Heartwood is a group of artists (Fanny Lam Christie, Kyra Clegg, Su Grierson, Frances Law, Shona Leitch, Martine Foltier Pugh, Ceri White) who work together on projects which link art, science, technology, history and a range of other disciplines.
Last year they exhibited in Perthshire woodland with work, which reflected close ties with the arboreal setting.
This year the group – along with a number of other artists including Lorna Fraser, Edward Summerton, Deniz Üster and Johannes Sailer – have been invited to create work in the remarkably well reserved 18th century stables of Cambo House in Fife.
The invitation is in the context of a proposed redevelopment of the stables by PAGE/PARK architects that envisages a venue focussing on horticulture, the arts and community participation. Cambo have worked with numerous artists and horticulturalists over the years and their winter Snowdrop Festival is already internationally celebrated.
Although the original Cambo house was destroyed by fire in 1778 but rebuilt soon after, the stable block, which dates from around 1760, remained intact. Quite remarkably many of the fittings and structure, including the stalls, are much as they would have been when first made by the estate carpenters, stonemasons, slaters and other skilled artisans.
The art jargon for the artists’ widely ranging response to such a building is ‘site specific’ but this rather soulless phrase does little justice to the way these artists have responded to this particular space.
Lam Christie, for example, has created– ‘Expanded Field’ which consists of two related works – ‘New Leaf’ and ‘Rhizome’. The first, located in a small courtyard, is a circle roughly two metres in diameter, consisting of a series of five branches, surrounded by a circular stone perimeter. Embedded in the pale, crooked whitebeam are slates wedged into cut notches.
The nomenclature of the piece is emphasised by the presence nearby of a disused harrow while the work itself suggests plant stalks, with simple leaf patterns, emerging from the gravelly earth. The piece emphasises the idea of regeneration in that the slate ‘leaves,’ which have fallen from the roof of the derelict building, have been put to a new use.
Entering through the arched doorway of a cart shed one is greeted by an antique wooden table that appears to be covered in the paraphernalia of scientific experimentation. ‘Rhizome’ refers to the horticultural science of hydroponics where plants are grown without soil and are instead fed nutrients through a series of copper tubes. In this case, the peony ‘rhizomes’ (the stems of a plant which send out roots) are porcelain casts.
Sue Grierson has chosen to create a form of concrete poetry focusing on the multiple metaphors found in the English language based on the term ‘horse’. These phrases, which employ an elegant calligraphy, adorn the stable walls while emphasising the ephemerality of this art project.
Frances Law has created ‘Musée de extraordinaire’, which contains multiple artefacts that at first sight appear to be genuine museum pieces from, for example, the Bronze and Stone ages. On closer examination however the objects reveals a form of benign, amusing fakery. A carved wooden figure set in a glazed box frame is given a typewritten cardboard label ‘Bronze Age Figurine, Boghall 2000 BC’. Another object, purporting to be Roman, is in fact a spherical alloy float from fishing net.
This is a thoughtful, well-curated show, which does justice to its own concerns and celebrates a wonderful building which is soon to have a new life.