Hammer, Nail, Stone, Scaffolding – It’s Art!

So this month is probably the busiest month at Hardwick since, I don’t know, the month Bess moved in! We have so many huge projects and events happening I have never been so shattered at the end of a week before! But everything that’s happening is very exciting! I shall start with just one of the enormous projects that have been going on – Art!


To tie in with our Smythson and the men that built Hardwick theme, Hardwick has teamed up with Meadow Arts to put on a contemporary art exhibition in the house and grounds, called ‘Building Site’. This is a new way we are telling Hardwick’s story, and engaging a different audience too.

Originally the house team were not going to have too much to do with this, as all but one piece are being displayed in the gardens. We would have to condition check the pieces when they arrived on site, and help with the indoor installation, but that should have been it.

However, as things tend to do, everything got bigger and slightly more complicated and time-consuming, so I found myself getting a lot more involved. I love having the opportunity to get involved in different things, it is my favorite thing about working for the Trust! I always tried to get involved with everything at Powis, as a volunteer I had a bit more leeway. The scale of Hardwick often means things are already in motion by the time we know about them, and to be quite honest we are so busy ourselves there is not much room to get involved in outdoor events as I did at Powis. So I have really enjoyed this little break-out, even if things in the house were really busy too!


Last week we installed the outdoor pieces at various points around the garden. The first day we were helping it pretty much rained all day and everyone was quite nervous about installing these pieces of art without incident. First we installed ‘Ajar’, by Gavin Turk, a bronze door. This was the heaviest piece by far and we had to hire a tele-handler (like a fork-lift on steroids) to get it in position.


I really like this piece, it looks like all that remains of a long forgotten building, and it has an almost magical quality to it, like you could end up anywhere when you walk through it (you actually just end up still in the gardens but the other side of the door, but then again I think that Hardwick is magic enough for me!) It looks so fragile, like it is decaying and could fall apart at any point, but it is actually really solid.


The we put in ‘Figure’ also by Gavin Turk. This is a huge nail that looks like it has been driven into the ground by a giant and forgotten about.


Thirdly we have ‘Hammer’, by Michael Craig-Martin, a really cool 2D/3D piece from his ‘sculptures of drawings’ series. As you walk around the hammer it changes between at 3D hammer and a drawing of a hammer which makes for a really interesting piece! It was nice and sunny when we installed this one too, and it is really striking in the sun, against the back-drop of the Hall!


The next outdoor piece is actually two pieces combined; ‘Epitaph’, a piece of stone from Hardwick’s own quarry carved with lasers, and a screen print to accompany it where the carved dust from Epitaph was used in the printing. These pieces were commissioned for our ‘Building Site’ exhibition and have been created by Alastair Mackie. The positioning of these pieces is really important, they have been placed under the colonnade at the back of the Hall. This means Epitaph is surrounded by the same stone, the stones in the walls cut by hand 400 years ago, and one carved with cutting edge technology only weeks ago! The final outdoor piece is a film to accompany Epitaph by Sophie Molins, showing how Epitaph was created.


The indoor piece is called ‘Glass Scaffold’ by Fiona Banner and does what it says on the tin. This piece is amazing as it is a life-size scaffold tower made from hand blow glass! The Pyrex glass was blow in Italy and arrived with us at the beginning of this week, and this was the most difficult piece to install, and very tiring for everyone involved. We had to build three scaffold towers in order to build the glass one, but as we had hired them this involved bringing all three towers worth of pieces from outside all the way up to the Long Gallery, and then building them! Phew.


Our towers went up in no time, (our training really paid off) but the glass tower took significantly longer. As each piece is hand blown they are all slightly different lengths, and since no floor in Hardwick is flat it needed careful consideration. It amused me the difference between our build and there’s as obviously you cannot handle glass they way you can metal. I was glad the art technicians were building the glass piece, and not us!


Finally the piece was completed, so the next day we deconstructed our towers and took all the pieces back down again (so tired, so achey!) and stand back to admire the art. The Glass Scaffold is amazingly clear, it almost looks like it is water floating in stasis, and when the sun shines through it looks stunning!


Finally the private view was on friday, so I stayed late to help out with that and got to meet some of the artists. It was really nice to be there because as well as the praise for the art there was plenty of praise for Hardwick too, which always make me feel very pleased!

At the start of this projects I had very little time for contemporary art, but most of these pieces have made me think again. They are beautiful and spark your imagination, making you look at the surrounding area differently too. I would imagine they have a different feel in every different setting they are in. This experience has made me realise that setting is so important for art work, and maybe I would enjoy contemporary art more if it was in the real world, and not in a blank gallery where I was told what it was supposed to make me feel without actually feeling anything. The art has taken on a new meaning and come to life in Hardwick, making both the pieces and the location shine!

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