Harold Offeh: Pinatopia and Mount Folly, Temple Newsam House, 17 March
Did you ever think you would bear witness to a troop of pineapples dancing in formation?
On a cloudy but bright evening in Leeds an expectant if slightly perplexed crowd encountered such a vision.
The exuberant revelry of Harold Offeh’s Pinatopia and Mount Folly not only embraced and enacted the history and grandeur of the pineapple, but also sought to connect and place it within the Temple Newsam landscape, designed by Capability Brown in the 1790s. The travels of the procession from the amphitheater to the hot houses demonstrated the journey of the tropical fruit from Brazil to the cold climates of Britain.
Pineapples, often described as ‘the king of fruit’, were grown in Temple Newsam in the 18th century. Large quantities of fuel and constant labor were required to attend the firewalls that enabled the pineapples to grow. The fact that these fruits were so exotic and difficult to grow meant that they were a symbol of wealth and power. This is a symbol no longer recognised, the pineapples presented to the spectators during the performance consciously left with their £1 price labels still attached.
The hedonistic finale of Harold’s Mount Folly directly responded to the site of Brown’s temple folly, which was not only a vantage point to view the house, but a space of decadence, debauchery and transgression. This use has been copied down the centuries, evident in the contemporary mistreatment of the folly which is graffiti covered, dilapidated and fenced off.
Harold’s Pinatopia and Mount Folly were produced by The Follies of Youth, a group of young producers, set up by visual arts commissioning organisation Pavilion, to research the heritage of Temple Newsam and run creative activity to engage youth groups and local people in East Leeds. The Follies of Youth chose to collaborate with Harold who had previously intervened in the 17th century gardens at Ham House, creating an installation and performance-based exhibition, which activated the history into a live, walking, talking spectacle.
There were two crucial points in The Follies of Youth’s research; first being the visit to the hot houses, which implemented an ongoing debate and discussion due to the notion of labor costs, class divides, colonialism and the exaggerated displays of wealth that stately homes imposed on others; second being Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975) recommended by Patrick Eyres of The New Arcadian Journal. We invited Patrick to watch the film with us, and upon meeting him he gave such a wonderful and evocative introduction to the film that we all became enamored, subsequently asking him back to kindly give a reading at Mount Folly. Patrick’s reading revealed how spectacle and theatre were built into the 18th century garden; war, heritage, performance, parties, hunting, sport and frivolity all took place within it.
To read more on The Follies of Youth visit pavilionypp.tumblr.com Abi Mitchell is an artist and curator based in Leeds
Written by Sibyl Fisher
Following the film screening and discussion led by Patrick Eyres of the New Arcadian Journal the previous week, Harold walked us through the ideas that have been sustaining his interest and curiosity. Scott helped structure the meeting by asking Harold questions about his practice.
For Harold, key concepts are:
Garden as a theatrical space
Initial links with Celine Condorelli’s commission
And Harold’s past work on The Garden of Reason at Ham House
Garden as a “theatre of productivity”
The idea/practice of replicating images within a landscape
‘Bucolic’, the pastoral, the idyllic
Kubrick’s use/taking cues from Romantic paintings in Barry Lyndon- trace a line from Greek mythology through Romantic painting to photography and film
“Tableaux” and “tableau vivant”
The still moving image, see for example a definition here http://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/mediatheory/keywords/tableau-vivant
Adad Hanna’s rendering of the Medusa Raft as a tableau vivant
The history of private companies and trade in the age of exploration
The South Sea Bubble- the first (global-scale?) economic boom and bust where the landed gentry lost whole fortunes
Radio 4 program on the South Sea Bubble here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01pcs5g
The effects of capitalism
Patriotic planting (of trees)
A notion taken up enthusiastically by the upper classes, to help provide timber for the Royal Navy
Ideas of empire and dominance
Harold told us about Accra Hearts of Oak, the oldest football club in Ghana (this is their logo with the oak)
We talked about how the international spread of these motifs was down to the reach and dominance of the British empire
This led into a group discussion that lasted for a good hour, covering the following topics and more.
Martha suggested the idea of the South Sea Bubble bust might be an interesting parallel with the current age of austerity
Poverty in the UK and the riots in 2011- class and race
Read about historian David Starkey’s provocative claims on Newsnight here http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/aug/15/david-starkey-newsinght-race-remarks
Harold recommends Owen Jones’s book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class
Harold interested generally in ideas of ‘youth’ – different subcultures
Materialism/consumerism of youth, proximity of rich and poor (still thinking of the riots), aspiration (thinking about what people were looting)
Provisional thinking about the directions for artworks/performances
Pineapples- as a trope, the pineapple sits at the intersection of lots of relevant themes, e.g. labour, exoticism
Folly- idea of mischief
Fence as a screen, not just a barrier (this is a bit deconstructive, i.e. turning things inside out, questioning the order of things)
Different groups of people- i.e. users of the garden, who has access to the space
This led to a discussion of how many different types of people there are using the space, and the fact that they would have their own routines/rituals. They probably don’t ever communicate/deviate from their plans
This led to talk about the volume of people doing the same thing at any one time
Mapping / re-enacting these activities?
Harold keen to make mischief with these groups
Harold’s example of the short-lived Guggenheim in Las Vegas, where Liza Minelli had done an audio-guide on Andy Warhol’s work, which was not at all art historical, but fascinating and fun
We watched some Busby Berkeley (horrifying, chirpy, hilarious): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLsTUN1wVrc
And looked at some artworks that deal with themes like ours, including subversive wallpaper by Timorous Beasties.
We also talked about more shady/illegal/mysterious/sexual uses of country house landscapes, both today and in the eighteenth century.
I (Rachel) have begun to compose an inventory of all the documents that have been viewed and visited as part of this project.
This shall be a working progress through out the project.
Celine Condorelli’s exhibition ‘Additionals’ – Installed in TV studio at Leeds university - starting point for young people’s project
Heritage Lottery Funding Application – Extensive funding application, needed to run project with, WON, written by Linzi Stauvers, Gill Park, contributions from Rachel Worthington, Sibyl Fisher, others at entail meeting at TV studio
Follies of Youth – Working title of project – idea born
Harold’s questions –
What is the history of the gardens? Why were they commissioned?
What’s the background to Capability Brown’s design?
What was the purpose of the gardens? What happened in the gardens?
Why was the little Temple (folly) built? How was it used?
What’s Temple Newsam’s relationship with the surrounding area and community?
How do people who live near it view it?
Art Review feature – Text from Art Review magazine written including information about Harold Offeh
Temple Newsam – House, Large, Council owned, large collection of stuff, clutter, storage space
Temple Newsam – Grounds, 915 arces, large, animals, hot house, walled garden, folley, M1,
3D model of Capability Brown plans for Temple Newsam grounds - £10,000 to make, large, insightful ideas of what the grounds could have looked like, had they been finished
Work and Play booklet – key information for why Brown was brought into the house
Maid and Mistresses booklet
Leeds Calendar Booklet – had images of an underground passage into the house
Letters from Lady Frances Irwin – Transcribed by James Lomax, Brownification, original in Kew gardens
Image of gardener dressed as Capability Brown – the group laughed at this idea - part of work and play exhibition
Portrait of Irwins – Grand Hall, Large almost life size, grand, imposing, insightful of times
Painting of garden before Brown was there – Wolfgang…?
First view of gardens from inside the house
Capability Brown’s proposal for changes to East Wing of house – cheaper local architect used, used Brown’s plans pretty much
Photocopied receipts for workers and materials
Capability Brown and the Northern landscape
Print of painting – Pastoral Landscape by Claude Lorraine, original privately owned
Print of painting – Frances Shephard (Viscount Irwin) by Benjamin Wilson
‘The scene always enchants me’
The Park and Gardens at Temple Newsam
Work and Play: The Ornamental Landscape 2
Meeting and notes – Sibyl Fisher and Freya Jewitt
Powerpoint presentation – The Follies of Youth
Minutes from meeting by Ruchi Mittal
New Arcadian Journal – A5 a range of coloured covers, beautiful booklet about gardens, lovely illustrations and insightful text covering a variety of gardens
West Yorkshire Archive
Map of Capability Brown proposed landscape – photocopy and original – original much more interesting, reluctant to get it out for us, photography and copyright issues, surely it is council property? Old, fragile, large, scale of 1-100, 2 tables required to unroll the whole thing, Folley called a rotunda, almost like papaya paper
Documents from who lived in the grounds around Temple Newsam – old, fragile but not kept very safe, some of them muddled
Deeds to House and Grounds belonging to Frances Irwin – original and transcribed – long and detailed
Meeting with Harold Offeh
Martha Wright – Girl – age unknown – graduate in English and art history
Walk round garden
Sypnix in gardens entrance – typical of time showing that the houses are well travelled
Powerpoint by Harold Offeh – Garden of Reason his latest project
Tour of house – Adrian – Did they group remember the tour or what he brought to the tour more? He knew alot about the M1
Prince’s Room – Disappointment for Scott, Capability Brown used this room to plan the grounds
Still Room – A room which was part of the servants’ quarter
Walk around grounds – group and Steven
Folley – graffiti – large – stolen slate, invisible fence, run down, great view to house
Hot Houses – pineapples, best in Europe
Walled Garden – going to grow fruits and vegetables again
Flyer – Scott, recruitment for young people
Written by Sibyl Fisher. Photos to follow pending copyright clearance.
Rachel and I (Sibyl) visited the West Yorkshire Archive in Morley, south of Leeds, on 3 January.
The online catalogue only listed a few items connected with Temple Newsam, so we were expecting slim pickings. However the items we did consult were actually really rich, in terms of what they evidenced.
The most spectacular was the 1762 map drawn up by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown himself, detailing his visions for the Temple Newsam landscape. We studied both the original and the reproduction, which was produced in conjunction with the model landscape made at the instigation of James Lomax, former curator at Temple Newsam. The thing that struck us about these maps was both the size of the grounds and the level of Brown’s precision. We did not realise the sheer scale of the estate in Lady Frances Irwin’s day. The house is so small, and the folly even smaller, a tiny circle (interestingly not a square or rectangle, which is the form in which it was finally realised). Nor could we make total sense of the detail that Brown had planned. Trying to derive a deep understanding of Brown’s visions from these maps is like trying to learn anatomy from a drawing of the body. To the layperson, the decisions Brown made seem almost arbitrary, especially without contour lines. Big patches of forest, the specific shape of future lakes: all of these were laid out painstakingly but with no clear rationale.
I myself am an active member of a local Yorkshire orienteering club (AIRE, which covers Temple Newsam), and there is a vast difference between orienteering maps that describe the lay of the land in intimate detail, and the one by Brown which maps something imaginary.
My art historical interest in landscape painting as something akin to mapping, but emphatically not mapping, helps to cut Brown’s maps loose from expectations that his visions be systemic. The landscape designer is in one sense an artist, with a degree of freedom. The maps are hypothetical, but also as drawings have probably been worked and reworked, with chance and responsiveness to the materiality of the background (etc) no doubt playing a role in the process of drawing. But the landscape designer is not only an artist: Brown’s work would have had a strong reliance on certain grammars, training, knowledge systems and so on.
Being in the Temple Newsam landscape after our archive visit did make it familiar again, because it is so naturalistic. But now we had this extra puzzle piece in mind, that had revealed its pre-planned and hyper-contrived dimension. I think the intelligibility of the eighteenth landscape is an ongoing theme in our project as it unfolds: who can see what Brown saw? Could anyone?
Other archival materials that we consulted included A Particular of Copyhold Lands and Tenements Purchased by the Late Viscountess Irwin with the times when & purchase monies. This is a description of the Temple Newsam grounds from 1782, another format by which to represent the landscape.
We also consulted an inventory of repairs made to buildings on the Temple Newsam estate, made in 1771. All manner of crofts and cottages were listed as requiring repair for their windows, door frames and so on. Who lived or worked in them? We read their names: Richard Walker, Joseph Oldred and his ‘widdow’, among others.
Finally we consulted a list of tenants on the Temple Newsam estate in the eighteenth century. This was a very long list of names, some annotated as ‘poor’. Rachel and I still can’t fully fathom what the purpose of this marking out meant. It seems at once like branding, an act of violence, as well as a note-to-self for the purpose of jogging the writer’s memory, and therefore very personal. We wondered about the genealogy of these names too—which surnames are still local ones in the area?