Review by Jareh Das
For the second edition of Tatton Park Biennial, Framing Identity: Contemporary Art at Tatton Park, 21 emerging and established artists have been commissioned to create a laboratory for creative experiment and change. New works have been commissioned for the Deer Park, Mansion and Formal Gardens, taking into consideration ideas about what link people to place, historicity and place-making as well as the collective visions of the future.
Tatton Park’s history dates back to Bronze Age farming and has been home to herds of deer since the 13th century. The Egerton family owned the estate in the late Tudor period, until the last Lord Egerton died without heirs in 1958. Taking this history into account, Framing Identity responds to the estate as a living and evolving subject, rather than as an historical keepsake.
Curated by Danielle Arnaud and Jordan Kaplan, members of Parabola (a curatorial body dedicated to the production of contemporary art and critical debate), this year’s biennial presents an even more ambitious use of space, place and a somewhat innovative approach to site-specific art on this scale. Arnaud and Kaplan have commissioned artists who, in one form or another, have added a new story to the unending legacy of Tatton as a site of dreams. The curators are also concerned with the danger in accepting received histories of places and people at face value, and feel responses to such descriptions are a necessity for art production.
Upon arrival at Tatton’s gardens, having glanced at the map provided, one is immediately taken aback by the scale of the project and ponders if all works can be experienced within a day’s visit. The pleasant thing about Tatton is the fact that although most works presented are of monumental scale, they are located within a manageable scale, animating the gardens with a maze of contemporary art.
The first point of call of the biennial trail is a monumental Egerton lion’s head sculpture coveting keratin and milk on white (made with Fran Edgerely), with an accompanying stolid billboard by recent Ruskin graduate, Helen Marten. This presentation comments on heraldry as an insight into the history of Tatton as well as a hierarchal tool prominent in country houses across Britain. The billboard placed in the lion’s view, suggests the shifting ownership of Tatton Park as both the National Trust and Cheshire East Council currently brand it.
Situated in close proximity, but slightly off the path to Tatton’s Choragic Monument, Jamie Shovlin’s Rough Cut/Cut Rough (Hiker Meat) sound installation is presented in an isolated wood cabin that emanates strange slasher movie sounds. The wood cabin immediately conjures a horror film scenario, and as the structure is approached, loud, ghastly sounds intensify with flickering lights suggesting something is taking, or about to take, place. Shovlin is interested in tensions between truth and fiction, reality and invention. This piece loosely draws reference from an old historic tradition of Tatton, whereby an old hermit who lived on the grounds entertained guests by scaring them as they explored the grounds after banqueting in the mansion. Shovlin wants the viewer to ponder ‘the natural’, a site of beauty and calm that is easily understood as one that can be terrifying as places such as this sometimes are.
Painter, Fiona Curran’s This time next year things are going to be different is an ambitious sculptural project as the artist had never worked in three-dimensional form prior to this commission. This colourful, abstract, collapsing tree house is aesthetically pleasing on first encounter and certainly one that is resonant with its garden surrounding. Its hues of blues, green and red have an immediacy with the flowers below, but interestingly the sculpture also comments on issues of sustainability as is a result of a collaborative project with Ashton Hayes, a local community aiming to become the UK’s first carbon natural community, which will receive Curran’s work as a resource centre after the biennial.
Further presentations by Jimmie Durham include an assemblage of leaking drums. Spring Fever is particularly resonant in light of the recent BP oil crisis, although this piece preceded the disaster. Durham’s well-documented relationship to petroleum stems from his Cherokee roots and the displacement of Native Americans in the plight for oil excavation.
The Last Lord by Berlin based Swedish artist, Annika Eriksson, juxtaposes films by the Eriksson and footage from films made by Maurice Egerton housed in the infamous The Smallest Cinema in the World, which was originally commissioned by UP Projects as part of Portavillion 2008 in London’s Regent Park. It’s often hard to separate where new and old footage converge, but as one watches the last lord, it poignantly links with Tatton’s transition from private home to public space.
Ryan Gander’s investigation into forgery, fakes and collecting habits is an extensive project encompassing the estate’s arboretum, general manager’s office, mansion, stable yard gift shop and garden shop. The 4th Baron Egerton’s 16 Plumed Bird of Paradise, a fake specimen is on display through the window of the general manager’s office with other works deemed unfit for display. The project as a whole, including postcards in the gift shop, chutney labels in the garden shop, sculptural remains on the grounds, and a forgotten photograph in the mansion, is suggestive of how we deal with the realisation that a precious artefact is in fact a fake, further commenting on ideas of celebrated and reappropriated identities.
The biennial also hosts weekend events, which include performances by David Burrows & Simon O’Sullivan, which deal with the use of foreign, alien objects as identity locators. In one such performance, Marcia Farquhar rides a life-size rocking horse discussing the role of the horse in the English psyche and the place of the young female writer throughout history.
Tatton Park Biennial is unique for its consistent and continuous curatorial strategy, encouraged by return of the same curators for three concurrent biennials, as well as offering a world-class presentation of contemporary art in rural Cheshire.
The presentation of works of such monumental scale in a site that presents challenges in terms of location, flexibility and use of space, ambitiously puts this biennial on par with venues such as Yorkshire Sculpture Park and The Henry Moore Foundation, Perry Green.