A 21st century art exhibition has been installed in the grounds of an 18th century stately home to challenge visitors’ perceptions and hopefully introduce a new generation of people to contemporary art. ANNA WOOD took a tour of Attingham Park to see for herself the impact the new pieces have had.
Whether people love it or hate it, I think most would agree the setting of the new contemporary art exhibition at Attingham Park is one of the most naturally beautiful spots in the county.
So I was quite alarmed when I came across one of the eight new installations which have been created as part of the Give Me Shelter project commissioned by the south-Shropshire based Meadow Arts group.
A few weekends ago, before I knew about the project, I was enjoying a regular walk in the deer park of the National Trust property, admiring the changing colours of the trees and taking in the scenery, when I saw what looked like a climbing frame positioned right next to the late Georgian mansion.
The modern steel frame stood out like a blot on the landscape and was in complete contrast to the natural stonework of the Berwick home.
Children and parents were swarming about it so I did think it was a piece of play equipment. But then I noticed a similar structure, across the haha on cattle land, which seemed to mirror the original and I thought ‘well maybe it’s art’.
The project based around the idea of shelter has been produced to explore man’s changing relationship with the natural environment and four of the installations have been designed specifically for the 400-acre parkland.
As well as Roma, two pieces of sinuous steel which represent the River Tiber in Rome, and its sister piece, Boat Race by Birmingham- based Keith Wilson, there is an over-sized bird house, Rapunzel-esque tower and hideaway in the woods, hundreds of monopoly houses floating on the surface of the lake, and giant beach huts.
I don’t claim to ‘see’ or ‘get’ the interpretation that artists have of their work. But I think that’s the point, it’s open to interpretation, people see different things and have different reactions to pieces.
One of my favourites is Cellakabin, by international artist Henry Krokatsis. It is a wax-covered hut evoking a bird-watchers’ hideout or a child’s play area.
A small door opens into the space which has beautiful parquet floor and is warm and welcoming. I could imagine myself spending many a happy hour hiding in there with a book!
But then I noticed a small trapdoor which opens to reveal a cavity beneath with bars across the gap and the space becomes sinister and threatening – I was reminded of Natasha Kampusch.
The creator, Mr Krokatsis, was invited to join in the collection and said he has made a number of outdoor pieces around the theme of sheds and cabins before.
“The next piece I had in mind was to make a cabin that had a basement in the cellar. We talked about digging out a hole but it was a complicated idea. It turned out there was an old ice house so we used that.
“I wanted to make something that hovered on the border of sinister. You look at it and you’re not sure if it’s a protective space or a prison.”
He said he was very excited to be involved with the project which combines contemporary with a historical setting that is so English.
Other exhibits include Another, the Once and Future King, in Attingham’s walled garden, which is made of a lethal tangle of razor wire surrounded by security metal tape.
I think it looks like a beautiful, bare, silvery tree in winter time, but it was built by the artists, Cornford and Cross, to represent a precautionary action to protect and shelter the fertile ground of the gardens which could become a vital space for providing food and water.
A clay dome which rises out of the woodland is called How to Survive in the Coming Bad Years, by Ivan and Heather Morison. It was inspired by traditional pigeon rookeries found in rural Egypt and is encircled by a ring to suggest a future where man and nature will need to find ways to co-exist in a harmonious and mutually beneficial way.
At the top of the park’s Mile Walk is a tall stone tower which could be mistaken for a Victorian folly and to me looked like a romantic hideaway. It is Charlotte Gyllenhammar’s Traum, which is German for dream, and inside is a delicate tiny hot-air balloon intended to evoke the ‘complex psychological constructs involved in keeping ones dreams and ideals alive’.
Anne de Charmant, director of Meadow Arts and curator of the exhibition, said she was delighted at the finished product which was dreamt up last summer.
“This is a real first for Attingham Park. The artists were presented with more than 400 acres of some of the most beautiful landscape in the country to work with.
“They have responded by creating wonderful works that address some crucial issues while responding to the location and the complex history of Attingham Park.”
Mark Agnew, the National Trust property manager, said the park provides a fantastic location for contemporary art, and is a piece of art itself after being designed by Humphry Repton in 1797.
“I’m a big fan of other places where they’ve done a lot of art installations and this is very different for a National Trust property, we’ve obviously got a reputation for being more conservative,” he said. “Most of our visitors who come here are local people and we really want to try and engage with them about how we manage this property.
“Hopefully we will attract a new audience to the property who will come in and experience contemporary art, and also our existing visitors who don’t normally go to art exhibitions but come here will be able to experience it.”
He said project organisers hope people will share their reactions with the property and feedback forms are available.
Sarah Kay, project curator for the National Trust, said the reaction from visitors had been generally very positive.
I’m sure there will be many people who disagree with having such a modern exhibition in such a natural, historical English setting but I feel privileged that such an exciting and innovative project is right on my doorstep.
I think it’s brilliant that the National Trust is turning to 21st century art to attract new visitors to preserve the country’s heritage.
• What do you think? WHAT are your views on this art at Attingham Park? Send us your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 01743 283325.