Wednesday, 7 January 2015

A sense of fun

Just before Christmas I was discussing our work at Croome with our regional head of conservation, and I asked what she thought was particularly good about what we're up to. Her response was that our projects all had a sense of fun about them. And it's true. They are all grounded firmly in Croome's stories, characters and genii loci, but our aim is to make everything easily accessible by not being too serious about them. It's become one of our guiding principles, and in his own way, I think this is why Grayson Perry has such appeal.

Potentially this is going to be difficult to maintain, but should be possible as long as we keep asking ourselves whether we're being too serious about things. One thing that is really going to challenge this is as we start doing things in the main rooms in the house because they have their own serious architectural designs.

Monday, 8 December 2014


I went to the Holbourne Museum in Bath on Saturday to see the Paul Scott exhibition of his Cumbrian Blue(s) ceramics work. It's both striking and playful in the way it modernises antique ceramics, making the antique relevant in an unexpected way. It prompted me to think further about the work we'll be doing with Croome's ceramics collection.

All the work was displayed on a table with a long cloth on it, on which were lightly printed the names of British ceramics makers. The large glass case around the display had a minimal amount of text, and that was high up, so as not to obscure the view. There were also small ceramics tablets with titles of each piece of work on them. This approach to labelling was very refreshing, with added info in an accompanying booklet.

I can start to envisage an installation of our French Sèvres porcelain which is a collaboration between an 'emerging' artist, a ceramicist and a curator, and possibly use Twitter hashtags to label the work.

Also at the Holbourne was a gentle installation by Holly Davey, reflecting on the life of Barbara Holbourne

Friday, 14 November 2014

Kelmarsh II

Back to Kelmarsh yesterday – I wrote about my first visit earlier in the year – and with a much clearer purpose. For the first, main display of the collection, we have decided to focus on the ceramics/porcelain elements of the collection. As the main room we’re focusing on is the Dining Room/Hare Krishna Room, porcelain seems to fit so well.

The things that really stood out for me with the porcelain were the consistent use of flowers/plants and fruit. The others were animals and recurrent colours.

Other things of note in what I saw today were the general number of portraits in such a range of styles and sizes and ages, and the cockerels. It is, of course, a symbol of the Coventry family, and it looks like they must have collected lots of them, in different sizes and media.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014


It's been three months since my last blogging...

Having spent a few hours on a train from Bristol to Newcastle last Saturday, then an hour on a coach, I found myself at dusk, sitting in a forest of pine trees near Kielder Water. I’d made this journey for a sound installation/performance by Chris Watson and Iain Pate called Hrafn: Conversations with Odin, using the sound of 2,000 ravens coming in to roost to create a 40-minute piece that was both unsettling and somehow, oddly, reassuring.

The last thing we were told before walking into
the part of the forest where it was happening, was that according Norse myths, Odin has two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who he sends off every morning to fly around the earth, and they return every evening to tell him what they have seen.

We were encouraged to do what we felt as the ravens started to ‘arrive’ – stay in one place, or get up and move around the performance space in the deepening gloom, among the tall, godlike dark trunks of the pines, listening in on different ‘conversations’. It had a symphonic effect (though never reaching the crescendo that I’d expected), with the layering of the different voices, and what seemed like an underlying rhythm.

The reason I went was partly to do with the fact that I found the idea intriguing, and partly because I’m looking for inspiration of how to use 
audio at Croome, especially in a way that doesn’t take an explicitly narrative-based approach. I’d heard about it when some of us went to JerwoodSpace, as the Jerwood Foundation collaborated with the Forestry Commission to fund this and another piece.

I stayed in Newcastle overnight and had another unique experience in the morning – having to queue for breakfast, at the Quay Ingredient. That people are willing to queue for a good 
meal at this time of day is very heartening. After breakfast, I headed to the Baltic – Tate Modern-like in its offer, and with its own Millennium Bridge to boot.

Lydia Gifford’s show Drawn was one of two exhibitions open, and this was further work that I found appealingly unsettling, with its constrained yet deeply expressive humanity.

I also went to the Laing Gallery, which was rather like a national gallery for the North East, before heading for Edinburgh and a meeting with the weavers at Dovecot to talk about artists we might like to collaborate with if we were to do something with them.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

All eight


Birds in the Park

Although not entirely original in its conception (think Gromit Unleashed) we've taken a slightly different approach to large fibreglass animal figures. Ours are based on the Golden Pheasants that were once in the aviary of Barbara St John at Croome, and are perched in trees.

The eight models were made by Will Datson and they're just over 2m long. There were four artists working with us: Sharon Farrelly, Lucy Hutchinson, Santhanha Nguyen, and James Birkin, all of whom had work shown at the New Art West Midlands show earlier this year. They spent a day with pupils from St Barnabus school at Croome (who all seemed to know much more about Croome than I do), and used their ideas for the designs for half the birds, then their own ideas for the other four. The results are are so diverse and they are all very appealing in their own way.

Will then returned to Croome and hoisted them up into a number of trees around the park, and fixed them firmly to branches.

New shoes

Soul to Sole has just gone through an expansion phase with a number of new shoes (and footprints) being added, and it is really getting very close to where we want it to be. The creativity and variety of approach by the different artists to our installation on the myriad people who have lived at Croome is boundless. Amongst others, there are now four sets of footprints in clay, of adults who lived in the Hare Krishna community when they were children, and a pair of porcelain shoes with leather quarters and heels representing Wendy Hogarth, one of the WWII WRENS from RAF Defford. The footprints were made by Anna Mitchell, and the porcelain ones by Lisa Sheppy. We've some more shoes coming over the next few weeks, and we're going to re-do the lighting too.