Review: Tatton Park Biennial 2010

Marcia Farquhar, The Horse is a Noble Animal (2010). Courtesy Tatton Park Biennial. Photo: Thierry Bal

Exhibition: Tatton Park Biennial 2010 – Framing Identity, Tatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire, until September 26 2010.

Living in a stately home might just be the quintessential British fantasy, and Tatton Park in Cheshire is certainly the quintessential stately home.

“People come here with a plan,” says co-curator Jordan Kaplan. “I’ll go to the house, I’ll imagine myself living in the house. I’ll go to the garden, I’ll imagine myself owning the garden. I’ll go to the shop, I’ll have some tea.”

The 20 or so works in the Tatton Park Biennial 2010 might well upset a few of those plans. The best of them draw attention to the unreal quality of your visit.

Fellow curator Danielle Arnaud, who teams up with Kaplan to form Parabola, says some pieces are causing the management “a lot of consternation,” claiming this is not the main point, but rather “a happy accident”.

One of these turns an area of the gardens into a psychedelic ritual ground with alien markings in the grass, torturous-looking targets and frames festooned with ribbons.

Artists Plastique Fantastique plan to stage dionysiac performances here in which chosen victims can expect to temporarily lose their identity. Yet despite flights of fancy, these grand surroundings usually reinforce social hierarchies and roles.

More controversy is offered by Jamie Shovlin, who responds to the mild excitement guests would feel wandering in the gardens at night. A hermit was once employed to give them a gentle fright.

As his title suggests, Shovlin has gone for out-and-out schlock horror, using movie soundtracks and a flickering shed to suggest a scene of carnage at the park. At the time of visiting, his team were still burying the speakers, but Rough Cut/Cut Rough (Hiker Meat) promises much.

One-time local Jem Finer also subverts the gentility of the house with a piece inspired by teenage memories of visiting Tatton Park under the influence of narcotics. In fact, he inverts the status quo here with a spherical camera obscura, which lets you view the surrounding trees and occasional passing bird upside down.

Another shed is used to mount the stainless steel ball, where it sits like an observation tower. The piece is described by Finer as a “totally safe altered reality experience”.

Marcia Farquhar has also given the setting a dreamlike twist by installing a giant rocking horse near the house. From time to time she rides this wooden beast, or at least threatens to. She spends more time holding forth on all things equine. It is an incredibly fluent and captivating performance.

“I might even ride backwards like the backwards knight from Lewis Carroll,” she says at one point. “This park really reeks of Lewis Carroll.”

Indeed, there are many more surreal and nonsensical responses to the mansion and its 2,000-acre grounds. This may be a strange setting for art, but as art suggests, Tatton Park would have made an even stranger setting for living in.

Written for Culture24.

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