Artist Residency: Charleston House and Garden, East Sussex

4 September 2017
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Diep~Haven Festival 2018: Terra Firma // BPF18

Artist Residency: Charleston House and Garden, East Sussex

Autumn 2017 – Spring 2018

Diep~Haven festival of contemporary creation & Brighton Photo Fringe are pleased to announce that Matthew Beach has been selected to undertake a residency at Charleston, home of the Bloomsbury group in East Sussex. Matthew is a Slade graduate currently studying for an MA in Geography and is a Printmaking Fellow at City and Guilds of London Art School.

The residency forms part of the next edition of the Diep~Haven festival, whose events and exhibitions take place across East Sussex and Normandy throughout summer 2018. Titled Terra Firma, the festival will examine the shifting relationship between the human and the land, and explore the tensions between human designs and the autonomous behaviours of the natural and, more specifically, the botanical world. 

The artist-in-residence at Charleston will respond to the theme Terra Firma and the context of Charleston, culminating in work to be exhibited on site, next summer, and at least one event (e.g. a workshop) as part of Charleston’s public programme. This artwork/ body of work will also be exhibited as part of BPF18 in October 2018. 

Brighton Photo Fringe will also provide four mentoring sessions with the selected artist at key moments during the residency process. The resident is encouraged to engage with photographic and other archival materials. This includes partial access to a recently acquired photographic archive documenting thirty years of the garden, information about 110 plants which inhabited the garden at the same time as the Bloomsbury group; these continue to form the palette of the garden today. Residents will have access to the House, archives and gardens, and may be able to make use of the Writer’s Studio as a workspace (which is scheduled for construction in autumn 2017).

This residency is one of eight ‘Garden Residencies’ taking place on both sides of the Channel in advance of the Diep~Haven festival programme, and works produced during these residencies have the potential to be exhibited together in a group exhibition in Yvetot, France in autumn 2018. 

About Charleston House and Garden

Charleston was the home of pioneers of early 20th century British art and members of the Bloomsbury Group, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. Here, Bell and Grant created a hub of artistic and intellectual activity with visitors including Virginia and Leonard Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E.M. Forster and many others, who came to enjoy the house and gardens as a retreat from London life. As Vanessa Bell wrote in 1936, “The house seems full of young people in very high spirits, laughing a great deal at their own jokes… lying about in the garden which is simply a dithering blaze of flowers and butterflies and apples.” Charleston’s walled garden was created by Bell and Grant to designs by Roger Fry, together they transformed vegetable plots and hen runs, essential to the household during the First World War, into a quintessential painters’ garden mixing Mediterranean influences with mosaics, box hedges, gravel pathways and ponds, combined with cottage garden planting and a touch of Bloomsbury humour in the placing of the statues. Classical forms sit side by side with life-size works by Quentin Bell, mosaic pavements and tile-edged pools. The garden’s plants were chosen according to intense colour and silver foliage, and as these became recorded in numerous still lifes produced by Bell and Grant, today the gardeners at Charleston are able to work from a palette of over 100 species planted by the Bloomsbury Group. The house at Charleston also remains as it was at the time of the Bloomsbury Group, decorated by Bell and Grant with murals inspired by Italian fresco painting and the Post-Impressionists, as well as painted furniture, ceramics, textiles and objects from the Omega Workshops. Meanwhile, every room includes paintings from the Charleston collection with works by Renoir, Picasso, Derain, Matthew Smith, Sickert, Tomlin and Delacroix.

Diep~Haven Festival 2018: Terra FirmaProject RationaleTerra Firma takes as its starting point the shifting relationship between the human and the land and its vegetation, destabilising any assumptions that the earth that we stand on is inanimate or neutral ground and examining how it has been framed, shaped and must be negotiated. Through a series of ‘garden residencies’, and a summer programme of exhibitions, discursive and participatory events, Terra Firma will explore the tensions between human design and the innate behaviours and intelligence that reside in the natural and, more specifically, botanical world.

While we humans have been busily cultivating our own economic, social and political agendas for several centuries, over a much longer period plants, themselves sentient beings, have developed their own ways of responding to the environment: deciding how to put down roots, when to compete and when to share resources. Their capabilities are necessitated by their predicament of being rooted, unable to move when conditions become unfavourable. Can a deeper consideration of the behaviours of the living landscape generate forms of knowledge required in order for we humans to navigate our current, uncertain times?

Key to the thinking behind the festival programme is an interest in interdisciplinary approaches and a desire to commission and exhibit works that move beyond the purely representational, that are active, performative and urgent in their consideration of our subject: the gestures that we make in the landscape, and an understanding of nature itself as a series of gestures.

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