Unravelling Uppark. Uppark House and Garden, South Harting, Petersfield. West Sussex. UK.
4 May – 2 November 2014
Unravelling the National Trust is a unique project offering artists and makers exhibition opportunities in National Trust properties. Conceived by arts organisation Unravelled, artists are invited to evoke histories, stories and a sense of place in a designated National Trust property. The project launched in May 2012 at Nymans House and Gardens in Sussex, continued at the Vyne in Hampshire in 2013 and will culminate with the third and final exhibition at Uppark House and Gardens in West Sussex, launching in spring 2014.
The Unravelled artists are commissioned to create site-specific works referencing Uppark’s intriguing history, reflecting on the architecture and echoing elements from the significant collections of ceramics, textiles, plasterwork, silver and furniture housed in the property. Encouraged to tell tales through their work about Uppark’s evolution and the historical characters connected to the property. On show, are a series of works designed to provoke and surprise visitors, whilst also providing unique insights into the history of the house.
“For me, it was Steven Follen’s Trade – a fleet of crudely made tin boats that swept the Parlour floor- that truly prised the histories from Uppark. Positioned beneath the 18th century black japanned cabinet and numerous Blanc de Chine figures, the tin boats exhibit a dull shine. Each one is laden with Eastern goods – cotton, cardamom, turmeric, ginger and tea – with a fragrance that’s unmistakable. These small vessels speak not only of artisan craft and small batch production, but also of colonialism and uneasy trade relations with the East Indies; an association that sits uncomfortably within the history of Uppark.
Follen’s tin boats evoke the agency of childhood, at once disruptive and rebellious.
This scene may appear just to be child’s play, but it betrays a darker narrative. Trade is proof that the artist, like the historian can skilfully unveil the stories of the past, encouraging us to think anew”.
Kimberley Chandler, writer and researcher in contemporary craft, design and architecture.
Crafts, September- October. 2014.
12 tin boats filled with a variety of natural materials including: Indigo, Cotton, Poppy Seed Heads, Cardamom, Turmeric, Cloves, Cinnamon, Black Pepper, Tea, Jute, and Vanilla.
"Having spent time in India and Bangladesh Steven Follen was interested in Sir Mathew Featherstonhaugh's ( 1714-74) connections with the East India Company. Sir Matthew is said to have been one of its largest stockholders and part-owned several 'Eastindiamen'; ships used to transport goods from the EIC trading centres, including Bengal.
Uppark has a history of play and learning: HG Wells wrote of how his experiences as a child in the house informed events later in his life. The grand dolls house belonging to Sarah (Sir Matthews wife) was a tool for both play and instruction, encouraging an understanding of how to manage a home. Sir Matthew had been apprentice and heir to a kinsman Sir Henry Featherstone (1654-1746), who had taught him the trades of Investment and Speculation.
A group of tin boats, inspired by the shapes of traditional vessels from Bengal are lined with gold and filled with cargos which the EIC traded including Tea, Pepper, Cinnamon, Cloves, Ginger, Vanilla, Turmeric, Cardamom, Jute, Cotton and Indigo. They wind their way across the floor, beneath the Pagoda Cabinet, in The Little Parlour, as if left by a child who has finished playing. The boats can be seen as a boys' equivalent of the dolls house, designed to encourage an interest in shipping and trade.
There were major famines in Bengal between 1769-73 when approximately a third of the population died. Some believe this was caused by EIC policy in the region which forced farmers to produce ' Cash Crops' for export like Opium, Cotton and Indigo, whilst at the same time forbid the storage of surplus grain.
Robert Clive (1725-1774) was employed by the EIC and was twice the Govenor of Bengal. Clive was questioned in parliament during the 1760's and 70's for his activities in India which had generated vast wealth both for himself and EIC stockholders. Clive recieved support from a number of MPs including Sir Matthew.
The smell of the spices gently waft around the room adding to the dreamy atmosphere of the space and evoking far off places."
Photographs by Jim Stephenson
More information here: Unravelled http://www.unravelled.org.uk/uppark-gallery-follen.html
Reviews & Articles
The exhibition was reviewed in Crafts, September- October. 2014.
The Guardian published an article promoting William Dalrymple's Book; The Anarchy: How a Corporation Replaced the Mughal Empire, 1756-1803, published by Bloomsbury & Knopf. The book follows similar themes to those explored in 'Trade' at Uppark. You can read the article here: The East India Company: The Original Corporate Raiders