The Red Room at Mottisfont

Mottisfont Red room 15 02 19 correctedWe are delighted to be back at Mottisfont National Trust working on a new commission for the Red Room which will be completed in January 2020.

The Red Room is characterised by its patterned red wall paper which sits oddly with a reveal of stonework belonging to the walls of the former Priory.  This section was left exposed by the previous owner – Maud Russell, who thought it would be amusing for her guests to see a glimpse of what lay beneath the papered surface.  The mosaic above the door, designed by the Russian artist Boris Anrep and commissioned by Maud,  makes reference to Mottisfont’s origins and its foundation as the Priory of the Holy Trinity.

Following in Anrep’s footsteps we will be drawing on Mottisfont’s history to develop an immersive sound and video installation which will take an imaginative journey through the architectural layers of Mottisfont.

The imagery for this work will be created from 3D point cloud data which has been generated from 3D laser scans taken in and around Mottisfont House in May this year.

A 3D point cloud is essentially a drawing of light created from millions of points of reflected light, built up to create an intricately detailed 3D representation of a space or object. It is as if the surface of every single form has been cast from particles of light.

One of the high definition scanning markers used for the 3D laser scanning process
Scanning taking place outside the Morning Room 
We have worked with Geosight, a local surveying company, to undertake the scans and they have provided us with the point cloud data. This data will be rendered and used to generate a series of animated journeys through Mottisfont using digital software such as Cloud Compare , Adobe Premiere and Adobe After Effects.

The beauty of working with this type of media is the ability to visually move fluidly from one space to another and create new ways of seeing and experiencing the building.  We are interested in exploring the different boundaries of the building  and visually re-connecting parts of Mottisfont through time and space.

Mottisfont gf 8
Initial render of the point cloud data.  This is a view looking down through the roof of the Cellarium
Mottisfont is peppered with clues of its previous incarnations but it takes a bit of detective work and imagination to piece the parts together.  Brian, one of the volunteers at Mottisfont, gave us a fascinating tour of the building pointing out some of the different architectural features.  Each of these are like are like markers in time, enabling us to build a picture of the space between the parts that are left.   Some, like the excavated  columns pictured below, have been moved to another location by a different owner, adding another layer of complexity to the puzzle.

Photo of columns thought to belong to the C13th Chapter House. These were uncovered by Mrs Vaudry-Barker-Mill when removing the ramp up to the Morning Room in about 1900.  They now stand in the vestibule of the east entrance of the house
Xmas 2012_2013_03_19_0956
The excavated column now located in the vestibule of the east entrance of Mottisfont House






Setting up The Ripple Effect at Lacock

Last week-end we began the set up of The Ripple Effectthe installation we are creating for the Chaplains’ Room at Lacock.  After weeks of planning and testing it was great to be at the point of bringing it all together.

The idea in itself is quite simple, but it has taken a few trials and errors with different fabrics and fans to get to this point. We did a test earlier in the summer, but it wasn’t with a full size piece of fabric so we were not totally sure on how the floor, the stone pillar and the air circulation would affect the overall movement and flow of the silk.

The Chaplains’ Room is also quite damp, so the weight of the silk will change throughout the day; small variations, but they still will have an effect on the overall movement and flow. 

Testing the silk fabric in the Chaplains’ Room in July 2018
Photo 18-08-2018, 11 41 09.jpg
Laying the protective layer on the floor
Photo 18-08-2018, 13 19 25
Unravelling the silk

Photo 19-08-2018, 16 50 33

The silk was made up to be oversized in length so that we could see the effect of the silk in the space and adjust it on site. It was quite a thrilling moment when we switched on  the fans for the first time and the air rippled beneath the silk. At that point the silk was laid out at its longest length and the result was quite spectacular – huge billowing waves.

The following day was just spent observing the movements of the silk and adjusting the fabric with weights around the edge to see the different effects. If the silk is held down too tightly it just kills the energy of the waves, so it was a fine balance to get it right.

Most of the fabric was pre-sewn except the area where the central stone pillar is. This had to be cut out and hand sewn around the pillar. The effect of the pillar is similar to a boulder in a river; the movement of the silk flows past the pillar like water around a rock, with the area behind the pillar remaining much calmer.

Observations of light at Lacock

Lacock is known for being the birthplace of British photography.  William Henry Fox Talbot and his family lived in the abbey and the layout of the space is similar to the one today. The Talbots’s remodelled the South Gallery, including the window which William captured in his first photographic negative in August 1835.

During our visits to Lacock we have had the opportunity to see the site at different times of the day. These images are some of our observations on how light falls and leaves it mark on the fabric and artefacts of Lacock.

mr talbot.jpg
The window which Fox Talbot captured in his first image
The window which Fox Talbot photographed through in 1835
Light falling through the window onto the floor boards below
Sunlight casting shadows on the curtains
Coral on sun-faded red cloth
Sun-faded fabric
Oil painting
John Piper’s painting
Detail of John Piper’s painting
The Cauldron in the Warming Room, the Cloisters
Lacock Abbey
The Cloisters – space near the Monastic Drain
Blossoms at night






The traces and marks of Lacock

The south Cloister at Lacock Abbey with the Chaplains’ Room at the end

Every visit to Lacock reveals something different.  The Cloisters are full of marks and traces which give clues to how people used and occupied the space.  For instance each Stonemason carved their signature into the stone to identify their work and to serve as a proof of build to ensure that they were correctly paid. The chip marks in this stonework were there in order to provide a hold for the plaster.

The plaster and stonework in the Cloisters

The Chaplains’ Room which is at the end of the South Cloister has traces of medieval wall paintings and monastic graffiti. The one of the rabbit scratched into the plaster works looks like it could have been done yesterday!

Monastic Graffiti

The grafitti below reads ‘JOHAN fecit hoe’ meaning ‘John did this’ and is attributed to one of the Chaplains.  The material used for the wall is limestone rubble and plaster which is made from slaked lime and alluvial shale.

Monastic Graffiti
Painting in the Chaplains’ Room depicting St Andrew and St Christopher (circa 1275)
Ripples in the floor of the Cloisters
Lacock Abbey, 24.05.18 (85)
Ripples in the Infirmary Passage in the Cloisters
The Abbess’ ‘squint’ – a spy hole in the stairway outside the Chaplains’ Room

In the south-west corner of the Cloisters, just outside the Chaplains’ Room is a stairway which was used by the Abbess to go to and from  her apartments to the Cloisters and Abbey Church.  A little way  up the stairway is the Abbess’ ‘squint’. This is a small section of masonry which has been removed from the vaulting and which enabled the Abbess to look through and ‘observe’ the Nuns.

The Tudor Courtyard

On one of our visits we were shown around inside the Tudor building and taken to the Clock Tower.  The space inside smelt warm and woody and outside through the windows we could hear the swifts calling.

Looking out across to the Tudor courtyard and buildings where the tea room resides
Inside the Tudor building looking out to the courtyard
Inside the roof space of the Tudor building
One of the Tudor roof beams.  Burn marks can be see on the underside of the beam

We were shown burn marks in the beams which had been deliberately made by holding a lit candle up to scorch the wood. Their purpose was to act as sympathetic magic to ward off malignant or accidental fires.

It is unclear just how much of the pseudo-theology behind these marks was understood by the people who made them. They may have represented ‘good luck’, protection from ‘bad luck’ or simply the power to deter witches.

The mechanism of the clock.  It is a long-held tradition to set the clock 5 minutes fast!

The tour through the roof space was rewarded by the winding of the clock which occurs once a week.  It has been a long-held tradition that the clock is set 5 minutes fast with the hope that the residents of Lacock village will always be on time.  The National Trust tea shop however does not observe the ‘Lacock’ time!

1960’s ‘cat flap’ cut out from one of the doors











Peace – Trust New Art Commission at National Trust’s Lacock Abbey

National Trust’s Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire
Over the summer we have been working on a new project for National Trust’s Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, which explores the theme of Peace within the context of this unique site. Lacock was founded as a nunnery by Lady Ela, the Countess of Salisbury, one of the most powerful women of the Middle Ages, and was a place for contemplation for 300 years.

We are interested in making connections with this legacy and finding out from the people who work and visit here what peace means to them from a contemporary perspective. Over the summer we have been visiting Lacock to talk to staff and volunteers to find out their thoughts and undertake further research for the installation we are creating.

View looking towards the Chaplains’ Room entrance in the cloisters of Lacock Abbey

Our plans

We will be making a temporary piece of work for the Chaplains’ Room which is situated off the south-west corner of the cloister. It will involve creating a floating silk floor made to fit the shape of the Chaplains’ Room.  The silk floor will be raised off the ground beneath which a series of fans will be placed causing the entire area to flow with undulating ripples.  A section of the floor which will be left uncovered  to allow enough room for people to enter the room and immerse themselves in the installation.

A combination of LED lighting and natural light will illuminate the space and rippling silk. A soundscape developed from sounds recorded from around Lacock will add to this immersive experience.

The installation coincides with the centenary anniversary of Armistice Day and the silk picks up on these associations and its use in times of conflict and peace during both World Wars.  Armistice Silk – a re-finished silk made from the 18 million yards of surplus silk cartridge cloth at the end of World War 1 and the silk military parachutes, were both used to make clothes during and after the wars.

Development of the idea

The seed for our initial idea grew out of our observations of the spaces around the cloisters and the way in which time has left its mark on the fabric of the building. There is a sense that people have passed through the space and the building seems to gently hold a residue of the life that has flowed through it.  There is an atmosphere that becomes apparent when entering Lacock that time slows. The wave-like forms polished into some of the compacted mud floors seem to express this.

For us, when visiting Lacock, there is a tangible feeling that we have become part of the tradition of people drawn to this place of contemplation. The nature of the pillar and arches in the Chaplains’ Room convey a sense of having sunk down into the layers of history and architecture.  Our installation will pick up on this and create a space through which the slow and ancient erosion of the site can appear to flow like a time-lapse sequence.

Ripples formed over time in the cloister floor at Lacock Abbey








Front Row: The Rows Commission In Chester

Mirror Front Rowe stills (27).jpg
Still taken from the video installation Front Row

We have now finished making and installing the video installation Front Row within the window space of Booth Mansion on Watergate Street.  We spent last Wednesday setting up the mirrored chamber and blacking out the windows to create a central view into the installation.  The installation will be switched on during the day from 7-10th September and will be shown as part of the Open Heritage week-end.

The film projection has been created from film footage and photographs taken of the Rows which have been edited and layered to create a constantly changing kaleidoscopic view of these spaces.  The film is looped to run continuously throughout the day and the mirrors are set to both reflect the projections and the real-time space of the Rows.

Over the years the Rows have changed and adapted either through accident or by design with each architectural feature reflecting a function, incident or story of the past.  The Rows today are living, working spaces and continue to evolve and develop according to their usage and activity. We have created Front Row in response to the fragmentary and multi layered nature of the Rows and the potential of these unique spaces to adapt and evolve.

Mirror Front Rowe stills (36)

Mirror Front Rowe stills (3)

Mirror Front Rowe stills (20)

Mirror Front Rowe stills (19).jpg

Appropriating Space: The Rows Commission in Chester

Watergate looking East
Looking towards Watergate.  Louise Rayner’s painting below is from a similar view point

Appropriating Space

In July we were appointed by Chester West and Chester and Chester Civic Trust to develop a temporary artwork for a public space along The Rows as part of the Heritage Open Days which runs between 7 – 10th September 2017.

The history of the Chester Rows dates back to over 700 years and are of international  importance containing the UK’s best collection of prestigious town houses from different periods all in one place.   The Rows provide a raised pedestrianized covered route past shops and residential properties offering the visitor a unique elevated view of the city, yet these Rows are often ignored by shoppers or visitors to the historic city.  One of the aims of this project is to encourage more activity and draw people up onto these amazing spaces and reveal some of the hidden stories connected with the Rows.

In developing an idea for this commission we have been undertaking research at Cheshire West Museums and with the assistance of Cheshire Archive and Local Studies team in Chester to unearth stories connected with the Rows.   This research has coincided with a hunt for spaces along the Rows which we could possibly use for the duration of the festival which has taken the ideas in some interesting  directions and occasionally up some blind alleys!

Louise Rayner (1832-1924) Watercolour of Watergate Street, Chester, looking east