In the late Spring the artist Barnaby Hosking constructed a Mongolian Yurt in the grounds of the Houghton Hall Estate in Norfolk, where he would live until the Winter. Here, the artist presented himself as a modern-day hermit, ensconced in his mobile dwelling. He chose his location carefully, far from the house and the crowds, sheltered by a vast Oak tree and by the side of a lake, gently framed by the surrounding parkland. This portable home served as his encampment, his place, from which to experience the landscape beyond. During this period of solitude, he experimented with new approaches to painting, sculpture, photography and sound. He was not especially concerned with representing his surroundings, preferring to show the evidence of the individual’s actions within it. But such actions barely intervened: they neither chronicled nor altered what was there. Instead, the true subject of the adventure was the artist’s experience, his embodiment of spatio-temporal perception.
The artist’s yurt – his hide and studio – maintained its increasingly precarious presence in the landscape, battered by the Winter storms. Another version is now constructed for the yard at the London gallery. It shares many of the original’s traits, save one: it is no longer a studio, since nothing tangible is made in it. Therefore, this second iteration is not concerned with making but with showing. It has become an object of display, an exhibit. The dwelling thus functions as a liminal space whose purpose has yet to be determined by the audience – a threshold between an artwork and a place. It might have been used to contain further objects, to operate as a gallery beyond the gallery, a site to a non-site.
By contrast, the internal space of the dimly-lit gallery is dominated by a circular space made from floor-to-ceiling velvet drapes, suspended from a steel ring; their black surface is subtly interrupted by a crisscross of perpendicular lines: bark textures from ancient tree-trunks are bitten with bleach into the smooth pile of the velvet-like liquid scars. Velvet is known to suck up light in its dense surface, but here the colour of the fabric itself has been discharged by the bleach, a process arrested just prior to the fabric’s disintegration. The curtain-like like swatches of fabric have the texture of soft suede; they are warm to touch, resembling animal pelts, smooth, and reassuring. The velvet attracts dust and fingertips cannot resist the urge to brush the silky surface clean. We are in the forest. A soundtrack of one entire day, now barely audible, then distinct and insistent, punctuates the stillness: birdsong, the bleating of sheep, and wind are interspersed with the sounds of the artist’s activities.
Since the advent of Modernism, Habitat, our place in the world, has ceased to be a homely home any longer, yet we are destined to desire it, to circle and go over the same ground, faithfully and endlessly. The realm of the imagination pulls strongly against our need for fixity and stability; here everyday experience is countered by a desire for wild places, yet it is a wilderness that is in the mind.
This text is an excerpt from the publication The Guest by Nicolas de Oliveira and Nicola Oxley that accompanies the exhibition.