Tatton Park Biennial 2012 suggests sky is the limit for stately home art fest

By Mark Sheerin | 21 May 2012
Colour photo of a minivan with a glider mounted on the roof
Ultimate Holding Company, The Cartland Institute for Romance Research (2012)© Thierry Bal
Exhibition: Tatton Park Biennial 2012, Tatton Park, Knutsford, until September 30 2012

In most Biennials, artists have the luxury of an entire town to respond to. Not so Tatton Park, where once again this year 15 odd artists have all made work relating to a single house.

But Tatton is no average stately home, as if there were such a thing. The gardens are stunning, the history quirky and, in Lord Maurice Egerton, it was also once home to one of the more colourful figures in aristocratic history.

Indeed, so rich is the background to this 2,000-acre property that curatorial team Danielle Arnaud and Jordan Kaplan have been able to narrow the focus of this year’s festival and invite their chosen artists to make work on a single theme, flight.

Visitors are continually reminded of the relevance of this as jets pass low overhead on their way to and from nearby Manchester Airport. Egerton was a flight enthusiast. And it is not too much of a stretch to imagine parachutists jumping from planes in a training manoeuvre as they did during World War II.

Colour photo of a suspension bridge kept aloft over a pond with helium balloons
Olivier Grossetête, Pont de Singe (2012)© Thierry Bal
The ghosts of these airmen can be found in the most breathtaking work in the show, a monkey bridge suspended over a Japanese pond by three finely rigged white helium balloons.

Olivier Grossetête’s weightless experiment still looks precarious; a breeze can set the whole apparatus dancing.

Simon Faithfull, meanwhile, has popped down the road to Manchester Airport and found Europe’s largest fire crew-training set up. This truncated jumbo jet must be seen to be believed.

It’s a dark hulk from which flames shoot up to the height of perhaps four or five storeys. In a case of artist as daredevil, Faithfull boards this deathtrap in a flame retardant suit. But this film is not for the aviophobic.

Much more cosy is a mini caravan, specced out by Jem Finer to simulate a voyage to the stars. A distinctive but mild form of excitement comes with the boarding of a vehicle like this.

All of which makes your journey to the stars, which plays out on screens in the windows, a genuine adventure. The pièce de résistance is the jaunty film soundtrack which plays you out when you land.

Just as inviting is the minivan which Ultimate Holding Company have converted into The Cartland Institute for Romance Research. By some incredible twist the artists have discovered that romance writer Barbara Cartland invented the tow glider. They have mounted a glider on the van which they base on a model made by prisoners in Colditz. It is a convoluted but rich and rewarding piece of work.

Meanwhile, inside the manor house Tessa Farmer has evolved her trademark skeletal fairies to the point where they reach outer space and orbit the earth.

She has also diversified her materials so that her dangling spacejunk includes a frog, a rat, polyps from a man-o-war jellyfish and the skull of a chimpanzee. These oddities now hang in space with both magic and menace.

But perhaps it is Hilary Jack who comes at the theme with the most original angle. Her nestlike tree-house alludes to Egerton’s heirlessness, since the artist has uncovered a poetic superstition that when the childless heir of a fortune dies, crows will be found leaving their colonies.

Climb the winding stair to her artfully woven nest and you will feel like a crow, albeit for just a minute or two, before flying to the next attraction in the park.

Since the artists have all risen to the challenge of such a tight brief and limited location, they and we can now reap the benefits of the flipside. This Biennial is so easy to cover on foot that you can see everything in a day.

Tatton is to be applauded for its ambition. Long may it provide such an inspiring canvas.
  • Open Tuesday-Sunday 1pm-5pm. Admission £10/£5).
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More pictures:

Colour photo of a giant nest in a tree
Hilary Jack, Empty Nest (2012)© Thierry Bal
Colour photo of a hanging sculpture made from bone and other detritus
Tessa Famer, Cosmic Cloud (2012)© Thierry Bal
Colour photo of a caravan trailer in an orchard
Jem Finer, ¡Arriba! (2012)© Thierry Bal
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