Artist in Residence Durham Castle (UNESCO World Heritage Site) 2015-16
Photographic series with archival texts, installation within historic collections, video
This series of photographs, texts and a video work was produced as a result of a five-month residency at Durham Castle over the winter of 2015-16. The works respond to the castle’s history as a site of government and latterly as home to Durham University’s ‘University College’, known as the founding college as in 1832 it marked the inception of the first University in the North of England. The exhibition featured three different but related bodies of work drawing on photographic and archival research related to the Castle and installed within its existing collections and architecture. The work is deliberately open-ended, allowing it to form a dialogue with the castle as a context and to frame broader questions about the relationship of the heritage site to the region it once governed. This work went on to be exhibited at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art in Sunderland, a city which was at one time part of the historic county of Durham.
Public and Private (digital photographic prints and archival texts)
A series of photographs and texts scanned from the special collections held at Palace Green Library related to the foundation of the University. The photographic works document aspects of the day-to-day life of Durham Castle with a particular focus on some of the rituals and traditions related to the castle. I was especially interested in the fact that students from University College live in the building, but also that their social life is connected to a number of older and sometimes adapted rituals and traditions, some of which date back to the foundation of the University.
Views of the Town and Country (after Lorenzetti) C-type photographic prints
A series of views taken from vantage points in the castle which are not usually available to the public. The work aims to present an alternative representation to the conventional views of the castle and cathedral set in the landscape (as can be seen in many of the paintings in the castle) referencing the site’s military and governmental history and strategic position on the peninsular. The title references a series of frescos painted by the artist Ambrogio Lorenzetti in (1338-9) for the city state of Sienna, representing allegories of good and bad government in an idealised city. In Sunderland this work was also exhibited alongside a parliamentary boundaries map of county Durham from 1835, produced after the great reform act of 1832 which is widely thought of as the beginning of parliamentary democracy in the UK.
Aesop’s Feast (9 mins looped video)
The video is constructed from footage of banners recorded at the Durham Miner’s Gala in 2015 mixed with music and ambient sound recorded in and around Durham Castle, it was originally installed in the senate room an important historical site of power in the castle which was used as a meeting room for the court of the assize until 1971. The title references one of Aesop’s fables and also a composition for piano by Charles- Valentin Alkan, which is notoriously difficult to play and features twenty five variations of the same musical theme. By bringing these apparently different situations together the work aims to draw attention role of education as a means of emancipation within the Trade’s Union Movement, a context which also informed the foundation of the University. It is said that the university was founded out of a mixture of philanthropy and self preservation since the wealth amassed by the Prince Bishops in Durham looked increasingly conspicuous in a time when pressure for parliamentary reform was growing. Documents in the archives at Palace green also reference this situation and the fact that much of this wealth was derived from leasing land to coal owners in the area.
This project has been supported by the SCR at University College and CVAC, Durham University as well as Arts Council England. Thanks also to the staff and students of University College, Palace Green Library
Deputy Curator Gemma Lewis, Alistair Robinson (NGCA) and Dr Hazel Donkin who commissioned the work.