“Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing”.
— Aesop’s Fables
The wild Northern territories of Europe have fascinated artists, writers and philosophers for centuries. The revival of interest in these tumultuous, challenging landscapes occurred during the 19th century, with the great Romantics such as William Morris, William Blake and Lord Byron. Showcasing a range of artists who work with the mythology and stories of metamorphoses from Northern. Europe, this exhibition will be an ode to all those that are magical, fantastical and ever-changing. Material Earth II will draw on the animals and moral compasses of ancient Greek and Roman fables, the Scandinavian and Germanic fairytales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson as well as the archaic Paganism of European cultures, inextricably bound to Messums’ location so proximal to sites such as Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral.
There is, certainly, a link between the malleability of clay and the interest in metamorphosing subject matter on the part of those who work with it. In our thirteenth-century monastic barn, built seventy years later than the Cathedral at Salisbury, we are exhibiting artists who work in three-dimensional ceramic sculpture, including large-scale installations by Malene Hartmann Rasmussen and Christie Brown.
Hartmann Rasmussen works with mixed media sculpture, making and arranging multiple components into complex narrative tableaux of visual excess. Malene tries to create a place beyond reality, an echo of the real world, that bends the perception of what is real. She desires her work to work to look like a very skilled child could have made it, outwardly innocent yet inwardly intricate at the same time. Mistakenly the viewer may be drawn to her figures thinking them to be toys; however closer examination reveals their rather darker nature. Like all good myths that celebrate the vitality of life they are rooted in darker pools of suggestion. Following a break through year in 2016, she was artist in residence in Fondation Bernadaud and the Award at the 2017 British Ceramics Biennale.
Brown’s work references mythology, narrative and symbolism associated with clay and its relationship with other materials such as wax, bronze and plaster. She often presents her work through site or theme-specificity and her making method of press-moulding allows her to explore the nature of repetition though installation and series. Recent work revolves around the response of contemporary art practice to archaic collections including those of Sigmund Freud and Sir John Soane, and on-going research is developing around the relationship of ceramics to other materials and practices including drawing.
The barn will also feature Barnaby Barford’s amazingly life-like polar bear, accompanied by two arctic foxes. Barford is the artist best known for making ‘The Tower of Babel’ at the V&A in London, shown in 2015: a 6m tall tower made from three-thousand individual and unique bone-china London shops. Other artists in the barn will include Bertozzi and Casoni, Katie Spragg, Claire Curneen, Kate Malone, Lena Peters and Sam Bakewell. For the second time, Messums Wiltshire will host early works by the seminal British artist Grayson Perry.
The work in the Long Gallery, our new space, adjacent to the barn and opened in September 2017 will respond to similar themes that the work in the barn does. This space will show two-dimensional works such as photography and painting as well as taxidermy and smaller installation pieces. Artists here include Polly Morgan and Alastair Mackie.
Fifteen years ago Polly Morgan was a barmaid with a fascination for taxidermy. Today, having been spotted by Banksy, hailed by Hirst, and picked up by Saatchi, she’s the toast of the contemporary art scene. In the past few years, Polly Morgan has secured her place as one of the most important – and collectable – artists of her generation, and a leader in the next generation of YBAs. One of her first professional works – a white rat curled-up in a champagne glass – was snapped up hours before it was due to be exhibited at Zoo Art Fair. She studied with Scottish taxidermist George Jamieson and began to play with and dismantle taxidermy traditions, creating sculptures that brought her work to the attention of many notable collectors and curators both in Britain and internationally.
Alastair Mackie’s sculptural practice is one of contrasts. It is as labour-intensive as it is formally effortless, as grounded in ideas of nature as it is in the intrinsically human struggle to define a role within the environment; it is as intellectually ambitious as it is aesthetically understated. Mackie grew up in an agricultural community, where he resettled more recently, and that landscape of his childhood has played a key role in shaping his vocabulary. Organic elements (trees, mud, wasp nests, sea shells) are meticulously rearranged and transformed in a knowingly quixotic attempt to order life’s primordial chaos.
Other artists in the Long Gallery include Bouke de Vries’ winged bird cages and an assort of historical and contemporary painting. Works by Ann Carrington, Charlotte Cory and Wolfe von Lenkiewicz will be featured.