Posts Tagged: garden of reason

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Garden of Reason was an exciting season of contemporary art held at Ham House and Garden over the Summer of 2012.

The 17th-century garden at Ham served as inspiration and setting for eight major commissions, ranging from sculpture to film, sound pieces and performance, as well as a series live art events. The exhibition was further animated by a series of talks and tours.

The project also offered the chance for Ham House and Garden to get involved with its local community, and the interaction programme worked with local groups to produce fantastic new interpretations of the garden and even organise a unique evening event in August.

Throughout the project we blogged with Tumblr, as well as updating Twitter and Facebook.

You can still look through the project blog or read our ‘about' page to follow the links and find out more about Garden of Reason. There’s lots of great content to be found, including lots of films and even free downloads.

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Garden of Reason brought 8 brand new commissions into the garden at Ham House. 

Using the archives to carry out meticulous research, and directly responding to the unique surroundings of Elizabeth’s garden, the artists created works, from sculpture and performance to film and sound pieces, designed to give visitors a fresh perspective and increased their curiosity.

1. Compass, by Alexandre da Cunha

2 and 3. Weight of Air, by Ruth Proctor

4. Theatre of Flora, by Kathleen Herbert

5. Arcadia Redesigned, by Harold Offeh

6. Yew Tube, by Graeme Miller

7. eight fculptures, by Simon Periton and Alan Kane

8. I know what it’s like, by Daphne Wright

9. Banquet of Sound, by Tom Dale

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Alexandre da Cunha describes Compass as the invisible sculpture. When joined together the objects, utilitarian in nature, create a pedastal, inviting the visitor to climb to the platform and become part of both the artwork and the landscape.

The title suggests a play with ideas of orientation, navigation and exploration, and also reflects on the relationship between the garden and the sculpture, which was placed with its four parts pointing to the fours points of the compass.

Compass provides a modern response to the lost sculptures of Ham House and Garden, as well as paying homage to the 17th-century tradition of animating the garden for visiting courtiers.

Compass was exhibited on the plats of Ham House’s garden for the majority of the exhibition, and for a short period in the outer courtyard to the west of the house.

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On a first reading, this new work from Tom Dale, titled Banquet of Sound, exposes the influence of the classical tradition of democratic debate and discussion, much of which is explicit in the history of Ha House and its former residents. The lecterns act as a symbol of these ideals, and of academic knowledge.

However, the arrangement of the lecterns and the ‘mass-manufacture’ techniques of their production remind us that this was an early idea of democracy, only ever intended for the benefit of a few. Just how we adapt these ideas for the benefit of the many is a question very much of the present.

Banquet of Sound was arranged around the 17th-century statue of Bacchus in the cherry garden at Ham.

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Theatre of Flora is a new departure for Kathleen Herbert, using the medium of performance and documentary to question and engage with the historical and contemporary functions of a space.

The script for this sound piece is created from propaganda pamphlets produced in Holland in 1637, which talk about 17th-century Tulipmania. The work explores the synergy between the current financial climate and this past phenomenon, when prized tulip bulbs became a measure of economic activity, and gross speculation caused fortunes to be made and lost, raising questions about the notions of value and risk.

Theatre of Flora animated the fountain garden at Ham House throughout the exhibition.

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Harold Offeh’s work explored the notion of garden as playground for fantastical masques and entertainments. Arcadia Redesigned referenced 17th-century spectacles staged by Inigo Jones and others to provide diversions for the rich and influential to display their wealth and power.

In this work Harold Offeh, supported by a cast of players, presented audiences with an imagined Arcadia through four seasonal spectacles in different locations around and the garden, and a fictional installation of the ‘Ham Hermit and grotto’ in the kitchen garden.

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Drawing on the garden design and optical developments of the 17th-century, Yew Tube consists of a pair of (yew) topiary telescopes, aligned to create a dialogue between passing viewers.

The work offers a view into the wider context of the 17th-century and early science, particularly the work of Galileo and his experiments with new optics. This work not only reshaped religious and philosophical perspectives, but helped to generate new aesthetics in art and design.

At Ham House and Garden, visitors could peer through Yew Tube from opposite corners of the wilderness.

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The title Weight of Air is a reference taken from experiments made by Galileo in the 17th-century, which examined the weight and speed of objects when dropped, and ideas about air pressure and atmosphere.

These ideas informed two corresponding art works. The first consisted of two printed helium and air-filled balloons, captured and contained within the porticoes at the main entrance of Ham House. The second comprises of four chalk drawings on the plats.

The shapes found in both works are inspired by the coade stone pineapple sculptures found around Ham House and Garden, and reference Charles II, who was presented with the first pineapple grown in England, immortalised in a painting by Henry Danckerts (c. 1675).


Daphne Wright’s film, I know what it’s like, consists of an elderly woman’s performance of six disrupted statements to camera. It is a haunting evocation of memory, heartache and isolation, with the final moments of the film heightening our discomfort even further.

The layered script is based on two main components: the first is based on Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth speech in which she goads her husband to murder, and the second is abstracted speech. the phonic sounds evoke the acquisition of letter sounds taught in childhood, or the gradual deterioration of language abilities, such as the repetition, digression and withdrawal associated with Alzheimer’s.

I know what it’s like was exhibited in the slightly forbidding atmosphere of the ice house throughout Garden of Reason.

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Ham House’s archive provides evidence for ‘10 statues of lead, whereof two upon stones and wooden pedestals’ in the wilderness. Two of these, copies of Giambologna's Mercury and Fortuna have already been replaced by the National Trust.

eight fculptures aims to replace the rest of the originals, working from themes loosely suggested by them and their loss. The artists forge relationships between historial and contemporary sculpture, motifs explored in previous work and other elements from history and art.

The tons of the work implies an ad hoc, though well-intentioned effort to ‘fix’ the problem of missing statuary, delivered through a jumble of ideas, styles, techniques and references. The works are unified by a series of new wooden plinths, suggested by the ‘orringe boxes’ which supported the originals.

eight fculptures could be found in the centre of the wilderness at Ham, taking the place of the original lead statues.