When Storm Desmond brought record levels of rainfall to the UK in December 2015 thousands of homes and businesses were damaged across Cumbria. This included a site of international artistic significance – Kurt Schwitters’ Merz Barn, situated near Elterwater close to Windermere.
The old farm shed was the location of the famous Dadaist’s final, ambitious indoor installation, which he called ‘Merzbau’. Made of everyday detritus including litter, Schwitters’ planned for it to become “the greatest sculpture of my life”, but never completed it before his death on 8 January 1948.
The site was bought in 2006 by non-profit arts trust Littoral with money from the Northern Rock Foundation and artists including Damien Hirst, Anthony Gormley, Tacita Dean, Bridget Riley and Richard Hamilton. Although Schwitters’ installation had long since been removed – in 1965 it was given to Newcastle University and a year later it was installed in the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle – the site remained accessible to visitors on open days.
However, it is now facing an uncertain future following the damage caused by the storm. Littoral are hoping to raise £25,000 to cover the initial emergency repairs and restoration work for the Merz Barn and the site. (You can view a video of their appeal here).
Ian Hunter of the Littoral Trust, said: “This would be to cover the costs of immediate restoration work on the Merz Barn and interim repairs to the other buildings on site. This includes the Shippon Gallery which is used regularly by visiting artists and school children.”
Explaining what will happen without the repairs, Hunter says: “The barn will continue to deteriorate and the end wall will collapse. We had been waiting to hear from the Arts Council about access to emergency funding, and the answer is, indirectly, no.”
The group are looking at other ways of raising the money. “We are obviously exploring other fundraising options including crowd sourcing and the possibility of some funding from the Cumbrian flood relief scheme. This is now rather unlikely, as it is only for farmers and local businesses.
“We are also looking at applications to other charitable funders. We are also sending a letter to the Tate’s Sir Nicholas Serota who is a supporter of the Merz Barn project.”
All of which takes time while the site continues to deteriorate. “Obviously we are doing what we can and will continue to do our best to look after the Merz Barn and support artists who want to come and work at the site, which has been our main work so far.”
Littoral are inviting the public to participate in a major clean up weekend on the site on Friday 11 to Sunday 13 March. “All artists and friends, volunteers, etc. are welcome. There will be limited free bunk barn accommodation and a big party and dinner on the Saturday night for artists and volunteers.”