18 June to 7 September 2007
With Still Life the Meadow Gallery took up residence for the summer of 2007 at Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire as guests of the National Trust. Consisting of new commissions and recent works by four leading contemporary artists, the show unfolded around the magnificently restored Hanbury Hall gardens which refer back to a golden era in British gardens: the formal gardens of the early 18th century.
During the late 18th and 19th century a great majority of English gardens fell prey to the hugely successful model instigated by the likes of Capability Brown and were remodelled in the ‘naturalistic’ style. Hanbury was no exception. But there was sufficient evidence of its strong former identity as a formal English garden designed by the celebrated George London (d.1714) for parts of it to be recreated. Through painstaking research the National Trust’s historical gardens team, reinstated the main components of the garden one by one.
With their intricate design and jewel-like configuration the gardens of Hanbury Hall are imbued with a sense of perfection and spectacle, albeit on a small, almost intimate scale. They form an enduring prototype of civilisation and well-being which remains strangely intact.
Such perfection comes at a price, however. Then, as now, the magnificent vistas, the immaculate lawns, the vibrant flowers and the perfect fruits all require an extremely labour intensive structure. Surrounding this perfectly composed picture of the gardens, is a belt of marginal, functional spaces such as orchards, walled gardens, greenhouses and tunnels where the work needed to maintain such excellence actually takes place.
This inspired the selected artists to produce new work exploring the reality behind the image and the complex cultural and psychological systems which inform this enduring archetype. What happens to our psyche when molehills threaten a perfect lawn? Why is a fruit tree in bloom so reassuring? What happens when the majestic swans die? Why can’t we see the solitary weed in proper focus? Nature is not dead (nature-morte, still-life in French) but our urge to still it and impose our order onto it is as strong as it ever was.