Text and Images by Pat Naldi, PhD Student, Central Saint Martins

Pat Naldi, PhD student at Central Saint Martins was selected for the 2016 UAL Art for the Environment International Residency (AER) at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.  Here is Pat’s report:

Yorkshire Sculpture Park (30 Aug to 18 Sep 2016)
Outside London’s King’s Cross rail station at the beginning of King’s Boulevard that leads through the King’s Cross estate towards Central Saint Martins, stands a 12-metre high oak tree recently transported over from Germany; the tree has its own passport. This is one of 400 mature trees planted within the King’s Cross estate development. The 67-acre site – the largest mixed-use development in single ownership in central London for over 150 years – is being developed to attain a particular urban, and neoliberal image of, and, as a view, and as a result of a capitalist ‘point of view’. In this respect the current urban development of the King’s Cross estate is akin to the rural redevelopment that the 500-acre Bretton Estate – in which Yorkshire Sculpture Park, (YSP) the host of my residency, is located – underwent over the centuries, but more specifically during the 18th and 19th centuries. The Bretton Estate is a perfect historical example of the transition that occurred in England during the eighteenth century whereby the landed aristocracy transformed the hunting woodland into the landscape park, at which point the invention of scenery took place. Influenced by travelling on the European Grand Tour, landed estates were re-fashioned to resemble the picturesque arcadian aesthetics as exemplified by the paintings of Claude Lorrain, Nicolas Poussin and other contemporaries. This extreme landscaping involved moving and planting trees, creating artificial lakes, and reshaping of hills and valleys. When viewed though the windows of the country houses, these re-designed landscapes reflected the arcadian imagery of the paintings hanging in their interior. The effect of the pursuit of this idealised gaze was to compose and organise a class-based ‘framing’ of an ideal landscape ‘view’ that was un-peopled, and at the same time eradicated any traces of an untamed land of working labour, thus instilling a notion of separation and observation. The framing of the ideal view visually eradicated the gaps within which existed the working countryside, the sweat and toil of the land, the labourers, and the lower classes.

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Photo: Parkland, Pat Naldi YSP 2016

My PhD thesis awarded in 2015 by Central Saint Martins titled ‘The view: a historicised and contemporary socio-political mediation’, explored historical and contemporary urban/land/scape views and their effects on citizens in order to question how these ‘views’ operate visually, are used spatially, and perceived conceptually, as a means of developing critical understandings of the socio-political construction of views, and how they shape and position how we relate societally and to public space. The view and the act of viewing are ideologically constructed politically positioned value systems that are symbolic and active enactments of the politics of power. The Art for the Environment residency opportunity at Yorkshire Sculpture Park allowed me to extend this enquiry from the urban environment – in particular that of the King’s Cross estate – to the parkland of Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

I arrived for my three-week residency on the 30th August, with accommodation provided in the grounds of the park in Archway Lodge built in 1807. Studio and workshop access (had I needed it) was also provided on-site. Yorkshire Sculpture Park has since 1977 provided an open-air gallery within the 500-acre parkland of the Bretton Estate, near Wakefield in West Yorkshire. It’s changing exhibition programme within the scenic open-air gallery – which now also encompasses a number of spectacular indoor gallery spaces  – includes works by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Ai Weiwei, James Turrell, and Kaws amongst others. Bretton Hall and its grounds was, for centuries, a private family home until the mid twentieth century when it was sold to the local council, and after which it became Bretton Hall College. In 2007,under the auspices of the University of Leeds, the Bretton Hall site was vacated. The history of the Bretton Estate was of particular importance and relevance to my residency as my approach was to consider the 500-acres of landscape that constitutes Yorkshire Sculpture Park, as a whole spatial sculptural and socio-political form.

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Photo: Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Pat Naldi 2016

I began my stay by familiarising myself with my surroundings. Each day I plotted which area of the park I would walk through; searching out the designated vistas, vantage points, follies, the differences in the current landscape – gardens, country-park, woods, grazing land – the architecture, the layers of family history, sculptures, and galleries. The many advantages of the residency were time and proximity, meaning that I could choose to visit just one area on a particular day, or continuously re-visit parts of the park. It also enabled me to research deeper into aspects of the park and its history as I encountered them. Whilst I say that I began my stay by familiarising myself with my surroundings, and each day walking through areas of the park, the latter is actually what I mostly did throughout the entire three weeks, for the way that I wanted to treat my residency – in keeping with how I approach my practice – was as an intense period of research and development leading to the production of a project at a later date. The setup of this residency, the openness of the curators at YSP, the support, and the facilities available to me, perfectly enabled me to do this, to shape my time, research and production according to my own needs.

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Photo: Bretton Hall, Pat Naldi YSP 2016

One of the unexpected encounters within the park was the remains of the abandoned buildings of Bretton College that ‘overspilt’ from Bretton Hall. Boarded up, with weeds growing out of gutters, and through windows, this particular area of the park was in such high contrast to the rest of the ‘managed’ land, that it took on the qualities of a film set. The Hall itself is in the early stages of its redevelopment into a hotel. Aiming to ‘bring back’ the splendour of the 18th century hall and make it publicly accessible (albeit to paying hotel guests), the developer’s plan is for the boundaries between the hotel and Yorkshire Sculpture Park to be invisible. This redevelopment aspect within the Bretton Estate very much fed into my research thinking. This was further enriched by a fascinating YSP Friends’ Open Forum event that I was asked to contribute to. Leading a walk through the park, and a discussion on the research I was carrying out, the exchange of knowledge with a group of long time visitors provided me with a breadth of perspectives on the park and the redevelopment of the Hall that I hadn’t otherwise considered.

Whilst I had very particular reasons and interests in the history, geography, and politics of Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Bretton Estate – and this was reflected in my initial approach to the residency – as time passed during my stay, the experience of living inside the park 24 hours a day, became increasingly prominent, and it began to shape my ideas and project development. With hundreds of visitors a day roaming the park – art lovers, keen walkers, children, dog walkers, picnickers, student groups, alongside the park staff (accompanied by weeks of glorious sunny weather) – at the end of the day, after visitors left, and the gates to the park were locked at 6pm, the park became transformed. As the lone on-site inhabitant – ‘locked in’ rather than ‘locked out’ – what became acutely evident to me was a sense of its historical exclusivity as the private grounds of a home, its constructed landscape, and the historical and contemporary management of the grounds. This is mirrored today through public use and access to the grounds within controlled and restricted timings. Whilst over the centuries the grounds of the estate have developed, it does not deter from the fact that they were landscaped for a very particular purpose, and continue to be managed for a very particular purpose. It was this coming together of the historical and contemporary fabrication, management, and ownership of private/public landscape that ultimately shaped the development of my ideas for a project outcome.

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Photo: Park at night, Pat Naldi YSP 2016

As the residency progressed I became increasingly interested in the site of the park at night – when ‘closed’ – and I gradually began to spend more time walking through the grounds in pitch darkness, guided only by moonlight and a torch. Unlike lit up urban heritage buildings, and public sculptures sited in streets, the ‘lights’ in the park were metaphorically ‘switched off’. Instead sculptures were barely visible silhouetted against the moonlit landscape, rising mist, and accompanied by the sound of owls and cows. I began experimenting with light writing in the darkness in the park at night with a torch – though more aptly my iPhone torch. Setting up my camera on a tripod and working with a remote control on long exposures I ‘wrote’ a series of words. Eventually after further research I came upon the ad coelum doctrine, a principle of property law. Although now acceptable in a limited form, this ancient law proclaims ‘whoever owns the soil owns everything above and below from heaven to hell’. This relates perfectly to the history of the landed estates and their owners. Ownership of land was, and still is, a major component of our daily lives: ‘who owns the land?, and who owns the city? These questions, and these experiments led me back to the urban environment and my thinking around public and private space, their coalescence in redevelopments, and the design and management of these spaces, in particular how they are lit at night.

What would it mean to replicate within an area of the grounds of the rural estate of Yorkshire Sculpture Park the very particular type of coloured lighting design used in regenerated urban estates? Aiming to make ‘conceptually visible’ through lighting design the fabrication of what is considered ‘natural’ rural landscapes, how might this installation make us look and think differently about the open spaces we inhabit?

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Image: Ad coelum Doctrine, Pat Naldi 2016

Having had very positive discussions with the curators and technician at YSP, we are now in the process of working out the technical logistics and requirements of staging a temporary ‘lighting up’ installation of a particular area of the park that will be open for public access on a specific night at a future date during the coming winter. This location, time, and format provided by this residency has expanded my research and practice in a way that not only had I not anticipated, but would not have been possible without this particular opportunity; it’s a very exciting prospect.

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Photo: Archway Lodge, Pat Naldi YSP 2016

I would like to thank all at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, in particular Sarah Coulson, Louise Hutchinson, and Nobby Stephenson. Professor Lucy Orta, Camilla Palestra, and UAL for providing this fantastic opportunity. With a final mention for the herd of cows that kept me company and entertained by peering through the window of Archway Lodge on a daily basis.

AER BACKGROUND:

Art for the Environment Residency Programme

In 2015, internationally acclaimed artist, UAL Chair of Art for the Environment Professor Lucy Orta launched the Art for the Environment Residency Programme (AER), in partnership with residency programmes across Europe. Applicants can choose from a two to four week period at one of the hosting institutions, to explore concerns that define the twenty-first century – biodiversity, environmental sustainability, social economy, human rights – and through their artistic practice, envision a world of tomorrow.

Through personal research, studio production time, critiques and mentoring sessions with Lucy Orta and a selection of Europe’s most exciting cultural institutions, the residency programme provides a platform for creative individuals, working across various disciplines, to imagine and create work that can make an impact on how we interact with the environment and each other.

The AER 2017 Residency Programme is now open for applications

NOTE: Applications accepted from UAL graduates, postgraduates and recent alumni (within 12 months from graduation date).