Enter the Secret Garden: Sculpture and sound meet in a Regency Brighton landscape

By Ben Miller | 16 May 2016

Set in a historic secret garden in Brighton and coinciding with the city's festival month, sculptor Hamish Black's Blackbird sculpture has been described as a silent song in a secret garden

A photo of sculptor Hamish Black crouching in a garden next to a curved black sculpture called Blackbird in Kemp Town, Brighton
© Courtesy Rachel Hunter, Lianne Jarrett Associates
Hidden from view in Brighton’s suburban Kemp Town, the walled garden at Bristol Place was originally owned by Lawrence Peel, the Prime Minister’s younger brother, in 1830.

Back then, most grand houses in the surrounding square had extensive, glorious gardens. This oasis, which is now hosting works by Hamish Black – a revered sculptor who has used elms which he won in a competition after they fell during Brighton’s Great Storm in 1987 – is the only one which hasn’t been built over.

Antony Dale, the founder of the Regency Society, bought the garden in 1950, and it was the wish of his widow, Yvonne, that it should remain a haven for the community to be put to artistic purposes. Dale’s dream has been fulfilled by Nick Dwyer, a groundsman whose career has taken a more peaceful path since he left a role in crashing percussion collective Stomp to become a landscape gardener, creating rows of beautiful plants around Black’s central, ten-metre long sculpture.

A photo of sculptor Hamish Black crouching in a garden next to a curved black sculpture called Blackbird in Kemp Town, Brighton
© Courtesy Rachel Hunter, Lianne Jarrett Associates
This has been a couple of years in the making, but things started accelerating following a phone call last Christmas after new access points were added around a landscape where Regency Society parties once played out idyllically. In the end, Black finalised the layout of the sculpture, a depiction of an oscillating soundwave from the call of a blackbird, carved into black semi-circles of elm, in a matter of weeks.

“We talked about both the timeframe and what was deliverable. We thought it would be very apt to revisit the Brighton elm, and this connection to a Secret Garden, where you might pay particular attention to sound,” he says.

“It builds around sound but is itself, of course, silent. The idea was actually not to change the garden, in a way – it was simply to occupy it for a period of time and then to go again.”

A photo of sculptor Hamish Black crouching in a garden next to a curved black sculpture called Blackbird in Kemp Town, Brighton
© Courtesy Rachel Hunter, Lianne Jarrett Associates
The concept of sound in a serenely quiet environment is a key theme for Black. As part of his Sounds Like series, he also recorded the kick of a football before turning it into a set of 25 bronze balls in a commission, Kick, for London’s 2012 Summer Paralympics. One is on display in the garden.

“What is interesting about them is that, outside of the Olympics, you could take an ephemeral experience like sound and create a physical which is in itself silent,” he reflects. “I have mechanisms so that I can revisit this idea in various forms: it can be an object or a space or a site-specific work.”

One of Black’s collaborators is his son, a music producer and musician whose work in the studio (“I said, ‘oh, can you get me some of these and do me some of those sounds?’”) sparked his father’s evolving sonic sculptures. The third work in this secret space is Sounds Like O, a physical representation of one of Black’s favourite noises: the wave made when blowing into the top of a bottle, portrayed in a curious aluminum material.

A photo of sculptor Hamish Black crouching in a garden next to a curved black sculpture called Blackbird in Kemp Town, Brighton
© Courtesy Rachel Hunter, Lianne Jarrett Associates
“I was having a problem casting and I said to the representative from the casting company, ‘look, this is not working.’ He opened his bag and took this stuff out. He said they used it for backing castings, because aluminum is incredibly strong.

“I got a big panel of it from the suppliers for British Aerospace. As always, I tried to interest them on the basis that they themselves would see a completely different possibility.”

It originates, says Black, from an “imperfect lump”, finding a more stylish home than the scrapyard in a garden where visitors are discovering it throughout the Brighton Festival and Fringe month. “It is about entering into the pre-existing space rather than trying to manufacture something,” ponders Black. “There’s something to be said for that.”


What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of sculptor Hamish Black crouching in a garden next to a curved black sculpture called Blackbird in Kemp Town, Brighton
© Courtesy Rachel Hunter, Lianne Jarrett Associates
A photo of sculptor Hamish Black crouching in a garden next to a curved black sculpture called Blackbird in Kemp Town, Brighton
© Courtesy Rachel Hunter, Lianne Jarrett Associates
A photo of sculptor Hamish Black crouching in a garden next to a curved black sculpture called Blackbird in Kemp Town, Brighton
© Courtesy Rachel Hunter, Lianne Jarrett Associates
A photo of sculptor Hamish Black crouching in a garden next to a curved black sculpture called Blackbird in Kemp Town, Brighton
© Courtesy Rachel Hunter, Lianne Jarrett Associates
Three great gardens to see

Alnwick Garden, Northumberland
One of the world’s most contemporary gardens, The Alnwick Garden’s enchanting landscape offers adventure and intrigue in the heart of Northumberland. Scale the treetops in Europe’s largest wooden treehouse, lose yourself in the mysterious Bamboo Labyrinth, steal through the Poison Garden or gaze upon the Grand Cascade.

Horniman Museum and Gardens, London
The Horniman has a unique range of exhibitions, events and activities which illustrate the cultural and natural world - as well as spectacular gardens.

Powis Castle and Garden, Welshpool
The world-famous garden, overhung with enormous clipped yews, shelters rare and tender plants. Laid out under the influence of Italian and French styles, it retains its original lead statues, orangery and aviary on the terraces.
Latest comment: >Make a comment
  • Back to top
  • | Print this article
  • | Email this article
  • | Bookmark and Share
    Back to article
    Your comment:
    DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted at www.culture24.org.uk are the opinion of the comment writer, not Culture24. Culture24 reserves the right to withdraw or withhold from publication any comments that are deemed to be hearsay or potentially libellous, or make false or unsubstantiated allegations or are deemed to be spam or unrelated to the article at which they are posted.
    advertisement