Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Landscapes old and new

Sadly, the glorious sunshine that blessed the AGT Conference in Bath didn't follow us up the M1 for Yorkshire Gardens Trust's Research and Recording Study Day - but Yorkshire drizzle didn't diminish the experience of being in Yorkshire Sculpture Park.  The combination of historic landscape and contemporary art takes some beating.

Karen Lynch (Yorkshire Gardens Trust), Dr Jan Woudstra (University of Sheffield), and Dr Helen Pheby (Curator, Y.S.P) talked us through the transformation of the landscape at Bretton Hall from the 18th century to its present role as a Sculpture Park.  It was good to learn that, rather than just being a backdrop for the sculpture, the landscape is a source of inspiration for the artists who work there. Even better to hear that ongoing research into the historic landscape plays an important part in that process.

Karen Lynch told us about the tenacious Diana Beaumont, whose world-famous 19th century plant collection at Bretton included sub-tropical plants from India. Dr Pheby immediately passed on this new piece of information to Hemali Bhuata, a visiting artist from India, who was at that very moment, creating new work in response to her experience at Bretton.   As Dr Pheby pointed out, the history as it continues to be revealed by researchers, benefits everyone - the staff, visitors and the artists.

It's a big leap from Yorkshire to New York but the High Line Symposium at the Garden Museum made it possible.  What a treat to hear about the rescue of the  early 20th century elevated freight railway line from the High Line's co-founders themselves - Joshua David and Robert Hammond.  How fascinating to hear how these two ordinary professional men, without a background in landscape or design, pushed themselves well beyond the extraordinary to raise the funds necessary for the restoration.  Their book 'High Line: The Inside Story of New York City's Park in the Sky' is well worth a read.

An important part of the Symposium was a competition for ideas for a new London landscape.  The short-listed entries on display were a real feast of creativity.  The winning design, by Fletcher Priest Architects, suggests re-using the old Mail rail tunnels that run underground just north of Oxford Street.  Given my need for greenness and sunlight it probably wouldn't have been my first choice, but what an ingenious and seemingly workable idea - to create an underground fungal garden, lit by fibre optic ducts.  Have a look at the short-listed designs if you have a minute.

A final thought  - what's happening to the wealth of practical experience built up by Des Smith and the Willerby Landscape team now that the Olympics are over?  In case you don't know, they were the team responsible for the planting and maintenance of the much admired 2012 Garden in the Olympic South Park?  It would be good to think that their skills will be passed on to the teams dealing with the park in the future.  It would be complete madness to allow all that expertise to just disappear.

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