Imagination takes flight at Tatton Park Biennial

Imagination takes flight at Tatton Park Biennial

Arts May 15, 2012 / By Mark Sheerin
Imagination takes flight at Tatton Park Biennial

Flights of fancy prove to involve air disaster, missile technology and space tourism, as a number of artists have risen to tackle the theme at a UK Biennial.

On the face of it, there are two key places the imagination can go. It can take flight, or it can plumb the depths. It can take you to the spirits in the sky or the underworld.

These two directions are the result of neurological states (sinking or tunnelling versus weightlessness and leaving the body), so argues David Lewis-Williams. His book on prehistoric art, The Mind in the Cave, suggests this is the origin of a near universal religious construct. So we live in a tiered universe with hell below and heaven above, whatever John Lennon might have once sung.

Seventeen new works of art at a Biennial at Tatton Park all explore imaginative flight. To wander this UK stately home‘s gardens, with its rhododendrums and its deer, you are already closer to heaven than the other place. Yet Tatton has plenty of connections to aviation. Its 1,000 acre park was once used in WWII to train parachutists. Today it is on the flight path of nearby Manchester airport.

Curators Danielle Arnaud and Jordan Kaplan have kept things fairly grounded. Their theme for the third Biennial here is flights of fancy, leaping rather than soaring, as if what goes up must soon come down. And this has led to a number of pieces which deal with failed take offs, such as Dinu Li’s crashed flying saucer or Juneau Projects’ recreation of an artist’s studio inside the tail of a grounded BAe passenger jet.

Simon Faithfull has explored a mocked up, stationary jumbo of the kind used to train airport fire crews. There is no way his plane is going anywhere, as it is already the site of multiple raging fires. The artist wears a silver flame retardant suit and carries a silver flame retardant piece of hand luggage. The resulting film, which you can duck into a shipping container to watch, expresses the dark final chapter of mankind’s desire to fly.

Meanwhile, questioning the cost of space tourism, Jem Finer has turned a mini caravan into a shuttle. Climb in, close the door and take a heady trip to Saturn. With screens in all windows, it might be little different from the real thing. But there is something so unadventurous about a caravan that the overall effect adds humour and innocence to the inevitable thrill.

Tom Dale’s idealistic thunderbird rocket is also a tonic, given the fatal military usage of flight. The artist has removed the nose cone to allow visitors to view a payload of neutral coloured flags. But the journey taken here is a trip down memory lane to the 1950s, when it was seriously thought rockets might send mail at supersonic speeds.

So far, so worldly. Much of the work at Tatton is about material journeys. But Olivier Grossetête offers transcendence with a monkey bridge suspended over a pond by finely rigged helium balloons. This structure begins and ends in the shallows; it might take your weight, but is not for crossing. White balloons swaying against a canopy of trees offer uplift to anyone watching.

Grosstête’s bridge returns us to the earliest attempts to defy gravity. It reminds us that once flight was a fanciful thing, a caprice. With too many wonderful pieces at Tatton Park to dwell on each, it’s still worth mentioning Hilary Jack’s sculpture which wraps a staircase round a sweet chestnut tree leading to a mansize nest. The birds here have flown. And if they’ve reached the heavens, it’s anyone’s guess what they found there, among the military drones and space junk.

Featured Image: Olivier Grossetête, Pont de Singe 2012

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