From the 23 May, a brand new interactive installation awaits to be discovered by visitors to National Trust’s Cragside in Northumberland.
A place of invention, innovation and experimentation, Cragside has always had the wow factor.
This year, a collaboration between the National Trust and various creative artists aims to carry this ethos into the 21st Century, bringing the place to life in new experimental and innovative ways.
Historically, Cragside was the dream home of Victorian engineer William Armstrong, a place where he brought his own ideas about energy, water power and electricity to life.
As part of Trust New Art, the National Trust’s programme of contemporary arts inspired by places, a creative collaboration sets out to bring together Lord Armstrong’s passion for energy and electricity with play and art to create the Musical Box, a new installation hidden deep within the heart of Cragside’s Labyrinth.
The National Trust has been working with living artists since the 1980s, and in 2009 created Trust New Art through a partnership with Arts Council England. The programme makes contemporary arts available in National Trust properties, builds new and diverse audiences and offers new opportunities to artists to work in new contexts.
Formed from a converted treehouse in the centre of a Rhododendron Labyrinth, the Musical Box is a result of a collaboration between a variety of different artists brought together to produce an unexpected installation waiting to be discovered by visitors to the National Trust property in Rothbury, Northumberland.
Brought together by Alnwick-based Creative Event & Project Management company Culture Creative, this collaboration intends to inspire visitors and invite them to harness their energy to discover the hidden delights of the Musical Box.
Director Zoe Bottrell enthused “We hope that children and adults alike are drawn to the labyrinth to discover this unique piece of play, engineering and art. The Musical Box truly reflects the spirit of Cragside – striking from the outside, fascinating beneath the surface. We’re bringing a little bit of magic to the heart of the labyrinth”.
Dan Fox, Ulverston based Sound Artist, who has previously been involved with other art installations at Cragside, will be delivering a unique and delightful sound experience as part of his work with the Musical Box.
He explained: “The Musical Box is a really exciting opportunity for me to collaborate with a small group of artists on the creation of an off-grid experience. Cragside is an inspiring and challenging location and I am really looking forward to creating a piece that juxtaposes 18th century automatic musical instruments with redundant military hardware, phonograph horns and LED lighting.”
“Using Armstrong’s innovation as a starting point, I aim to create a piece that is fun, educational, interactive, engaging for all ages, durable and beautiful to listen to.”
Cumbrian born Sculpture artist Steve Blaylock, whose signature stainless steel sculptures have been widely covered by the media and appreciated as far afield as New Zealand, will be showcasing his unique steel sculptures as part of the design.
The panel designs for the Musical Box have been created by Newcastle based graphic design studio Founded. Director, Simon Douglas said: “We were immediately excited by the concept of the Musical Box and the collaboration of artists, engineers and designers and believe the finished piece will be a unique and highly successful attraction”.
Both adults and children alike will be fascinated by bright, bold patterns bursting out of the landscape within the Labyrinth, and be inspired to discover the engineering behind the spectacle.
The existing octagonal treehouse will be converted so that each side has its own eye-catching and interactive installation, which plans to intrigue visitors through the cause and effect of playing with various pieces around the structure, in order to harness the potential energy within.
Visitors will be invited to generate electricity using a swan pedalo to illuminate a lightbulb, use a giant lever to pump water, turn a crank handle to generate sound and cycle on a tandem to create movement.
To satisfy curiosity, there will also be an internal viewing point where visitors will be able to take a look at the engineering inside, and discover how these effects are being generated.
This show within aims to fascinate; cogs will turn, sounds will emerge and water will rise and fall.
Cragside Property Curator Andrew Sawyer explained: “Lord Armstrong was described as the ‘Wizard of the North’ in a book on the heroes of Victorian industry in 1886, his creative thinking and partnership with others was at heart of his great success. Always thinking outside the box to achieve new ideas, the labyrinth installation has thought outside the musical box, with playful imagination, to create an exciting piece of wizardry in the heart of a Rhododendron forest.”
“As a child, Armstrong was known to enjoy taking his toys apart to find out what the workings looked like on the inside. He was always trying to solve the riddle of what was going on; always looking for solutions. One of the panels on the Musical Box gives visitors the opportunity to look inside the structure and take a glimpse of the inner workings, something Lord Armstrong would no doubt approve of!”
The swan pedalo - a nod to Lord Armstrong’s support of Joseph Swan’s invention of the incandescent lightbulb – which forms one of the sides of the Musical Box will be created by Auto and Marine Composites Ltd, a specialist design and fabrication company also based in the North East.
Scott Crabtree explained: “I was intrigued when Culture Creative approached me with the idea of creating a land-based swan pedalo, but delighted to be a part of such an unusual and exciting project. I'm looking forward bringing my kids along to have a play!”
The infrastructure and engineering will be created by designer/maker Dan Pearson, who has over ten years’ experience working in theatre and high-profile events.
Andrew Sawyer commented: “The Musical Box will allow visitors to experience some of the joy Armstrong must have felt when it came to solving riddles and problems. We hope visitors will enjoy the journey of exploration to find the Musical Box, and delight in discovering the magical mechanical workings and potential energy within.”
Work has already commenced on the Musical Box which will be open for visitors to discover on 23 May 2015.