By Ruth Garde
Wandering along the unrenovated fringe of Snape Maltings during
a recent visit I found myself in the path of an alarmingly large
fork-lift truck. Having evaded this industrial behemoth I gradually
became attuned to its clamorous beeping, a low tremor of drilling,
and other machinery in cacophonous conversation on the nearby building
These are not the sounds usually associated with the home of Aldeburgh
Music - but Snape Maltings is alive with redevelopment. Though
the current work is not on Aldeburgh Music’s property, the
latter has undergone recent renovations, the latest phase being
opened in 2009/10, when the sublime Hoffman Building and Dovecote
Studio emerged from within previously derelict buildings. The grade
II listed site - the remnants of a brewing industry in its death
throes when Benjamin Britten was inspired to migrate his music
festival here - have been renovated with exquisite sensitivity.
The challenge, according to architects Haworth Tompkins, “was
to preserve the delicate balance between the decaying industrial
architecture and the landscape around it. Alterations to the exteriors
of the buildings were therefore kept to a minimum and external
materials carefully conserved or matched.” An architectural
palimpsest has been created, where dilapidated walls act as the
shuck to a rigorously modern kernel (as with Dovecote Studio),
where antique wooden openings dot the exposed brick walls alongside
a new concrete staircase (entrance lobby, Hoffmann Building).
Neighbouring these irreproachably reclaimed buildings are the discarded,
decaying husks of other malting structures, many open to the elements,
encrusted with the feculence bequeathed by generations of pigeons
and packed to the rusting rafters with the long-abandoned detritus
of agricultural and industrial production. Ineffably romantic ruins,
whose decaying Roman-like brickwork, overgrown with vegetation,
would not be out of place in a Turner.
From June 8th – 24th 2012 these picturesque ruins and renovations
will become the rather unconventional background for the display
of SNAP, the annual contemporary art exhibition launched by Aldeburgh
Music in 2011 to coincide with the world-renowned music festival.
Artist Abigail Lane, the organizer of both exhibitions observes
that such an unconventional site cannot be traditionally ‘curated’.
Neither the renovated nor derelict buildings can be ‘conquered’ by
the artworks; here the white cube has gone out of the (often broken
or missing) window. Rather, the artists must work within the site’s
constraints (or indeed, as can be seen across the exhibition, be
richly liberated by them). There has been no prescription, no overarching
theme in which to shoehorn works - instead, Lane’s approach
has been to invite artists to experiment with the spaces, encouraging
them to take risks and even pursue new directions in their artistic
practice. Maggi Hambling, for example, has for the first time created
a sound installation especially for SNAP 2012. Emily Richardson’s
also developed her video installation specifically for the exhibition.
May Cornet, known for her interior garden installations, is for
the first time creating a living garden in an unusually enchanting
outdoor space. Glenn Brown, Gavin Turk and Maggi Hambling are showing
new paintings or sculptural works for the first time. Lane’s
wish is that the site be seen as a space for “adventure” that
invites boldness. Such an approach creates a happy convergence
between SNAP and the ethos of the Aldeburgh Festival, the site
of numerous world premieres in both film and music, and part of
whose remit is, according to Aldeburgh Music’s Chief Executive
Jonathan Reekie, “to focus on the new”. The result
has been spontaneous, organic, and not a little serendipitous.
Serendipitous in that a network of intriguing connections can be
traced between each of the artists and the Maltings site, responding
as they do specifically to the particularities of its architecture
and space, to its musical heart, as well as to the wider coastal
locale. Connections that go beyond the one unifying theme that
links all of the artists – namely their personal association
with the area, whether they are Suffolk born and bred, more recently
settled, or a frequent visitor.
A notable theme this year is, felicitously, sound and music in
its various manifestations. Brian Eno, a native of nearby Woodbridge,
brings a delicate sound installation to Snape’s intimate
Dovecote Studio, which functions as a rehearsal and performance
space. Within this small building, whose ruinous outer brick walls
are overgrown with vegetation, Eno’s 1974 track ‘Iceland’,
recorded but never released, will issue as an aural blossom from
flower-like speakers on wire stems, housed in a yellow vase.
Mark Limbrick, a Suffolk artist for whom sound is a core practice,
exhibits two interactive sound works. ‘One’, situated
along the lawn behind the Concert Hall, is a piece of wire stretched
between two coiled forms resembling giant, old-fashioned phonograph
trumpets. These function as loudspeakers and any contact with the
wire – even the reverberations of the wind – is amplified.
It is capable of a wide range of tonal colours and dynamics, depending
on how it is plucked, struck, bowed or even sung into. The location,
overlooking the Maltings’ river-lined reed marshes, promises
a rich natural soundscape of wind, water and wildlife with which
the work can converse.
One of Glenn Brown’s three exhibited pieces, ‘Anna
Bolena’, situated at the top of a staircase in the concert
hall foyer, has a more subtle musical connection. The painting,
based on a Fantin-Latour still-life, was created in response to
the Donizetti opera of the same name and depicts an abstracted
notion of Anne Boleyn (the roses alluding to the Wars of the Roses).
The rich blue tones of this work - and of Brown’s second
painting on the central foyer wall - were chosen with the aesthetics
of the space also in mind. They provide a strong and dynamic counterpoint
to the foyer’s backdrop of exposed brick walls and high beamed
roof. Brown’s painted sculpture – or sculpted painting
- in the same space is a hugely arresting fusion of colour, spikey
shapes and congealed movement, in which the 19th century bronze
sculpture of a rearing horse just visible beneath its incrustation
of paint is magnified to surreally abstracted proportions. These
visually striking works stand up to the concert hall foyer’s
majestic, uncompromising and potentially dwarfing space.
A long way from Donizetti, music of a very different kind inspired
Maggi Hambling’s sound piece, ‘You are the sea’,
made with Tom Taylor. This work draws on the artist’s long-held
fascination with the sounds of underground water trapped in the
vent of Thorpeness Sluice, north of Aldeburgh. These littoral resonances
are woven together with voices and the words of Hambling’s
eponymous poem (2009) to create a rich aural tapestry which is
juxtaposed with the painting ‘Wall of water VIII’.
This new series of paintings responds to Hambling’s experience
of unnervingly high waves crashing onto the sea-wall at Southwold,
and forms the most recent of her North Sea works. The “raging
beast” * of the North Sea first seduced Hambling in an
epiphanic moment in late 2002, which led to a series of paintings
first exhibited at the 2003 Aldeburgh Festival. A group of the
new Wall of water paintings is being shown, again for the first
time, in the concert hall gallery.
The site in which ‘You are the sea’ is installed introduces
another important theme to which several works respond – namely
the decaying, neglected buildings on the Maltings site. When you
come upon Hambling’s piece in ‘Derelict Building B’ it
looks for all the world as if it has been in this cluttered, dust-laden
and rusty-girdered site for all time. Wholly in keeping with the
aesthetic of this uncompromising setting, it provides an intimate
moment of visual and aural poetry, summoning to this desolate,
cavernous site the voice of the sea.
Emily Richardson’s installation “Over the Horizon” can
be seen in the adjacent “Derelict Building A”. Like
its neighbour it is full of industrial junk including several prehistoric
models of cars mired in dust. Richardson’s piece unites visuals
and sound in an evocative exploration of a mysterious zone of local
coastline at Orford Ness. Opening with the sound of crashing waves,
the piece exploits all manner of sounds from birdsong to the wind
to surreal, sci-fi twangs and fragmented bulletins from BBC news
broadcasts. The auditory enigma is matched by the images - strange,
pagoda-like architectural forms and their abandoned, decaying interiors.
These architectural oddities, standing on the bleak wind- and rainswept
shingled beaches of Orford Ness, were part of a long-established
military base which, during the Cold War, was home to the Atomic
Weapons Research Establishment. Its activities included the failed
radar system that gives the film its name (the site is still home
to a radio broadcasting facility). Intrigue about its covert activities
was the stuff of local myth, and Richardson’s film is a lingering,
poetic exploration of the secrets of this usually inaccessible
May Cornett’s ‘Walled Garden’ also reveals the
poetry in the derelict by transforming an abandoned, crumbling
site into an Arcadian space with an industrial twist. Cornett has
taken over a ruinous, ramshackle walled space, occupied by stacks
of bricks and piles of roof tiles, and has planted native wildflowers
throughout the space – gloriously named plants such as Shepherds
Purse, Groundsel and Creeping Speedwell - weaving them tapestry-like
into the brick stacks which double as plinths on which to stand
geometrically shaped white sculptures. These ultra-modern forms
lend an otherworldly quality, as if they had mysteriously landed
here from another planet. In designing and nurturing this delicate
oasis Cornett has been inspired by ‘The Large Turf’ by
Dürer and its ‘unedited’ depiction of nature -
every plant, every root tendril, every blade of grass delineated
in all their chaotic realism.
Ryan Gander’s billboard piece, ‘This Place is Everything’ also
creates a poignant relationship between the pastoral and the industrial.
At first glance the fragments of two apparently randomly torn posters
evoke a neglected, urban-industrial wasteland, whose message is
the kind of inflated empty promise typical of advertising copy.
And yet the ‘accidental’ slogan – only understood
when the viewer fills in the gap between the two texts - is transformed
into a genuine and touching sentiment about the Suffolk marshland
beside which it is so unexpectedly situated. In Gander’s
second piece, ‘Everything is Learned’, sculptural stones
facing the reed marshes also require the viewer to fill in a gap;
here, that left by Rodin’s Thinker. The stones’ smoothed
parts correspond to where the Thinker’s buttocks, calves,
and feet would have left their imprint. This absence invites the
viewer to sit and cogitate - on his surroundings, on art, and on
his relationship to both.
A work by Gavin Turk sited on the Moore lawn also encourages the
visitor to engage with the landscape and with the permanent sculptures
on display. ‘L’Age d’or’, a sculpture of
an open, oversized door, creates an Alice in Wonderland-like portal
through which a distinctive and surreally distilled perspective
is offered on the view beyond.
Scott King and Matthew Darbyshire’s textual installations
also create surprising dialogues with Snape’s permanent sculptures.
Building on their “Ways of Sitting” collaboration, ‘viewing
stations’ have been erected around the site where each sculpture
is viewed through a cutout aperture, framing it and thus transforming
it into a magazine image. These are juxtaposed with King’s
witty, satirical and iconoclastic texts that poke fun at the mythologies
cultivated around artists, question long-held axiomatic beliefs
about art, or interrogate the inflated claims made on art’s
Last year, reflecting on the array of artists based in and migrating
to the local area, Jonathan Reekie speculated on whether a Suffolk ‘movement’ might
be emerging – and whether SNAP could establish such a movement.
To quote poet Simon Armitage’s description of Hepworth’s ‘Family
of Man’ - part of which is on permanent display at Snape
Maltings - it can surely be said that SNAP is "full of beautiful
* Maggi Hambling, The Sea (Lowry Press, 2009),