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Introducing the new at Ham

15 Nov
Tessa Fitzjohn talking to staff and volunteers at Ham House

Tessa Fitzjohn talking to staff and volunteers at Ham House

Last Friday saw myself and Tessa Fitzjohn speaking to a packed Orangery at Ham House, in Richmond. Tessa was appointed project curator to develop a programme of artistic activity to celebrate the history and richness of Ham using its garden spaces in 2011.

We were pleased to have a large turnout: 75 staff and volunteers came to hear about Trust New Art, before Tessa spoke specifically about the approach and artists that she will be using.

It is vital that contemporary art projects are ‘owned’ by the teams running the National Trust places where they happen. This means staff and volunteers understanding why art projects are happening, taking responsibility for their success, and advocating positively for them to other staff members and visitors.

In many National Trust properties, volunteers are at the front line of visitor experience. From car parking to room guides, and at many other levels, they can be the main points of contact while visitors experience a place. It can be a big step for a contemporary art installation to arrive in a space that is familiar and well-loved, even if only for a short while.

What we have learned from projects in the past and over the summer of 2010 is introducing the idea to people well in advance is vital. At Kedleston Hall, working with Susie MacMurray, only volunteers who felt positive about the project were asked to be on duty in the room during visiting hours. Some property volunteers had helped install the work, met the artist and the other project volunteers (mainly art students) over a period of a few weeks running up to the opening. This gave an appreciation for the project, and helped them speak about it to visitors. For some volunteers, it was not a project that they felt they could support. The property team appreciated this, and asked only that they explained the thinking behind it to visitors, even if they themselves did not like the art installation.

At a number of properties, including Ham, we will be working over the months – and sometimes years – leading up to project to ensure that the team of staff and volunteers at least know what is happening, and at best gain a positive appreciation and involvement with the work. This could include articles in volunteer newsletters, using volunteer noticeboards, getting project curators and artists to speak at volunteer meetings, inviting volunteers onto project steering groups, and (my favourite) working with artists to introduce some artwork behind the scenes of a property over a period of time to give a preview and an opportunity for discussion about what it happening.

Site-responsive contemporary art takes place within a complex web of relationships and opportunities. To ignore the perspectives of those we charge with presenting National Trust properties to the public will only compromise the success of a positive experience of the art for our visitors.

Tom Freshwater

Contemporary Art Programme Manager

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Seaton Delaval: CO2morrow

13 Aug

CO2morrow by Marcos Lutyens and Alessandro Marianantoni. Photo Marcos Lutyens

Seaton Delaval Hall is hosting ‘CO2morrow’, a dynamic illuminated sculpture by Marcos Lutyens and Alessandro Marianantoni until the end of October 2010.

This imposing, 8m diameter, carbon-fibre structure is a creative response by the artists’ to the challenges posed by our changing climate. The shape is based on a zeolite molecule that absorbs carbon dioxide and is used in industrial scrubbers in order to remove the gas from the air.

Detail of Lutyens and Marianantoni's sculpture. Photo by Marcos Lutyens

CO2morrow by night. Photo Maureen Ritson

Reflecting the changing light from its many spines by day, and creating a striking illumination at night, the work sits in stark contrast to the symmetry of the Hall, design by Sir John Vanburgh and completed in 1728. But there is good reason for the sculpture to be here…

From the earliest stages of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, the family at the Hall were heavily involved with the coal mining industry.  Seaton Sluice, with which this activity is connected, is a sheer-sided channel that was blasted through the rocky coastline in 1763. It provided safe access for boats transporting coal to be sold across the country, whatever the weather and the tide. Today, in contrast, nearby town of Blyth is the centre for many new green technology companies, those  such as NAREC, who are responsible for the construction of wind turbines and whose site can be seen from the foot of Lutyens’ and Marianantoni’s sculpture at the Hall.

View from the sculpture looking out towards a local 'green industry' site

This is a sculpture that helps people discover the links in the landscape, between the heavy industry of the past, and the cleaner industries of the future. A sculpture that makes people look and think in more ways than one.

The sculpture was first commissioned by the National Trust for the Royal Academy’s 2009 GSK Contemporary Exhibition ‘Earth: art of a changing world’ and was exhibited on the exterior of the Royal Academy building before coming to Seaton Delaval this summer. Full credits for the sculpture can be found here.

Seaton Delaval Hall and the CO2morrow sculpture

Thanks to the staff for a warm welcome on a windy day.

Tom Freshwater