Moments of sunshine yesterday provided glimpses of strong linear shadows that stemmed from Michael Craig Martin’s sculptures and darted across the beautifully manicured lawns of Chatsworth House. Michael’s temporary installations in the gardens there are both powerful and witty. The collection of sculptures consist of 12 large 3 dimensional line drawings created in what looks like 20mm square section steel, forged and welded with the joints polished smooth and each one coloured differently using his signature colour palette of magenta, pink, purples orange and other bright colours. These pieces are both at odds with their green and pleasant backdrop and, at the same time, they relate strongly to it. The gardens and grounds are of course both natural and artificial. Artificial because they are the imaginative work of generations of Chatsworth House gardeners, including Capability Brown, and a long line of custodians to the estate dating back to the 1st Duke of Devonshire who retired there during the reign of James ll and who, in 1687, started to rebuild the house and gardens on the site of the house that was first started by Bess of Hardwick in 1553.
Michael Craig-Martin, the Goldsmiths lecturer who taught many of the YBA’s who rose to prominence during the 1990s including Damien Hirst, Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin, takes very familiar objects and re presents them to us in an unfamiliar way. At Chatsworth, some of what we see there is the representation of the tools that have been used to create these spectacular gardens. Pitch forks, spades, a wheelbarrow and other tools rest casually in or on the ground, as if the army of gardeners have taken themselves off stage and out of sight temporarily to allow visitors to enjoy the grounds alone.
In other areas of the grounds we see representations of other familiar objects. A series of 3 discarded umbrellas that acknowledge the wet weather, the adjacent spray from the Emperor fountain and our desire to shield ourselves from the elements. But here, these garishly coloured, dis functional umbrellas have been abandoned as if their owners have given up the fight to protect themselves from the weather.
And then there is the pink stiletto shoe that can be read in many ways. Seen late afternoon against the back drop of the house glowing golden with the setting sun, this is not unlike a scene from a surrealist fairytale. Or is it a reference to Allen Jones’ connection with Chatsworth (Carefree Man and Déjeuner sur l’Herbe)? Or the extent to which stilettos force the pelvis of the wearer to tilt so that the full length physical profile of the wearer is altogether more curvaceous – a vivid example of the fusion of nature and artificiality that echoes the relationship between Michael’s sculptures and the grounds that they sit within.
Michael Craig Martin is at Chatsworth until 29 June.