Art review: Tatton Park Biennial 2012


Posted by: Creative Times on May 18, 2012 09:11

The third edition of the Tatton Park Biennial takes as its theme ‘Flights of Fancy’. Rob Allen assesses the artists’ attempts to achieve the impossible.

The Tatton Biennial is not known for understatement and this year’s is no different. Fifteen artists seek to challenge the serenity and scale of the Tatton Park estate, with its 50 acres of landscaped gardens, Neo-Classical mansion and vast deer park. What better way, then, for an artist to interrupt the fusty, conservative environment of a stately home, than by putting the fuselage of an airliner on the driveway?

Juneau Projects’ ‘Gleaners of the Infocalypse’ imagines a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by two unseen artists who have set up studio in the disembowelled aircraft. The tail is painted with the image of a deer, whilst inside strange artefacts denote the odd, cult-like existence of the squatters. Although impressive in its ambition, much like Dinu Li’s crashed UFO a few yards away, such works exist as capsules of thought. They self-consciously contain their ideas in a shell and keep their relationship to the park and the Biennial a less accessible secret.

What better way for an artist to interrupt the fusty environment of a stately home, than by putting the fuselage of an airliner on the driveway?

The contributions of Simon Faithfull and David Cotterrell are also presented in enclosed spaces, the former a shipping container, the latter an uncomfortable plastic arena that feels like being in an upturned wheelie bin. Cotterrell presents a broadcast of radio waves sent to the nearby Jodrell Bank radio telescope, while Faithfull shows a mesmeric film of a commuter going through the routine, unchallenged by raging flames aboard a plane. Both are awkwardly out of place, the visual stimuli inside less stimulating than the beauty of the gardens outside. On the other hand, Charbel Ackermann’s audio-visual piece, ‘Dead Cat’, is startlingly effective whether you see the work or not – a quiet stroll is interrupted by unexpected ambient sounds.

The brasher forms of art don’t make the Biennial breath taking, but gentler ideas on a large scale achieve greater feats. The giant, floating orbs of ‘Pont de Singe’ by Olivier Grossetête responds to the environment quite literally, as the three helium-filled spheres clatter around in the breeze – or hover calmly in lesser gusts – to suspend an endless bridge that droops lifelessly below. It is a Lewis Carroll vision in Tatton’s Alice in Wonderland setting, appearing as both folly and mesmerising focal point.

The Biennial’s theme this year is ‘Flights of Fancy’, and reflects on nature, the park’s proximity to Manchester Airport and military history, and like Grossetête, Hilary Jack has grasped the brief with both hands. She has created ‘Empty Nest’, a giant rook’s nest that allows visitors to stand amongst twigs and twine, surveying the gardens from a superior height. There is deeper inspiration at play, of childless mansion tenants and superstition, but the warmth and peace to be found in a human-sized bird’s nest is oddly affecting without needing further reading.

A black mini-van, dumped unceremoniously on the lawn with a glider strapped to the roof, comes courtesy of Manchester design and art cooperative, Ultimate Holding Company, winners of the Cheshire Recent Open Graduate Competition. ‘The Cartland Institute for Romantic Research’ is a wonderful challenge to the conservatism and pomposity that might otherwise pervade seats of entitlement such as Tatton. Reminiscent of a mobile bordello parked in a layby, Cartland’s books are read aloud in the van’s gaudy interior, recalling her role in late-nineties politics as the architect of ‘Back to Basics’ and poking fun both at her flimsy, romantic literature and paper-thin moral crusading.

Much of the indoor work seems to struggle with its surroundings this time around, after the successes of previous Biennials, although there are moments to saviour. Aura Satz has worked with Tatton’s musical past to produce a new, ethereal soundtrack and almost forensic inspection of Tatton’s artefacts, while Tessa Farmer’s gruesome ‘Cosmic Cloud’ presents rats, mice and human detritus in orbit. The best of the work, however, is to be found outdoors, where art works best as it fumbles with nature.

Tatton Park Biennial 2012 continues until 30th September.

Images: Juneau Projects; Olivier Grossetête; Ultimate Holding Company; Hilary Jack; Tessa Farmer; Dinu Li; David Cotterrell

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