LUX was the second contemporary art project for Cragside and demonstrated that contemporary art can reveal histories and narratives in different ways. It also demonstrated that Cragside presents a rich and unusual opportunity for artists to develop new pieces of work.
Title LUX Historical Sites Cragside, Rothbury, Northumberland Lead Artists Catherine Bertola, Andrew Burton, Imogen Cloet, Jem Finer, Dan Fox, Bob Levene Artwork Partners / Stakeholders National Trust, Arts&Heritage, Arts Council England Budget £50,000 Development Groundwork began October 2013 Dates 10 June – 2 November 2014
Following a pilot art exhibition Building Dreams in 2013 the National Trust (NT) team wanted to build on this and develop an exhibition focused around the 100th anniversary of Joseph Swan’s death. Joseph Swan and William Armstrong (the owner of Cragside) worked closely on the development for domestic installation of the incandescent light bulb. The brief to artists was about light, illumination, invention and innovation.
Building Dreams 2013 was an initial step into contemporary programming although we had delivered a project in 2006 called Inside Out that addressed the issue of Cragside House being closed for refurbishment. We wanted to reveal our history in different ways and felt that as Inside Out had achieved this aim we could revisit working with artists to achieve our objectives.
- To increase visitor numbers to Cragside by offering a high quality art exhibition and to encourage a local audience to visit Cragside either for the first time or as a repeat visitor
- To help tell the story of Cragside in a new and creative way.
- To be part of the National Trust’s national contemporary programme, Trust New Art.
Arts&Heritage worked with the NT team to develop an artist brief and to identify the long list of artists. In 2013 we targeted regional artists for Building Dreams, but for LUX we extended this to cover the Northern area. This was deliberate; we did not have big budgets and as we are in a very rural part of Northumberland the costs of travel are high and mostly reliant on having a car. We knew that the budget had to cover all these costs and so opened up the opportunity to artists in the North East, North West and Yorkshire. Artists visited the site on specific days and toured the house and grounds then submitted initial ideas. We learnt from the previous project that it was very time consuming to respond individually to artists and so we needed to set aside dedicated site visit days. Artists had a month to respond to the site and brief. From the initial ideas the selection panel shortlisted 10 artists to work up final proposals. It was important that the selection panel comprised of representatives from various operations from the estate: the house manager, the interpretation manager, the grounds manager as well as a representative from Northumberland County Council. This encouraged ownership of the project and communication was key to the project’s success.
From these proposals 7 artists were selected; 5 were new commissions and 2 hired works.
The sites for the installations were chosen by the Cragside team - chosen for their importance in telling the Cragside story as well as attracting visitors to a particular place. We also stressed that we would be open to any other suggestions by artists so that we did not close any options down.
We had one particular location that required attention; a significant and highly regarded chenille carpet within the large and important dining room within the House was removed for restoration. This left an empty room that we wanted to transform during the restoration period.
We offered this location to an artist rather than develop an interpretation panel.
Kate Hunter was the designated point of contact for the commissioned artists, with additional support from Judith King from Arts&Heritage. Kate is the Events Coordinator and was the point of contact for the previous exhibition, Building Dreams.
Four artists chosen for commission:
Catherine Bertola In the pursuit of perfection
Catherine Bertola created a quiet and poignant positioning of a perfectly straight young apple sapling with bronze cast, gold gilded apples to refer to the lengths that Victorian gardeners went to control and harness nature in the pursuit of perfection.
‘A young apple tree stands alone, planted in one of the original pots in the left wing of the glass orchard house. Bearing an abundance of perfectly formed gold fruit, the tree slowly revolves like the hour hand of a clock marking time’.
Andrew Burton Light Vessel
Andrew Burton created a visually arresting work comprised of thousands of small glass bricks using the sun as the source of light. The work makes direct reference to the shape of the first incandescent light bulb designed by Swan.
The work also draws its inspiration from the title of the project LUX from Armstrong’s fascination with light and from the sense of excitement and innovation that Joseph Swan’s early incandescent lamps used at Cragside would have generated when they were first seen.
Imogen Cloët Illumine
Imogen Cloet created an immersive installation in the historic interior of the dining room. At the centre of the room a large Victorian ‘boardroom’ table, its surface covered with industrial polished steel, reminding us of Armstrong’s industrial might. Suspended light bulbs directly reference the invention of Joseph Swan’s incandescent bulb and the first stage of their installation within the house, signalling the birth of modern domestic lighting.
Dan Fox Filharmonic and Harmonica Botanica
Dan Fox created two works for LUX.
Filharmonic is a sound and light installation of three contemporary lampshades hanging in the gallery of the house which was historically Armstrong’s first electrical laboratory.
The lampshades emit a score of crackling electricity and plasma bursts interspersed with pops of bright light.
Harmonica Botanica is an experiment in itself. A bronze metal dome hangs from a steel stand whilst underneath a pot plant waits. As visitors approach they hear an evolving score of music boxes and deep chimes. Electrodes clipped to the leaves and roots of the plant pick up signals from the rising sap, so we experience the unique event of hearing a plant growing.
We didn’t have the budget to commission any more than four artists, but we did have some budget left for the hiring of work. We didn’t have the expertise in-house to look for existing works, so Judith King contacted artists whose practice seemed to fit the context. One of the artists (Bob Levene) had been to Cragside and had suggested an existing work in her expression of interest.
We negotiated a hire fee for the works although transportation costs for Spiegelei III were met by the project budget.
Jem Finer Spiegelei Junior III
Within the Spiegelei the camera obscura and cyclorama are united and reinvented as an immersive, 360 degree panoramic projection space, illuminating the interior with an upturned living image of its surroundings and resonating with sound transformed by the acoustic properties of the orbicular space.
Bob Levene Source
Source is a beautiful, moving video of the artist’s own forearm with a flickering visual presence of light, the source of which is deliberately concealed. The work is hung as a portrait in the library amongst other paintings. Source refers to the change from candle and gaslight to a more modern invention of Swan’s incandescent light bulb and reflects upon the ease with which we accept electrical power today.
We would not have been able to achieve the whole project without Arts Council England funding and so applied for a grants for the arts award (under £15,000) to help support the commissions. In the end the budget was £50,000 in total. The budget was mostly National Trust contributions both as cash and in kind.
Each artist received a commission fee of between £5000- £10,000, although most of them were £7000. This included the design, making, installing and de-installation of the work. It also included any maintenance visits that might have to be done throughout the duration of the project. Ownership of the works revert to the artist after the exhibition ends. It is worth noting that most of them will have been outside for a length of time and will have been changed by weather conditions. Some artists secured other financial help from other sources such as the National Glass Centre in Sunderland (Andrew Burton, Light Vessel).
- To raise the profile of Cragside with a local audience within a 1 hour drive time, primarily within the Newcastle upon Tyne area, who might not have visited Cragside for a number of years.
The Cragside Communications Officer co-ordinated the marketing and press campaign. This included adverts and broadcasts as well as securing editorial from culture magazines. In addition Cragside was featured on national TV programmes. It is worth noting that as the same time as LUX, Cragside installed a major addition to their site, an Archimedes Screw that also attracted much press publicity as well as a new exhibition on Joseph Swan.
The Communications Officer was therefore managing up to three press projects at the same time.
A bespoke LUX design was commissioned from Sumo design (Newcastle) and printed by statex print company. We distributed these to regional museums, art centres and libraries.
A dedicated PR campaign including social media was also developed.
Education/interpretation/audience and response
Kate Hunter and Judith King from Arts&Heritage gave dedicated evening talks to NT volunteers prior to the opening of LUX. This was an important part of the project plan and delivery as volunteers are key to helping visitors engage with and understand the work. In addition we put on a special preview evening for volunteers so that they were able to meet the artists and hear about the work first hand. This was a valuable exercise that was appreciated by volunteers and artists alike.
We learnt from last year that artist talks held in the evenings at Cragside were not particularly successful and so we changed our thinking for this year.
Interpretation was by panels located near the works, not directly in front of them. The free leaflets were given to all visitors at the entrance and provided accessible information about the works.
Bluegrass Research was commissioned to design a survey looking at what impact the LUX exhibition had at Cragside. The report findings will be presented in October 2014.
LUX is the second contemporary art project at Cragside. We learnt a great deal from the first project in 2013 and improved our delivery for 2014. We included key members of NT staff in the choosing of commissions and the discussion of installation. Kate Hunter was the prime point of contact for LUX and this is important for the successful delivery of the project. Our Interpretation Manager was also key to gaining historical information about the site and Lord Armstrong and together, this NT Cragside team led the site visits for artists.
The site visits were organized on particular days. We learnt from last year that to engage with site visits on a day to day ad hoc basis was extremely time consuming and we did not have the capacity to do this.
Our evenings for volunteers were really useful and has helped to build their confidence in engaging with visitors when presenting the work.
We learnt that we needed to plan well in advance and think about the next project whilst delivering the first. We enjoy a good working relationship with our NT regional fundraiser who was extremely supportive in our application to Arts Council England and who wrote the successful grants for the arts bid. We could not have achieved our aims without these extra funds.
Catherine Bertola is a Newcastle based artist whose work involves drawings, objects and installations that respond directly to a place and its history.
Focusing on the emphasis Victorian landowners placed upon the pursuit of perfection, the artist has turned her attention to how the Formal Garden represents the lengths William Armstrong went to in order to control and harness nature.
Andrew Burton is a Newcastle based artist whose work explores the meeting points of sculpture and architecture. His practice reflects an interest in materials and place and he has often worked in international situations, collaborating with brick makers and bamboo breakers in India, beachcombers in China and graffiti artists in North America.
Imogen Cloët is an award winning designer and visual artist based in Newcastle. Imogen works in theatre and site specific installation and is currently an associate artist of November Club. Imogen’s work is based on intensive research and she immerses herself in the many stories a site will contain to create detailed multi layered pieces.
Jem Finer is a London based artist and musician whose practice concerns itself with landscape, science, time, space and the cosmos.
His previous works include Longplayer, a one thousand year long musical composition playing online and at various locations around the world as well as sculptural radio observatories built in Oxford and Northern Ireland and Everywhere All The Time, a drawing machine animated by signals from the hiss and static of the early universe.
Dan Fox is a sound artist and musician based in Cumbria, known for his extraordinary and eccentric instruments often powered by wind, solar and human energy. His works include Howling Wire a twelve meter high electro-acoustic Aeolian harp, sound maps linked to smart-phone apps and a massively amplified pedal powered Boom Bike.
Bob Levene is an artist based in Sheffield and is currently artist in residence at the Faculty of Engineering, University of Sheffield looking at the hidden world of infrastructure buried below the ground. She makes video works, installations, performances and walks and has more recently been exploring the tools and systems we live by and how they shape our lives.