Main curator Judith King invited 12 artists, film directors such as Mike Figgis, fashion designers like Viktor & Rolf to take their inspiration from the usually totally empty and slightly gloomy 17th century manor house and inhabit it with art installations. Their work had to respond either to the peculiar atmosphere of the venue or to the narrative of the Hall and the gentry and servants who once lived there.
3 artists were showing pieces selected by Juha Huuskonen for Dott07: there's the Ghost Pole Propagator by Golan Levin (the name of the installation is actually much more exciting than the piece itself but that's just an old blase talking here!), Aleph by Adam Somlai-Fischer & Bengt Sjolen and Hereafter, a fascinating interactive mirror by UVA (note that the word "fascinating" comes from someone who is usually bored to sobs in front of interactive mirrors and interactive tables and interactive wall projections.)
The best surprise for me was that "traditional" installations mingled naturally with the new media ones. Hereafter best exemplifies what i mean. It doesn't stand out in the exhibition as a "new media art" work, but only as one of the most enchanting works you can discover there. It is an art installation, like the others. Aleph, however, is clearly an experimental, edgy, unusual piece, it is a new media art work through and through. The technology is visible but it invites for contemplation and sheer enjoyment. You can decide to interact or not, it's not one of those "wave your hands in the air and the projection will change" works that has nothing else to retain your attention for more than 2 minutes.
I liked most of the other installations but the one i fell in love with is Francesca Steele's projection. Corollarium fuses microscopic footage of the Belsay plants with human cells and organs. The kaleidoscopic pattern merges with the original 1930's floral wallpaper of the upper Belsay bedroom. The projection elegantly animates the room and the patterns evolving smoothly and the walls seem to come to life. I'm afraid my poor images don't do the work any justice.
Another favourite is The Recollection Rooms by Imogen Cloet and Jacob Polley. The walls of the room are covered with keys attached to nails while in a corner an armchair and two pink slippers that await... whom? The housekeeper? Visitors fill the holes and create their own narrative.
Dreams of a Winter Night by Geraldine Pilgrim is by far one of the most spectacular installations of the exhibition. A peek into the history of the past owners of Belsay Hall brought to her attention a character she found inspiring: Kitty Middleton was born in 1907 and many former servants remembered Kitty's coming-out party with fondness. Pilgrim's work combines the imagined memories of Kitty's disappearing childhood with her fears and excitement for the future. Teacups and saucers flow through one of the smaller bedrooms, a forest weaves its way upward from floor through the bed and up to ceiling of another room and in the smallest of all the ghostly image of Kitty combing her hair in preparation for the party appears in a mirror, whilst a maid peers at her through a crack in the wardrobe.
The exhibition runs through Sept 30.
A picture set.