Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire
24 September - 26 October 2011
Reviewed by: Helen Cocker »
Six centuries ago, Ralph Cromwell, Lord Treasurer of England, set out to build Tattershall Castle, a 130ft tower on a piece of land he liked to call home. This powerful symbol of wealth was a true technological wonder, a masterpiece on the landscape of the Lincolnshire flatlands. Today, Tattershall stands proudly by the roadside, witness to the regular passing of numerous bikers, many heading for the seaside town of Skegness. Interestingly, folklore has it that Skegness took its name from 'Skeggi' (now its common colloquial nickname) meaning 'bearded one' - attributed to the Viking who first settled in the area. An appropriate heritage for the numerous machine loving, beard bearing, bike riders who make it their destination today!
A prime location en-route to the coast, Tattershall was a perfect place to stop and rest. But its hidden history and empty interiors left passers by feeling unsure about whether or not to venture in. And so, in a bid to win a new audience the castle began to open up the mystery in which it had been cloaked, and in late September it saw the launch of Dark Materials, a series of unique interventions and events.
Curated by Jane Greenfield and Kate Stoddart, Dark Materials, a contemporary creation in a medieval mould, was born from the East Midlands contemporary art programme and affiliated to Trust New Art, a three-year programme run by the National Trust. The focus of Trust New Art is to allow selected historic locations the chance to showcase a range of contemporary artists' projects. Dark Materials was a contemporary exhibition framed within an historic landmark, offering a rather compelling mix of heritage, art and biker culture. In support of the fly-by visitors of the road, the National Trust commissioned a 'biker-friendly' event, including a sculpture by the London based artist Tod Hanson. If you think all this outreach to the road sounds prescriptive, fear not - Hanson inhabited Dark Materials with originality and cast a surprising amount of light on both the castle and its alternative scene, turning things (quite literally) on their side with his work, Horsepower Vault.
Taking his inspiration from the castle's floor plans, Hanson constructed a colourful wooden machine, reinterpreting each level from the basement to the battlements. Tipped on their side, the plans took on an abstract quality, and it was into this framework that the artist threw a number of mechanical references. Along the surface of the wood a painted pattern of Old English bond brickwork turned unsuspectingly into tire tracks. Sections of the plans began to resemble bike parts and jousting poles, absorbing the history of their surroundings. Thick, black lines drawn around the edges of each wooden component produced graphic reinforcement of the room's boundaries. This machine was a combination of cartoon-like combustion engines and empty, flattened chambers, quiet and unmoving - much to the disappointment of many a child who stood expectantly by the cogs, ready for action.
Over the centuries Tattershall Castle has been subject to substantial physical alteration, moving from its original status as a technological and powerful symbol of wealth by Cromwell, to a noisy careless cattle house in the 18th Century, a reinvented ruin of Lord Curzon in 1911 and ending up, finally, as a property of the National Trust in 1925. It was the dramatic thrust of this castle's changing character, resulting in a calm, still monument to the machine, which fuelled the highly imaginative work of Tod Hanson in Dark Materials. Interested in architecture and the confinement of space through grids, frames and props, Hanson populated The Great Hall with a construction that revealed little of the lives lived at Tattershall, but more of the fantastic prestige its architect and engineer summoned when scheming over its conception. The only detail present was the intricate configuration of this compelling model's structure. Assemblages of wooden components locked firmly into hold mimicked the language of the walls and anticipated the engine driven drama of the roads. Hanson's work, much like the castle, provided an outer casing inside which the stories of its visitors could be projected. Stories that the bikers rode in on, stories that they could share in an unfamiliar setting but with an enthusiastic crowd.
Outside the castle a row of motorcycles were lined up in succession and an Alternative Village Fête occupied the grounds for a weekend curated by Home Live Art. A group of passionate performers keen on creating site-specific events and playing with models of community entered the castle grounds with relish. They pitched up their tents and roused the public with Gothic gardens, terrible tealeaf reading, rockabilly barn dancing, ghoulish face painting, biker's beauty contests and more. As Tod Hanson's machine sat gleaming in the castle, silently echoing the building in which it sat, the Fête fostered a lively atmosphere and encouraged it's fleeting guests to linger a little longer. A genuine mix of reinvention and reflection occupied the castle over the weekend, audiences drew together from far flung locations, some only passing, others visiting for the day, but all welcome and all exposed to the brighter side of Dark Materials.
E.H. Cocker is an artist and writer based in Yorkshire, interested in the relationships that are formed between art and language.
Tattershall Castle Sleaford Road Tattershall Lincolnshire LN4 4LR
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