Give Me Shelter
1 Oct 2008 - 27 Sept 2009
Consisting of new commissions and recent works by nine leading contemporary artists ‘Give Me Shelter’ unfolds around the magnificent Attingham parkland and explores man’s contradictory and fraught relationship with the natural world: we exploit and ruin it, yet we romanticise it and, following an age-old instinct, rely upon it to provide us with shelter from various threats.
In a strange twist, we now expect the natural world to provide sanctuary from environments and situations we created to give us shelter in the first place. How will this sheltering function play out in future land use? As pressure on the environment increases, bringing closer the shadow of cataclysmic scenarios and with it ideas of escape and refuge, the threats we face seem to mainly come from impending disasters linked to climate change and increasing pressures on resources.
The invited artists were presented with over 40 acres of some of the most beautiful landscape in the country to respond to. They have done so by raising some of the most important issues, while creating arresting works that integrate and establish a dialogue with their surroundings. The artists were also introduced to Attingham’s history; complex and multi-layered beneath the majestic and almost idyllic appearance it has today, due largely to Humphry Repton’s design.
There are strong social and cultural forces at work in the vast park of Attingham. It stands in a benign and lush position where men have always found shelter from prehistoric and Roman settlements, to Medieval ‘squatters’ villages, right up to a USAF base during World War Two, complete with school and chapel. There was even a thriving early industrial town at the beginning of the 18th century. The site by the Tern river near the mansion was one of the busiest of the burgeoning iron industry until it was deemed too polluting by the owners of Attingham who shut down the works in the 1730s and did away with the villages that had housed the workers community.
All these settlements and villages, along with busy communities, have been and gone, their vestiges lying beneath the elegant designed landscape we see today. These vast classical landscapes, loosely based on 17th century pictorial representations of pastoral Roman landscapes by painters such as Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain, were composed in great numbers throughout Britain by the likes of Humphry Repton and Capabilty Brown in the 18th century for the wealthy aristocracy. As well as appealing to a sense of harmony and order in nature, they represent an archetypal picture of culture, wealth and power. Surrounding the huge mansion at Attingham, Humphry Repton’s vast ‘pleasure garden’ with its sweeping views and distant boundaries can perhaps be seen as the ultimate shelter for the wealth and power of its owners.
Thanks to the National Trust it is now open to over 200,000 visitors a year and until September 2009 it plays host to a series of intriguing and thought provoking sculptural installations.