Thursday, July 29, 2010

Unravelling the Manor House

Unravelling the Manor House is a series of interventions in Preston House, Brighton. Twelve contemporary artists unravel, interpret and expose the hidden histories of the building and its occupants. Some of the stories are imaginary and some relate directly to people or occurrences in the house.
James Hunting has produced a pair of hangings that reference the roles of the footmen in the house. 'James and John' came as a pair, chosen for their uniformity of height and looks (usually good). On duty they would take on the names used by the family for footmen over the generations adding to their anonymity. Hunts' footmen however share a secret, a tattoo that is only complete when the pair are together as one.
Laura Splan has a series of site-specific pieces around the house. 'Trousseau' is constructed from the remnants of cosmetic face peel that retain the impression of the skin. The sculptural pieces are embellished with ruffles and buttons alluding to the garment like qualities of the 'fabric'.

Catherine Bertola has installed 'If she is not out as soon as I' in Ellen Thomas-Standford's bedroom. The title of the piece is taken from an old lace tell and the work also references the making of pillow lace. Bertola's use of pins to create a lace pattern on a bed pillow is unsettling. This usually soft and comforting object now questions the relationship between those at the higher end of the social scale who could afford to wear hand made lace and those at the lower end who toiled long hard hours to make the lace for pitifully low wages.
Kira O'Reilly has used lace in a quite different way to Bertola. The bathroom is the site chosen by O'Reilly for her discrete prints made with her own blood. The use of lace to make these prints references the curtaining off of our private ablutions and the nature of the most intimate 'feminine staining'.
Matt Smith's 'Bulldog' series relates directly to the collection of ceramic figures with which they are displayed. The once potent white Chinese porcelain 'Dogs of Fo', caged in an English dresser, are stripped of their traditional meaning and power and are reduced to mere 'talking points'. On the surface Smiths' Bulldogs are the essence of Britishness but look beneath the surface and the deceptions are revealed. Made using American moulds and coloured with Honda car spray paint they are not quite as British as they appear.
This is another exhibition without labels and here it is quite easy to miss some of the installed works, they just blend in so well with the somewhat quirky collections on display that it can be hard to tell what 'belongs' and what doesn't. For me this adds to the intensity of the experience, I hope it worked as well for other visitors.

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