Imogen Cloët: A Novel (House) Like no Other
“Why I have chosen Shandy Hall and what it is about Laurence Sterne and the collection that interests me.
I have always been interested in the 18th Century, particularly Hogarth’s work that so meticulously and insightfully captures that world, the same world that Sterne and his fictional character Tristram Shandy inhabited. Whilst I had heard of the novels, I really knew very little about them or their author, so this was a great opportunity to learn more and explore the real and imagined world of both the men and the books.
The things that really spoke to me whilst reading researching for my proposal were:
Firstly, the surprising, bold, playful, unconventional ways in which the story of Tristram Shandy is told. Sterne’s use of ‘radical visual devices’ – the non linear narrative, blank pages, black pages, dots and dashes, squiggles and the famous one-off marbled pages 169/70 in the first editions of volume III. Creating a novel like no other. I found myself trying to imagine what seeing this extraordinary book would have been like when it was first published, the impact of that unexpected pop of colour between the pages. At a time when colour plates inside popular novels were just not used, I started to wonder about how that impact of visual surprise could be recreated now.
I really liked the random nature of the marbled pages, hand dipped and unique to each edition- ‘the motly emblem of my work’. Marbled paper has a lively energy, irregular, like the narrative and the times, colourful and crowded like a Georgian street scene.. I like that Sterne delighted in chaos, disorder, mischief but was meticulous about the detail of everything- the way his books were printed and put together.
I was interested in what Patrick Wildgust says on the website about the Hall being an emblem of Sterne’s work, ‘not where he was born or died but where he wrote and Tristram was born’. As the inside of the house practically only lends itself to subtle interventions, I wanted to create a bolder piece reflecting the impact of the novel’s huge success and its celebrity. From this I wanted to try and get a sense of the shape of Shandy Hall and think about boldly marrying some of the visual emblems of Sterne’s work and the Hall.
My response and what I would do:
In order to capture the bold, playful spirit of the novels I propose an unconventional two part scheme that would use some of Sterne’s unique visual devices and amplify their scale to transform the exterior of Shandy Hall; which despite the name meaning ‘strange, weird, a bit daft’ and the hotch potch nature of the architecture being added to and built on over the centuries, there is nothing immediately striking or ‘crazy’ about the Hall itself…
Part 1. Marbling the house:
I propose in our Blue Sky Museum for Shandy Hall that the exterior brickwork of the hall be completely covered with marbled ‘paper’- the patterns and colours taken from the original first editions where each page was unique on two sides, so no two sides of the house / facade would be the same. I imagine this ‘paper’ to be a matt print keeping the intrinsic quality of the look of paper, not shiny but soft and vibrant as the original pages, carefully installed behind the existing foliage, the window spaces cut out, so the building looks like it may always have been like that.
This unexpected transformation of the exterior of Shandy Hall brings one of the most famous innovative visual devices of the interior world of the book to the outside of the house. An inside out . So as each volume of Tristram Shandy was visually ‘a novel like no other’ so the place where Sterne wrote becomes, for a short time, ‘a building like no other.’
This extraordinarily striking marbled Shandy Hall would capture the spirit of the novels and I would hope evoke in a new audience that same sense of novelty, surprise and curiosity that the 18th Century reader must have felt on encountering this remarkably placed marbled page for the first time.
I know they are still remarkable in literary terms but with virtual reality, special effects in films, gaming and social media the public may not appreciate how startling, bold and visually striking these innovations/ devices were.
Moving the work outdoors, will keep Shandy Hall on the map and would stimulate interest in Sterne’s visually innovative and modern approach. Who knows when we might be able to go inside domestic scale heritage properties again, so by moving things outdoors this marbled paper clad house would boldly capture spirit of place, making Shandy Hall a landmark (possibly an eyesore to some.) Passers-by would say- What does this mean? Why is it like this? So it becomes a provocation and a starting point for conversation about not just the visual boldness used by Sterne and the literary innovation of the marbled page but the story of Tristram Shandy. Blue Sky Museums is a wonderful opportunity to think big and not worry about budgets or the practicality of installing a printed marbled paper facade to a Grade I listed building!
Part 2. Narrative Paths:
The shortest distance between two points may well be a straight line but it often doesn’t make for the most interesting journey..From the visitor exit on the 18th C West façade (added by Sterne) I would propose letting the grass on the lawn grow long and cutting in/ laying four black paths the shape of which are taken directly from Sterne’s drawings of the four narrative lines Tristram moved
through in the first, second, third and fourth volumes. I like the idea of super sizing these drawings from page to path and the visitor experiencing a physical manifestation of the shape of the extraordinary narrative journeys through the novels; the convoluted, meandering, seemingly random trajectories, loops, pauses, diversions, digression and distractions of Tristram’s life. After all for the reader, the journey is the destination.”
Over the past decade I have created a body of work that responds directly to heritage spaces, their stories and collections. Working alongside property managers; house, collection, conservation and museum teams, my practice is based on intensive research, immersing myself in the many stories a site will contain to create detailed multi layered pieces that surprise and intrigue.
Originally from a theatre background, collaboration and story telling are at the heart of my work. Engaging the viewer in a journey is key to every piece I create. My work is always site responsive, often immersive, only existing in the place it was made for.
I am interested in creating playful, magical, curious, thought provoking and sometimes moving experiences. I have made work in an 18th Century library, a threshing barn, a horse box, attics, parks, on top of tall buildings, old cinemas and heritage properties. I’ve placed an amusement arcade in a 19th Century lecture theatre, an enormous golden pineapple in an 18th C walled garden, a swan in flight in Lord Armstrong’s dining room, filled a roman bathhouse with soap, coal and neon and even built a couple of time machines- sadly none of which work….but then maybe the past is best reimagined to make it accessible to a contemporary audience.