Settings for adventures in curiosity don’t come much more romantic than Lindisfarne Castle, perched on an island promontory and given a stylish makeover in 1903-6 by the architect Edwin Lutyens. A recent £3M restoration by the National Trust has involved temporary removal of all the furnishings, and afforded the opportunity to commission the present bold installation by Anya Gallaccio as part of the ‘Trust New Art’ programme (featured previously in Corridor8 here).
Nominated for the Turner Prize in 2003, Gallaccio came to prominence as one of the ‘Young British Artists’ in Damien Hirst’s Freeze exhibition in 1988. Her work is far from heavy with concept, however – if you seek layers of political innuendo, social commentary or moral messaging you will not find them here. She is known instead for a formalistic focus on materials and processes, for example isolating the decay of flowers or the architecture of a tree in an art-world setting. Perhaps this is a pure experiential form of sculpture, or what the artist herself often refers to as ‘gesture’, unencumbered by other significance.
The work at Lindisfarne however has hints of narrative too, and little testings of scale and memory. Throughout the rooms of the castle she has installed giant open cubic frames of oak (referencing Lutyens’ ceiling-beams), over which soft heavy blankets are loosely draped. Each blanket has been dyed a different single colour, using plant extracts and old techniques. A few signature flowers are threaded here and there: their intended wilting during the exhibition provides one time-based element; but the ruffling and disruption of the drapery by visitors, and the more gradual fading of the natural dyes in the light, provide others.
Different colours concentrate in particular rooms: the ‘ship room’ has the hues of the ocean, but other choices are perhaps more abstract. The artist took inspiration from the castle garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll, seeking to link the interior with the exterior. And since Jekyll herself began designing from textiles, a nice circularity is accomplished.
A progression from single blankets in the first rooms to a more exuberant profusion on the upper floors perhaps suggests the process of the building recovering itself as a habitation. More impactful however is the stimulus that Gallaccio’s plain frames and coverings give to looking afresh at the decorative elements of the architecture – a herringbone brick floor here, a mullioned window there, all features otherwise normally drowned in the visual noise of furniture and ornaments – figure and ground reversed, perhaps. Re-emerging into the windswept light outside, one might even look with new eyes at the yellows and greens in the surrounding landscape.
Minimalist art such as this will no doubt challenge some of the National Trust’s habitual visitors to its heritage attractions. But if some of them are infected by a new adventure of curiosity in an old place, or come away having had their experience of it expanded, the investment in projects such as this will be vindicated.
dreamed about the flowers that hide from the light, Lindisfarne Castle.
Exhibition runs daily until 4 November 2018. Entry times vary depending on tide times. For further information visit the National Trust website.
Dave Pritchard is an independent consultant based in Northumberland.