As part of this year’s Open House event, full-time Visual Arts students at West Dean College were invited to submit proposals for artworks to be displayed during the weekend celebrations. Building upon students’ existing practices and enhancing their professional profiles, proposals were encouraged to be specific to West Dean House. A large number of proposals were submitted, suggesting all manner of interventions in different locations. Three proposals were eventually selected and exhibited as part of Open House 2016. The work of Chris Walker (Graduate Diploma), Georgia Hughes (MA) and Sarah Cliff (MFA) draw on diverse sources, from the interior architecture of specific rooms, Edward James’ friendship with Edith Sitwell, and the theatrical abundance of an Edwardian house. Documentation images and further information on each intervention can be found below.
This series of sculptures continues Chris’s interest in rendering the qualities of one material in another; for instance, the softness of fabric in the hardness of stone. The series is inspired by folded paper, with each stone starting from the simple gesture of turning a flat surface into a volume.
Transferring folded designs from paper to stone presented technical challenges, particularly in the way curves are dealt with, and how edges ‘shrink’ and twist when paper is creased. The decision to work in Maltese Limestone came from an appreciation of its hardness and its ability to hold a good edge, combined with the fact that it can be carved using abrasives rather than chisels. Using these tools allowed the required gentle curves to emerge. Maltese Limestone also has a consistent colour and grain.
Chris Walker’s practice explores stone in combination with other materials, principally textiles, metals and wood. Other areas of research have focused on ideas of containment and the container; that the essential value of an object is within, what is invisible, and that it is the imagination that provides a link with what is not seen.
Dame Edith Sitwell (1887-1964), renowned poet and literary critic, published a prestigious magazine, Wheels, featuring work by emerging 20th century literary giants Wilfred Owen, Dylan Thomas and T. S. Eliot. Letters in the Archives at West Dean show that Sitwell critiqued Edward James’ poems and supported him during his scandalous divorce from Tilly Losch. Sitwell met the artist, Pavel Tchelitchew, at Gertrude Stein’s salon in Paris and fell deeply in love with him. Her love was unrequited: while he admired her statuesque appearance, his affections lay elsewhere. The pair of sculptures, Serenade: Any Man to Any Woman is influenced by Sitwell’s 1941 war poem of the same title, along with masked characters from the Commedia dell’Arte, as featured in her series of poems, Facade (1922).
Sarah Cliff’s practice examines everyday assumptions, snippets of history and iconic cultural references, alongside myths of her own invention. Cliff invites the viewer to question and resist the ideologies and conventions that create consensus . and dull the curiosity. Peppered with satire, the work engages with these ideas by presenting familiar but jarring scenarios and contradictory sensations.
‘The Peach Blossom Spring’ is a Chinese fable by Tao Yuan Ming from 421 about the chance discovery of an ethereal utopia where people live for centuries in harmony with nature, unaware of the outside world. Georgia Hughes’ installation subtly draws on this fable in its design for a theatrical stage setting, as well as incorporating references to the State Rooms and Gardens of West Dean Estate. Such spaces invoke a variety of dramatic and atmospheric situations, all producing emotive responses. Suggestive of a tapestry cartoon, the imagery emphasises these qualities, combining them with costumes based on subjective experience. The result is a hyper-real, dream-like combination of elements – from detailed drawings and fragments of furniture to reclaimed pieces of Edward James’ swimming pool – forming a direct connection with ‘archival’ objects.