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.

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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
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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
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Laying the protective layer on the floor
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Unravelling the silk

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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.

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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

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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)

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Appropriating Space: The Rows Commission in Chester

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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




Strange Attractor

Strange Attractor

Our installation for the Amy Johnson Festival now has the title ‘Strange Attractor’ and will be made up of the following elements; a magnetic pendulum, a large disk of sand with three magnetic points, three colour changing circles of light.

The magnetic pendulum will swing in an arc across a large disk of white sand onto which three circles of continuously changing coloured light are projected.  These circles will overlap each other to form a central section of white light under which three magnetic centres exert an invisible force.  Below are some of the colour combinations that are created when the colours mix – the greys and neutral colours are particularly compelling.

Colour circles grid 1500

The pendulum cuts a fine pattern in the sand tracing its various journeys towards equilibrium and the calm elliptical spiral at the centre.  The magnets however, exert a strange attraction and bring a degree of uncertainty to the airspace and the exact direction that will be taken.  Occasionally the pendulum completely changes direction and can even become stranded at a magnetic pole.

We have set up a pendulum in order to work out exactly the weight, length, and magnet positions we want to use.  We were curious to see in more detail how the pendulum makes its way towards the centre of the circle.  The images below have been taken in the dark with a small light attached to the end of the pendulum.  These are photographic exposures of about 5 minutes each to show the extraordinarily beautiful paths of movement of the pendulum as it circles towards equilibrium.

The journeys start from the outside where the pattern is forms a series of ordered and slightly shifting ellipses of slowly reducing size.  As the pendulum comes into the influence of the three magnets which are placed at 120 degree intervals around a 600 mm diameter circle, the patterns becomes chaotic, occasionally changing direction of rotation.  The pendulum finally reaches a second state of order as it moves towards the centre away from magnetic influence.  Here the pattern becomes intricate and dense.

Light path 1 1500

Light path 2 1500

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Viewers will be invited to swing the pendulum and follow the flight as it passes through borders of colour, sandy terrain and magnetic atmosphere.  As we have been working on this idea we have noticed the parallels and connections with flight and atmosphere. For example the tip of the pendulum actually describes a path of travel that follows the inside surface of a sphere, and the magnets suggest planetary forces.

Strange Attractor is a wonderfully ambiguous term which can refer not just to chaos theory and the ‘butterfly effect’ explored by the mathematician Edward Lorenz ( but also our fascination with light, material and pattern amidst the compelling uncertainty of elemental forces.  Art and science have a natural overlap as they are both functions of our interpretation and understanding of the universe and the world we live in.


Engineering Space

At the moment we are in the process of making a new piece of work for the Da Vinci Engineered exhibition which has been commissioned for the Amy Johnson Festival in Hull, due to open on 2nd July 2016.

This show will feature reproductions of Leonardo da Vinci’s flight and wind machines loaned by the Da Vinci Museum, Florence, alongside contemporary artists’ works which respond to ideas of flight or use engineering in their conceptualization, design or production.

Over the years we have worked and collaborated with a range of different engineers to develop and realise projects.  Some of these art works have been created for the public realm and so there are often practical issues such as durability and strength which need to be considered alongside the aesthetic and conceptual elements of the work.  How the viewer might experience or interact with the art work is also a big consideration.  These are also similar challenges that an engineer might face.

The process inevitably involves an element of problem solving yet it is these ‘problems’ that help an idea take shape and be refined so that it becomes richer and more connected with the space and context.  An example of this is a recent work called The Reveal – a site specific installation created for Sandpit Hill which overlooks the Thames Estuary, in Hadleigh Country Park, Essex.

The Reveal – commissioned by Essex County Council and Place Services on behalf of RSPB and The Greater Thames Marshes Improvement Area Partnership with support from Arts Council England and Olympic Legacy Interpretation Fund (2015)

For this site we wanted to create an artwork that could capture the amazing view from Sandpit Hill and reveal it in a new and unexpected way.  The idea to install a subterranean camera obscura in the hillside grew out of that research and we used 3 D modelling software to test out different variations of the design.  We calculated the predicted movement of the sun over a year to adapt the design to ensure that the lens would not create hot spots on the back wall and through this process we became aware of the work’s bigger connection with the universe and its position within it.

Plan elevation plotting the movement of the sun on the back wall

Each work we make has its own internal logic, with each element interdependent on the other.  We often use maths and physics to predict how things will look and work and this process inevitably shapes the final outcome.  However we are more interested in creating work which people can experience and respond to on a sensory level rather than through an understanding of the processes and physics involved. The engineering element in the work might be one of challenge and materials ‘questioning’ each other in interesting and perhaps awkward and entropic ways.

Starting points for the Da Vinci Engineered commission

Our starting point for this commission has been to consider the nature of flight, gravity, movement and light in relationship to a surface or landscape (in its broadest sense).  We have thought about how these different elements may interact with each other; how they could reveal or shape a landscape and also how these scenarios might play out on a larger scale.  We are interested in revealing and juxtaposing different dynamic processes to create states of ambiguity.

As part of our research we are working with the Engineering Department at Hull University to find out more about the different kinds of simulators and models they use.  One simulator that has caught our interest is the Total Environment Simulator (TES) run by the Department of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Hull University based at The Deep.  This experimental facility is designed for modelling environmental fluid and sediment dynamics in a wide range of settings and conditions.

At the moment we are setting up and testing our own models in the studio to determine the final configuration for the artwork and will talk about these more in our next post.

Artists in residence at Portsmouth Cathedral


We are excited to begin our artist residency at Portsmouth Cathedral.  The overarching theme of the Viewpoint Residency this year is ‘faiths connected’ and we are using our time here to look at what this might mean, using the medium of light to explore and investigate. We will be working within the Cathedral space throughout November to develop new work in response to the space and our research.

We are drawn towards using light because of its ambiguous nature;  how it can be simultaneously whole and fragmented.  From a scientific perspective white light is made up of different wavelengths (perceived as colours) and behaves as both a wave and a particle.  This duality leads to ambiguity about its state at a given moment.  

Light can reveal and transform, yet it can also hide and blind.  It is fundamental to life and it is has a symbolic importance within many religions. The nature of light seems to reflect the idea of faiths connected and the ambiguities that can arise from this.

Our residency begins as the days are drawing in and we will be observing and experimenting with different types of light in the space. The residency will culminate in a final piece of work which will be shown towards the end of November.  Details about this will be released soon.

Dates when we will be at the Cathedral are the 3rd, 10th, 12th,  18th, 20th, 27th and 28th November. Come along and say hello and see what we are doing.