Student interventions at West Dean Arts & Craft Festival, 2-4 June

As part of the 2017 Art and Crafts Festival, full-time Visual Arts students at West Dean College were invited to submit proposals for artworks to be displayed in the Historic House. Five works were selected to be on display during the event, the only occasion when the House is open to the public. The works include sculptures inspired by Edward James’ patronage of Leonora Carrington; his long-term friendship with George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein  (co-directors of the New York City Ballet); a plaque commemorating James’ vision of creation in the Old Dining Room in the 1930’s; a floating paper sculpture inspired by the work of René Magritte; and a kinetic sound installation exploring complex relationships between rhythm and chaos.

The Visual Arts programmes at West Dean College provide a unique environment for students to develop their individual practices. They are encouraged to engage with West Dean House, Collection, Archive and Estate – embracing the College’s rich history and a setting that offers exhibition opportunities that cannot be found elsewhere. What follows is a brief ‘tour’ the sites in which student work will be located during the Arts & Craft Festival.

For more information: https://www.westdean.org.uk/events/west-dean-arts-and-craft-festival


Sarah Cliff (in The Oriel Window)

Sarah Cliff’s work explores historical references in the context of current everyday assumptions and iconic cultural signs, alongside myths of her own invention. Cliff creates ambiguous characters, narratives and symbols, inviting the viewer to question and resist ideologies and conventions that create consensus and dull curiosity. Peppered with satire, Cliff’s work engages with these ideas by presenting familiar but jarring scenarios and contradictory sensations.

Sarah Cliff (MFA) – The Giantess (after Leonora Carrington) (2017) Steel, bronze, wood, pit-fired clay

The Giantess (after Leonora Carrington) celebrates the centenary of Leonora Carrington’s birth. It references Carrington’s painting, The Giantess (The Guardian of the Egg) (1947), [formerly in the West Dean Collection] which depicts an extraordinarily tall woman, with a small head, surrounded by dynamic, surreal creatures. Carrington, who has been described by Joanna Moorhead as “fiercely independent, instinctively feminist”, evokes the benevolent strength of the giantess through scale and vertical dominance of the frame. Edward James sponsored the work of Carrington and letters in the Edward James Archive elucidate the close relationship between the patron and artist. Like James, Carrington rebelled against the strict rules of Edwardian society. She abandoned her life in conventional upper-class circles to live as an artist. The Giantess (after Leonora Carrington) celebrates the value of the excluded and how, with the passage of time, the outsider can be rediscovered in a way that necessitates re-appraisal and inclusion, thereby throwing confusion into society’s arbitrary systems of convention.


Christopher Walker (in The Oak Hall)

Currently studying toward a Postgraduate Diploma in Visual Arts Christopher Walker’s practice explores the way in which form is defined by line. Principally working in stone but also seeking to combine other materials such as textiles, metals and wood, Walker uses material to explore ideas of containment and the notion that the essential value of an object is within and that it is the imagination that provides a link with what is not seen.

Letter to Edward James from George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein (1950) © Edward James Archive, West Dean College

Walker’s piece for The Oak Hall is entitled The Seal of Taste and Fantasy, circa 1950, and was made in response to a wax seal ‘gift’ attached to a letter presented to Edward James by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein whilst they were both Directors of the New York City Ballet. The improvised seal appears as a lighthearted centerpiece of the letter which also contains is a diagram clearly indicating that the ‘gift’ was to be presented to Edward James in the Oak Hall at West Dean, where Walker’s artwork is to be exhibited. As such, Walker’s re-interpretation of this curious letter provides a sense of completion to the story, demonstrating how, through the objects in his Archive, James continues to inspire a new generation of artists.

The letter sent to James by Balanchine and Kirstein is held in the Edward James Archive. Dated August 1950, it indicates that James’ friendship with the choreographer and impresario lasted long after his financial backing of Les Ballets 1933, a production company founded by Balanchine and Boris Kochno (formerly part of the Ballet Russes) in Paris, 1933. Although Les Ballets 1933 only ran for a few months, with productions at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées and The Savoy, London, it is now regarded as ground-breaking in its creation of several new works, including collaborations with composers Kurt Weill, Darius Milhaud, Henri Sauguet and designer Pavel Tchelitchew.


Lester Korzilius & Hala Sabet (in The Old Dining Room)

Hala Sabet (MFA) & Lester Korzilius (Graduate Diploma) – Cloud (2017) (mock up)

Hala Sabet’s work explores geometry in its broadest sense, examining how one can stretch its boundaries and break its rules to create sculptural structures based on order, chaos and tension, whilst retaining a sense of harmony. Geometry creates a system that provides the guidelines and framework to work from, and using wood, paper, metal and concrete, Sabet manipulates this framework. Though techniques of joinery, moulding and casting, the artist creates sculpture structure that combine hard edged geometric lines with loose and organic shapes and forms.

Lester Korzilius is a professional architect with a strong interest in sculpture that includes installation and large and small sculptural objects. He is interested in how sculpture influences the perception of space and his larger installations and objects use modular methods of design and fabrication to orientate the view and choreograph them around the space it is exhibited in.

This collaborative installation is inspired by the relationship between René Magritte and Edward James. The artists will install a suspended paper ‘cloud’ above the Old Dining Room table. Echoing both artists’ interest in geometry, design and architectural intervention, Cloud makes subtle reference to the imagery of one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century, highlight the importance of the support and patronage offered by Edward James.


Laura Luna Castillo & Jonathan Turner-Bishop (in The Star Room)

Laura Luna Castillo (MA Visual Arts) & Jonathan Turner-Bishop (MA Conservation of Clocks) – Asylum of Noise (preparatory work) Wooden cuckoo bellows, wood, brass mechanisms, Arduino, electronic components, motion and proximity sensors

Time and movement are the axis in which ideas take form in Laura Luna Castillo’s work. By combining different materials and disciplines (such as craft and traditional art-making techniques) with new and open source technology (such as motors, sensors and programming), Castillo gives her installations an added dimension of time and autonomy beyond the artist’s involvement. Drawing inspiration from everyday occurrences and experiences, the artist transforms and re-contextualises our perceived realities into clusters and shapes that suggest ‘hyper-objects’, partly existing beyond our comprehension.

This intervention is made in collaboration with Jonathan Turner-Bishop, currently studying toward an MA in the Conservation of Clocks and Dynamic Objects. Asylum of Noise is a site-specific sound installation constituted of over twenty ‘cuckoo’ bellows with motors and custom-made mechanisms. Each bellow produces slightly different sound and moves at its own tempo. As the bellows cluster and occupy the different spaces within The Star Room, their sound and movement begin to form complex relationships between rhythm and chaos. This installation, within the setting of West Dean College and in recognition of Edward James’ love of the local wildlife, is an exploration of the autonomy of simple machines as well as the possibilities of their generative sound. It draws inspiration from the name given to a flock of cuckoos (an asylum) and offers a contemporary exploration of surrealism and the absurd, as well as the magical realism within machines.


Deborah Ravetz (in the Porte-cochère)

Current MFA student, Deborah Ravetz, is a painter and social sculptor. She writes: ‘In her book, The Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit suggests that “to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery…” This is a description of being on the threshold;  I am trying to practise this surrender. My work is my attempt to celebrate the positive outcomes of being in what Solnit calls “uncertainty and mystery.” Between me and the work is an element that could be called chance. It could also be called grace.’

Pavel Tchelitchew’s original drawing for the first UK edition of Edward James’s novel The Gardener Who Saw God (1937) © Edward James Archive, West Dean College

Ravetz’s intervention within the porte-cochère at West Dean, The Blue Plaque, presents a bespoke commemoration of Edward James’ vision of creation, which he recounts in the memoir Swans Reflecting Elephants, and which also inspired his 1937 novel The Gardener Who Saw God. Made in the style of the blue plaques often seen outside the former homes of historic and cultural figures, this work is both a serious and lighthearted representation of James’ encounter that can be seen in a variety of different ways: as the seed for what was to become ‘Las Pozas’, James’ architectural garden in Xilitla, Mexico; as the beginning of a migraine; and as a real experience of the numinous. The work is aptly exhibited outside James’ former home, close to the site where the vision was said to have taken place, and has links to the surrealist interest in releasing the creative potential of the unconscious mind.