Chronicle Live take a look at the new artworks that have arrived among the trees at Kielder
16:00, 29 JUL 2016
BY DAVID WHETSTONE
London-based artist Fiona Curran found a dark side to Kielder after being commissioned to make a new piece of art
Fiona Curran with her artwork 'The grass seemed darker than ever'
Glimpsed through the trees near Kielder Castle, a flash of kingfisher blue. You blink and blink again, but it’s still there, more distinct now among the muddy and purplish brown of the trunks.
Like much of the art at Kielder, it can take you by surprise – but this piece is quite surprising even when you know it’s there.
Artist Fiona Curran and Peter Sharpe, who has overseen the art and architecture programme at Kielder Water & Forest Park for many years, are leading a tour around some of the latest additions to this renowned outdoor ‘gallery’.
We follow the woodland path, occasionally stepping over branches and other moss-covered obstructions, and marvel at the natural beauty and tranquillity of the place.
It’s dry and the sun is shining – which helps.
Fiona, who grew up and studied in Manchester but now lives in London, has been visiting Northumberland every couple of months for the past year, having won a commission to create a new piece of work here.
Describing the experience at Kielder Castle before we headed off on an art trail, her eyes really did seem to shine.
For five or six days at a time, she had explored the landscape and talked to the people who lived and worked there.
She recalled being awe-struck by the vastness of the countryside viewed from the vantage point of Deadwater Fell and “the way the landscape constantly shifts as you change perspective”.
Being Here by JJ Lloyd
The weather, it seemed, had been kinder than might have been expected. Fiona enthused about “the blue of the sky which really hits you as you emerge from the darkness of the forest”.
Now she has added this flash of blue to that very darkness with a piece called The Grass Seemed Darker than Ever.
It was inspired partly by the English poet John Clare (1793-1864), who wrote about nature and rued the enclosure of common land.
She picked up on his reference to the only sense of containment in the landscape being the “encircling sky” – and she found out about the so-called Black Act of 1723.
“It came out of the Enclosure Acts which meant people who had previously had common access to the land suddenly couldn’t get access to something they had taken for granted for years.
“It meant that anyone found with a blackened face (the night-time disguise of the poacher) could be sentenced to death.”
A landowner’s poaching, of course, was a peasant’s means of feeding his family – a growing challenge as Clare’s beloved England was carved up and claimed by the well-heeled for personal enrichment.
So we come to Fiona’s addition to the Kielder art portfolio, an enclosure of blue-painted stakes with the forest floor within painted black.
It is, as the descriptive board explains, a piece of art “designed to keep you out”.
It is certainly a reminder to the many people who now travel to Kielder for recreational purposes – walking, cycling, art viewing – that there is a darker history to this place of beauty and tranquillity.
Kielder, as Fiona reminds me, is not just a place you escape to from urban life but a working forest. “Plantations can be there one year and then gone the next – and the landscape changes.”
A Long Wait by Mirela Bistran
The same goes for the art. Peter Sharpe, Kielder curator, points out a group of budgies perched high in a tree.
They’re not real budgies, of course. They are the survivors of Andrea Wilkinson’s 1997 Kielder artwork, Flock.
It used to consist of 72 of the little birds, but is now down to just 13. “We found out people had been taking them,” says Peter with a laugh.
You’d be hard pressed to reach this remaining baker’s dozen – or even to find them amid Kielder’s vast expanse – but if they go, they go.
Peter says much of the Kielder art was intended to be ephemeral, there for as long as nature – or people – allow.
He takes us on a tour of new work created by Newcastle University fine art students as part of a collaborative project called Onsite/Offsite. “Most of the work you see at Kielder is by professional artists who are well into their careers and respected,” he says.
“But this was an opportunity for people learning to be professionals to get some experience. There is work here by first, second, third or even fourth year students.”
Displayed along the Duchess Trail leading from Kielder Castle, these student artworks are made of various materials and invite different responses.
While Anthony Hensman’s Pyramidal Edifice looks as if could be there forever, others already seem to be bowing out. Eve Kossmann’s Forest Clock, a mushroom ring of unfired clay, has a thoroughly realistic air of crumbling decay.
Forest Clock by Eve Kossmann
Some of the students used abundantly available natural materials while others opted for the man-made. It makes for an interesting contrast. Not far from chairs made of tree stumps (Mirela Bistran’s A Long Wait), you’ll find suspended traffic lights (Stop When Light Shows Red by Oliver Hoffmeister and Harry Pickup).
Simon Court tells us the idea for his floating sculpture, Waveform, began on Waiheke Island off the coast of New Zealand. On the other hand, JJ Loyd’s Being Here, a literal 3D representation of the spot indicating its location on the map, references only itself.
Finally, who could resist Rochus Braun’s Hansel and Gretel Trail which leads to a vending machine dispensing miniature gingerbread sculptures?
These and other established works of art and architecture are one good reason for visiting Kielder over the summer.
Products of Kielder Water & Forest Part Development Trust’s art and architecture programme, all were made possible thanks to support from the Foresty Commission, Northumbrian Water and Arts Council England.
Find details on www.kielderartandarchitecture.com