Uppark House and Garden
South Harting, Petersfield
4 May – 2 November 2014
In 1989, Uppark was devastated when a fire, which started on the roof, ended up gutting much of the house. As the fire burnt downwards, a desperate race began to remove artifacts, paintings, textiles and furniture from below. Chains of people passed precious items out onto the lawns. Eventually ceilings and fireplaces caved in, plasterwork and remaining items were smashed and all ground floor rooms were left exposed to the sky.
In the aftermath, the four foot of damp ash and debris which lay in the rooms was gathered and stored in regiments of black dustbins out on the lawn, waiting for their contents to be carefully sorted, and a decision was made to restore Uppark to ‘the day before the fire’.
What then emerged was a vibrant community of skilled craftspeople, taking up residence in makeshift workshops and offices in the grounds of the property. Old skills were rekindled and expertise shared. Salvaged fragments were grafted onto replacement sections. Tides of people came and went and slowly Uppark was rebuilt. From the traumatic event came an amazing opportunity for discovery and innovation and the collective energy of the endeavor left its mark on everyone involved.
My ceramic patchwork pieces celebrate the painstaking dedication of this remarkable temporary community.
Playing on the aesthetics associated with archaeological restoration and traditions of Japanese ceramic mending, the hand-stitched pieces revive materials, embrace flaws and celebrate the outcome of misadventure. They sit in the Red Drawing Room as ‘replacements’, alongside ‘fire survivors’ and substitute ceramics. Their hand-stitched construction echoes the pioneering textile renovation work undertaken by Margaret Meade-Fetherstonhaugh to reinforce Uppark’s 18th Century curtains, a task that later enabled them to withstand being wrenched from the windows.
There remains a room, stacked high with bread-trays, containing smoky fragments of an array of beautiful ceramics found within the ash after the fire. Photography, digital fabric printing and hand-stitched construction enable these fragments to once again take on three-dimensional form and return to sit, if still incomplete, within the elegance of the Red Drawing Room.
Unravelling the National Trust is a unique project offering artists and makers exhibition opportunities in National Trust properties. Conceived by arts organisation Unravelled, artists are invited to evoke histories, stories and a sense of place in a designated National Trust property. The project launched in May 2012 at Nymans House and Gardens in Sussex, continued at the Vyne in Hampshire in 2013 and will culminate with the third and final exhibition at Uppark House and Gardens in West Sussex, launching in spring 2014.
The Unravelled artists are commissioned to create site-specific works referencing Uppark’s intriguing history, reflecting on the architecture and echoing elements from the significant collections of ceramics, textiles, plasterwork, silver and furniture housed in the property. Encouraged to tell tales through their work about Uppark’s evolution and the historical characters connected to the property. On show, are a series of works designed to provoke and surprise visitors, whilst also providing unique insights into the history of the house.