Floating through a quaint 18th century chapel outside of Yorkshire, a series of intricately intertwined white strings and sheets of paper arise like woven clouds over a sculpted metal piano, constituting Chiharu Shiota’s poetic installation Beyond Time. A literal depiction of frozen time, Shiota is able to evoke a poignant sense of nostalgia and visually mesmerize visitors of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP). The largest of its kind in Europe, the YSP was founded in 1977, with the aim to initiate, sustain, and develop a discourse around contemporary art and sculpture, particularly amongst those unfamiliar with it. Highlighting the cultural benefits of art through the effectiveness of participation, YSP’s site specific sculptures deliberately engage and simultaneously expose the public to the distinctive practices and perspectives of the exhibiting artists. Shiota’s Beyond Time, and Thukral and Tagra’s eagerly awaited addition to the new Bretton Country Park Visitor Centre, embody this ethos by forming compelling connections between art, viewer, space, and cultures.
Unveiled March 30th, and on view until 2nd September, Beyond Time’s historic location and all consuming aesthetic leaves audiences spellbound, compelling an immediate reaction. Shiota builds on her oeuvre in rendering large scale elaborate installations made from strings of varying material, but marks a departure from her usual color scheme of black and red transitioning to white, symbolic of the sanctity and heavenly associations of the chapel. The webs of string allude to a method of connection, while the papers they hold are from musical scores written for the ringing bells, sermons and old memorial services performed there. Evolving from themes she has previously explored, concepts of life, death, memory and human relationships are rediscovered in a special context, drawing on the history and function of the church. Just as the contemporary piece revitalizes an old space, the work itself is also made relevant and given new meaning by being placed there. The piano references an organ that was once present, the papers recall the many lives that were once remembered and celebrated, and the ethereal effect produced by the work as a whole, is amplified in depth by it’s presence in a spiritual abode. Beyond Time is the result of the artist’s unique reaction to a space, and by placing it outside an institutional setting, the viewer’s experience of both church and work is completely altered.
If Shiota has the ability to transform the interaction between audience and place, Thukral and Tagra aim to transform interactions we have with each other. In their upcoming installation, due to open in the Fall of this year, the extremely popular and highly regarded duo explore the trials and tribulations facing Indian farmers. Presented through the metaphor of wrestlers in an arena strategizing and fighting for survival, in a game format, the concept grew out of two earlier pieces, Bread & Circusesand Match Fixed. Match Fixed was originally inspired by the local wresting community in Jiten Thukral’s hometown of Jalandhar, where the traditional Indian form of wrestling Kushti is played in an arena (Akhara), and was closely studied by the artists. Expanding on the playing format of Bread and Circuses, for which they created a game to mirror situations experienced by the average Indian, this new work “shows the duality of the figure of the farmer and wrestler, staging strategies for survival in their individual but overlapping arenas,” as explained by the artists. Viewers are situated in this context, and will play against one another, effectively activating the artwork. Its location in the visitor centre heightens its inherent interactive nature, as does it’s resonance with the Don Pavey collection, an archive outlining the relationship between art and games at the YSP. Calling upon a range of visual materials featured in the collection, the artists reference the art that has been generated through diverse investigations of games and play. Informed by both their own practice and the existing exhibitions within the site, Thukral and Tagra’s installation will serve as a cohesive and entertaining segment in visitors’ overall journey through the park.
Conceptually and aesthetically reflective of the core of their respective practices, the significance and perception of Shiota’s, and Thukral & Tagra’s creations are reconstructed through their specific contexts. The installations themselves are a result of the explicit engagement between artist and space, but the meaning of each piece is ascribed by the viewer’s interaction with it and the site, enabling their participation to be the defining factor. In reinvigorating a landscape, and providing a platform for artists to create remarkable installations, the YSP have been able to generate interest in contemporary art, bringing in over half a million visitors annually. Aided by a prestigious roster of internationally acclaimed artists, it has also proven itself to be a model of what sculpture parks are capable of accomplishing through perpetuating trends in contemporary art and increasing its accessibility and relevance to wider audiences.