Turner prize winning artist Susan Philipsz ‘takes on’ this neo-classical mansion
Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens in Northumberland is to be once again transformed by contemporary art this summer - this time by the haunting and lyrical sound of Turner Prize winning artist Susan Philipsz’ voice.
Philipsz has created a new, sound-based installation titled The Yellow Wallpaper which runs from the 20 July to 16 September. The installation features the artist’s solitary and lilting voice that curls through the rooms of the hall, coaxing the visitor to follow it. Multi layered and emitting mysteriously, the visitor becomes aware of the dark lyrics of this beautifully sung ballad; The Unquiet Grave. A separate installation – ‘The Shallow Sea’ – can be heard from within the cellar. The spectral overlapping sound of Philipsz’ voice fills and reverberates around the spaces in the Hall, reinforcing a sense of ‘unquiet’.
‘Unquiet’ was the prompt for Turner prize winning artist Susan Philipsz when she visited Belsay in 2017. “When I visited Belsay Hall for the first time I was struck by the atmosphere in the upper bedrooms. The downstairs rooms are grand and airy but the rooms on the first floor have a different mood. The smaller empty rooms and peeling wallpaper combine to produce an image of domestic abandonment. There is a tension that is palpable but undefined.”
The Yellow Wallpaper has been commissioned by English Heritage, with funding from Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The new work forms part of Mapping Contemporary Art in the Heritage Experience, a collaborative research project based at Newcastle and Leeds universities that critically examines the value and practice of visual art commissioning within heritage sites managed by English Heritage, National Trust, Arts & Heritage, and the Churches Conservation Trust.
Belsay Hall is one of the North’s most beautiful properties with gardens that are currently in full bloom with an astounding rhododendron display and a sunken quarry garden full of scent and colour. The yellow sandstone of the Hall, built from rock quarried from the gardens, stands starkly against this backdrop. Unfurnished (as stipulated in its covenant in 1983 by owner Sir Stephen Middleton) this uncompromising yet elegant building, under the management of English Heritage, has shown the work of artists, fashion designers, architects and musicians over the last 25 years.
Belsay Hall has been the inspiration for new works by Thomas Heatherwick, Lord Foster, Paul Smith, Stella McCartney, singer Anthony Hegarty (ANOHNI) amongst others. Its sombre and quiet interior, faded with the traces of former inhabitants provide a rich foundation upon which to respond.
Matt Thompson, Head Collections Curator for English Heritage said: “The Hall at Belsay is a blank canvas and a perfect showcase for an installation like this. It isn’t like any other historic building – it’s unique in exuding a rather melancholic and unquiet atmosphere”.
This is the first time Susan Philpsz has made new work for an historic building. “I have always been fascinated by inaccessible spaces and the chimney flues within the Hall represent an intricate network that runs throughout this magnificent historic architecture. It is a perfect setting to install different versions of the same ballad within the chimney flues in each individual room and to have the individual voices overlapping. Built in 1807, the Hall reminded me of past short stories- specifically The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and of course the Border Ballads”.
“Sound is diffuse, it spreads. It cannot be enclosed. It seeps across thresholds, permeates brick and travels along conduits and crevices. I am excited by the prospect of hearing how the sound will break loose and emerge unannounced in corners and stairwells”.
The Yellow Wallpaper opens to the public on July 20th at Belsay Hall Castle and Gardens in Northumberland and runs until 16 September.
Image by Colin Davison Photography.