A 16th-century English country house in itself sounds like a work of art. The monumental ionic columns that define the symmetry of the Palladian architecture, the classic ornamentation derived from Roman and Greek architecture and the grandeur of the pastel stone textures coming together amid the vast green lawns of an English garden form a distinct visual memory. Now, imagine an English country house with such architectural glory in the Peak District National Park in England, United Kingdom. The Devonshire family home at Chatsworth, on the banks of the river Derwent, is not only an architectural visual and experiential treat but also a treasure chest of selective contemporary arts. From the first Duke’s baroque interiors and decorative arts to the new sculpture acquired by the sixth Duke in the 19th century, to the renaissance collections which began with the 11th Duke and Duchess, the historic involvement of the Devonshire family in the art world is a long saga, one that still continues. In their latest involvement, Chatsworth opens its doors and garden to an exhibition that connects present-day contemporary design to the classical architectural backdrop of the historic structure. Mirror Mirror: Reflections on Design at Chatsworth features the creative works of sixteen contemporary artists and designers.
The works respond to the different spaces of Chatsworth— both indoors and outdoors—creating a story between the exhibits and the spaces where they are exhibited. A story that borrows from the many whispers of the house and merges with the drama of art and design. Each space and story also aims to communicate a responsible message regarding the key issues of current times such as climate, sustainability, equality and how we connect to each other. “Chatsworth is a compelling place to reflect on design. Wherever you look, in Chatsworth, the house looks back. At every step, you find yourself reflected. Silver-grey in an ancient mirror. A ghostly shape in polished wood. Distorted in the graceful curves of a silver coffeepot. Wobbling on the surface of a garden pool,” says the official release. The Mirror Mirror exhibition is co-curated by writer, historian and senior curator of Programme at Chatsworth, Alex Hodby, and curator Glenn Adamson.
Hanging in the Vestibule of Chatsworth is Switzerland-based industrial designer Ini Archibong’s chandelier Dark Vernus I (meaning Dark Spring). Imparting a spiritual presence, the vessel-like forms of the lighting design come together and are suspended from the passage between the Great Dining Room and Sculpture Gallery. In the purpose-built 19th century Sculpture Gallery, alongside reclining sculptures—Filippo Albacini’s ‘Achilles’ (1825) and Antonio Canova’s ‘Endymion’ (1819 – 22)—is British artist, designer and multidisciplinary creative director Samuel Ross’ works in stone and steel. The works partly made of marble, reflect on the classical sculptures around them and are powder-coated in bright orange, reflecting Ross’ interest in modernism .
In the library of Chatsworth is London-based designer Michael Anastassiades’ installation of light. Known for his commanding lighting structures, his installation gives glimpses of an indoor grove of bamboo, with the stems of the lighting carefully hand-finished in traditional Japanese methods. Resonating with the symbolism of fire, water and earth, South African artist Andile Dyalvane’s ceramic works are presented in the Chapel Corridor. “At Chatsworth, Dyalvane has returned to the ideas he developed during a residency at Leach Pottery in St. Ives, when his vessels took on the shapes of crags overlooking the sea,” mentions the official release. In the chapel is British designer and artist Faye Toogood’s sculptural furniture which is a continuation of her latest collection Assemblage 7. Toogood also presents a suite of objects in oak and bog oak in the adjoining Oak Room.
British designer Max Lamb’s contemporary chairs adorn the State Drawing Room. Each of the chairs is made from a single piece of cedar, measuring six by eight inches in cross-section. At the State Bedchamber, designer Fernando Laposse’s cabinet and armchair bring about a powerful presence of an animal-like fantastical object amid the dark wooden interiors of the space. These works which reference local cultures and people were made by Laposse in Tonahuixtla, a village in Mexico, which has been devastated by climate change. A sculptural piece of furniture made by wrapping found objects with leather cord sits in Chatsworth’s State Music Room announcing Jay Sae Jung Oh’s presence at Mirror Mirror. Oh has made a throne containing a number of broken musical instruments at its core, including a French horn, a snare drum, and an electric guitar to reciprocate the other decorations in the room.
Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass’s works take the stage in the Great Chamber of Chatsworth. With no introduction needed, Sottsass’s objects which are often termed abstract totems—spiritual, rather than functional, vessels— sit amid the historic furniture of Chatsworth, as a contrasting identity for 20th-century design. In the State Closet, British artist Ndidi Ekubia creates a custom suite of objects in ceramics similar to historic mantelpieces. Italian design studio led by Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin, Formafantasma, responds to the challenge of climate change by researching old technologies, at Chatsworth. Collaborating with Swiss charcoal burner Doris Wicki, Formafantasma exhibits a series featuring carbon filter variations and glass vessels in the Green Satin Room.
Self-taught Irish furniture maker, artist and designer Joseph Walsh brings his steam-bent wood creations to Chatsworth. The gravity-defying wall brackets in the West and South Sketch Galleries and the Enignum VIII Bed in the Sabine Room are among the works that Walsh brings home to Chatsworth. In The Grotto, Detroit-based designer Chris Schanck places two of his works with complex surfaces to contrast the richly carved decorations of the space. Greeting the visitors at the Painted Hall is the Maker Benches by Dutch designer Joris Laarman. The intricate patterns of the two benches— mirror images of each other—reflect the historic chequered floor.
A trio of works by American furniture designer Wendell Castle anchors at the edge of the Ring Pool. In A New Seeing, the seats are cut through at odd angles, while in Illusion-Reality-Truth, they rest on vertical finger-like forms. Temptation has a single long seat, riding like a boat over waves. In the formal setting of the Rose Garden Beirut-born Amsterdam-based designer Najla El Zein places Seduction, Pair 06, a seating sculpture hand-carved in Iranian red travertine. Similar to her style of design which explores the psychological potential of abstract form, the sculptural furniture at Chatsworth aims to convey the sense of two bodies, conjoined.
“This project is a fantastic opportunity to reflect on the design histories at Chatsworth and bring them to the fore with an exciting array of international artists and designers. We’re fascinated with how the contemporary works in our exhibition have used materials in innovative ways to make functional and intriguing objects that are also deeply connected to the house, garden and collections here at Chatsworth—a place where design has been a key feature for 500 years,” states Hodby.
The exhibition ‘Mirror Mirror: Reflections on Design at Chatsworth’ is on display at Chatsworth, United Kingdom from March 18 to October 1, 2023.
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