Houghton Hall

I took a trip to Houghton Hall, Norfolk. Well-known for the contemporary sculpture gardens, it is set in typical bucolic English country house setting. Like many stately homes who have had to find ways of attracting cash flow through providing a spectacle of some kind to enhance the visitor experience, Houghton Hall has opted to bring or commission renown sculptors work to the grounds and house. The lions of Longleat, Woburn Safari Park, and Alton Towers theme Park are a few examples of the creative ways the landed gentry have tried to keep a hold on their property and maintain the estates.

It is interesting that the large sculptures by Richard Long (otherwise well known for his long walks and way-marking land art) chose not to challenge the ordered landscape but sat within the sight-lines and formal shapes and structures of the gardens. I suppose they reflected the site, and were specific in that respect. I felt they worked visually and aesthetically, but the impression left was one of conformity, of sustaining the ownership of property that was arguably stolen from the people during the acts of enclosure. Now we have to pay ( and pay well)  just to look at the land that was stolen from our ancestors. Unless of course you are actually landed gentry yourself ( in which case, ignore my comments, I am available for commissions.....) I preferred his sculpture within the house where the rocks rise up jaggedly from a smooth floor, and completely disrupts the interior space. Long's drip paintings ( a type of painting I particularly dislike for it's reliance on chance and limited output) might be a more acceptable form of graffiti defacing, destructuring and challenging the power infused environment.  For all that, though I do not like to see work on older properties that create a defacement, even if he has remained within the stone arch structures, but it is clearly just a matter of personal taste. Perhaps I am guilty of being a bit contrary.

Below is a photo of Richard Long's Full Moon Circle, with course lecturer Dr Jane Watt and some students looking at the sculpture


Above and below are within the work Sky Space Seldom Seen by James Turrell.


My previous interest in the "view through" the portal, window has again been piqued by this work of Turrell. The whole structure serves to support and facilitate the gaze upon a patch of sky, through a clean cut window open to the sky. The platform is raised about the ground by about 25 feet, so further isolating the sky experience. The viewer/participant is enticed into a meditative state as regarding the sky as it slowly changes to the disembodied sounds of the surrounding woods and birdsong. I wondered if we were actually listening to a soundtrack, and had to go outside to check if it was the actual environs I was listening to.

As I contemplated the sky, I returned to the Park in Brno, Czech Republic, where I had made my film of the sky, with the shedding leaves from the trees. There I contemplated how we all live under the same sky, needing to breathe the same air. I thought how, rich and poor, sick and well, imprisoned or free, we all live under the blue dome that arches over our home. The sky's openness, lack of constraint and boundary serve as a metaphor for freedom. The idea of sky, of clouds and the blue dome, remain a motif of great interest to me.

 The Framing, cut isolate simplyfy

The Framing, cut isolate simplyfy

The openness of the sky is contrasted by the need, or desire to isolate or frame it to make an art piece. If we do not do so we are just looking at the sky. Some form of isolation, framing, context is what makes it a work of art. Above I have made a piece that, like the Turrell piece takes a clean cut out of the landscape and presents it to the viewer. A restricted colour gamut further simplifies the piece. The viewer is left wondering what happens outside the view presented, they also may wonder why it has been cut in such a way? Why are the 'normal' conventions of a picture ( ie a rectangle) not there?

Despite my reservations about the ethics of the Richard Long pieces, the visual impact of these massive discs of slate cannot be underestimated. The day we spent together at Houghton Hall was very pleasant and triggered plenty of interesting dialogue between our group of lecturers and students. The character and personalities of our group all had an impact upon the day. I have started a painting, which I call "Regarding Richard Long". The painting is to be a record of the day, and the interaction between our group, each other, our thoughts and the works themselves. I have been developing ideas about "thought" lines, or lines of meaning and attention. These lines ( usually thinly masked out areas of a drawing or painting) are used to draw attention to a layer of meaning, or to signify human attention or thought within the motif. The painting will have members of out group looking at the "Sky Moon" with thought and attention lines signifying their attention at that moment. The sky, magnificent, disinterested and unaffected by our trivial thoughts gazes down in the same manner it has since time immemorial.

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