her work, like the oak gall works presented in apertures that relate to the big windows of the house, which a previous matriarch had forbidden her staff to look out off, along with larger works installed in the windows to effectively ‘black them out’. In a previous artist talk she had also spoken about finding a recipe for oak gall ink in documents relating to artist, Copleston Warre Bampfylde, who was a previous owner of the house. She had included using this in her experiments in making the ink.

Patrick Lowry, normally makes work around contemporary issues, but felt able to make work as the house still retains a lot of physical evidence of the houses history. He spoke about this aspect of works being site specific and described how being asked to re-show a work made for one location, in a different place, had made him feel uncomfortable. He had to justify to himself that it was OK, by re-working the piece so that it did make links with the new location. His work took some garden architecture, a fountain, and made a scaled replica and brought it inside. With this he had taken an archadian landscape painting by Bampfylde and represented it as a 3 dimensional tableau on the upper tier of the fountain.

Megan Calvers work seems to make links between aspects of the houses history and current use that at times seemed a bit tenuous and obscure. She has worked with groups of people that currently use the space- a youth music group and flower arranging society, and has made work that has evolved through these collaborations.

Simon Hitchens, a sculptor, also spoke of the site- specific aspect of the works. The stone used to make his sculpture in front of the house was obtained from a local quarry. He spoke of the links in terms of ‘geological age’- the stone used to build the house came from the same quarry, adding to the sense of ‘belonging’. The sculpture outside is paired with another inside, that is a cast of the same stone- they are facing each other – ‘it is looking at its origins through the window’.

Alex Chinneck, trained as a sculptor, has become well known for his large outdoor public projects, he describes as a mix of theatrical set design, sculpture, architecture, construction and engineering. He creates illusions, through taking materials and processes and channelling them in a creative way. He spoke about making the ‘everyday world extraordinary’- a revised representation of the world around us. To illustrate this idea he described taking a feature, like a smashed window, and through the use of modern technologies being able to reproduce this more than a thousand times, and then re-introducing it into the context, an old warehouse, from where it came. He spoke about being ‘contextually sensitive’, balancing spectacle with subtlety, like the Covent Garden project and ‘tuning the aesthetics with the surrounding site’. He also said something about the nature of these projects that interested me as it kind of relates to things I have been thinking about in my own work. He spoke of their impermanence- they are often in the public domain for a given time, and then removed. He gave the impression that for him this was one of their strengths and made them in tune with the ‘instagram’ culture and contemporary society.

It was interesting to hear all these artists talking about their work and the relating context. Location, and the idea of site-specific works, seems key to all of them. The works them selves wouldn’t necessarily make sense if shown in a different location, or because of their nature wouldn’t be possible in another location, unless presented in the form of documentation. A number of the artists spoke of the links between the location and the materials they were using- copper wire from the house, oak galls from the grounds and stone from a local quarry. You could even consider the people who collaborated with Megan as her ‘material’. The house and gardens have a considerable history which was also key to informing the work of each of the artists, though each taking their own perspective. This did make me think about how as artists commissioned to make work in response to a location, there is a sense of imposed criteria- location, history, and possibly, materials, but each artist will bring their own ‘context’ to the work, that in some respects gives it that added value.

The context in Chinneck’s work, as he alludes to when talking about ‘impermanence’, relates strongly to contemporary society. Whilst also remaining sensitive to the historical aesthetics of location. He also makes the point that the nature of much of the public art he makes is accessible to the public where there is no room for intellectual elitism.

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