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Personal, surprising and optimistic: what you can expect from Radical Acts, with curator Hugo Macdonald and Trust Director Jane Marriott

Two people central to Radical Acts are Jane Marriott, the Director of Harewood House Trust, and Hugo Macdonald, the exhibition curator.

We sat down for a chat with Jane and Hugo, to look back on the evolution of Radical Acts and find out what visitors can expect.

Thank you both for finding the time to chat, especially in these busy two weeks before Radical Acts opens! Where did the idea for the Biennial come from?

Jane Marriott: Harewood House Trust is a charity and a museum, and it’s been set up as such since 1986. Our purpose is to conserve the House, the gardens and the wonderful collections. But more than that, we want to create exhibitions that excite our visitors, introducing them to new things, new artists, new ideas.

And so back in 2018 we decided that we wanted to do an exhibition about craft. It’s really interesting how many people have become interested in craft, in thinking about materials and in showing their support of local makers and artists. And of course, Harewood House, built in the late 1700s, has the most incredible craftsmanship from Chippendale furniture, to Robert Adam interiors. to John Carr architecture. So we thought Harewood is the perfect place to continue that great tradition of craftsmanship. When we started talking about the exhibition, we got brilliant feedback from people in the field, saying that makers and crafts in this country need that platform.

How did Hugo become involved?

Jane: What was really refreshing in the first conversation I had with Hugo was that, because his background is in writing, he puts craft within the context of how we live today. From that first conversation, I knew that he wasn’t just a wonderful curator, just picking beautiful objects; we’d be working with someone who would really take a step back and challenge us to think about craft in a different way. And so that’s when we invited Hugo to do the first Biennial, Useful/Beautiful, which was shown in 2019.

Hugo, can you tell us what you thought of Harewood when you first arrived and what inspires you about Harewood?

Hugo Macdonald: On my first visit I was overwhelmed, just like a lot of people probably are when they first come to a property of such magnificence. Every time I visit, I feel like I learn something new. There are so many layers not just to what you see, but also what you discover about people who have lived and worked in the House. The craftsmanship has been added to over decades and generations, centuries even. That’s where I find the challenge in curating the Biennial צ how do you introduce a contemporary layer that makes sense for what exists there already, but also brings something of today into the mix? How can we help people understand Harewood’s historic stories, but also put them in the context of contemporary life? How do we keep Harewood feeling alive?

How did you decide what to do for the second Biennial?

Jane: It’s not a case of saying, here’s what we want, Hugo, can you please do that? It’s a series of conversations. For the first Biennial, we invited multiple makers to respond to the House; we agreed that the format worked, but that this time we wanted to focus on a smaller number of really special makers. We also decided to exhibit pieces outdoors as well as indoors.

Our discussions began pre-Covid, thinking about the environmental crisis and what the role of these great estates can be in helping with that; to give this platform to great makers to talk about how craft can make a difference with sustainability, regenerative design, those sorts of topics. And then, of course, Covid came along and whilst we didn’t shift from those themes, we created a more nuanced response, which Hugo is very well placed to talk about more.

Hugo: The world was changing quite quickly, and our Biennial was an opportunity to address other connected subject matters that were coming to the surface. For example, how we think about well-being on a personal but also social and environmental level; and Black Lives Matter. The murder of George Floyd was a catalyst for many more conversations about racial and social injustice and given Harewood’s origins, we really wanted to include that as part of our exhibition. A lot of these subjects are things that craft deals with in a very open way, and craft can help ask important questions.

With that in mind, we decided to highlight people and projects who are engaged with asking questions about climate change and about society: how we relate to ourselves, the environment, each other. We called it Radical Acts because the word radical comes from the Latin word radix, which means roots; and each of the projects in the Biennial explores how things from the past can be a way of understanding the present. We have some very big names in the world of craft and we have some graduate students; it’s important to us that we are a platform that celebrates people at the top of their game, but also emerging interesting voices too.

Jane, what has surprised you about how Radical Acts has come together?

Jane: Probably how the makers bring such a wide variety of stories – very personal stories.

For example. we spent several hours speaking to Fernando Laposse, who talks about this incredible cooperative that he’s worked with in a village in Mexico, which is where he was born. He works with women who use the waste material from growing heritage corn to make these incredible luxury objects which are sold all around the world. His passion for the story and the women and this incredible cooperative really struck a nerve with me.

Then there’s Eunhye Ko, who is working with us as a younger maker coming into her career, with objects such as hair dryers and everyday electrical items. And you think, well, how on earth is that going to fit into a Biennial? Why will anyone be interested in that? But she works with them in in a very personal, creative way to challenge perceptions of things that we would throw away or replace much more quickly, like hairdryers or hoovers or everyday electrical items.

So I think the surprise for me is the variety, how personal those stories are and how we can relate to them. And I think people will really, really enjoy these 16 different stories from makers and feel a lot of empathy with them.

Hugo, how do you want people to feel when they visit Radical Acts?

Hugo: It has always been very important to us that we create a positive exhibition, an optimistic exhibition that feels entertaining and interesting, and that makes people feel like we can all do small things that join together to make a big difference to help address some of these challenges that we face in life. It is, like Jane says, a surprising exhibition, but we’re not telling people what to do. We are inviting people to come and see how these crafts-people are working in different ways to think about possible futures. And each of the exhibitors has a simple message behind their work that we hope will connect with visitors to Harewood, that visitors will take these ideas back home and think about how they relate to their own lives.

So, for example, Good Foundations International says water is precious. We mustn’t take it for granted. Good Foundations International go into communities who don’t have fresh water and help them to discover local sources, then build skills and businesses in the community to make ceramic water filters, which is an ancient technology for cleaning dirty water. Good Foundations International see firsthand what the impact is on people’s lives when they don’t have access to fresh water, and they alert privileged people to the fact that it’s a resource that should not be taken for granted. That’s one example of a simple message that we hope will connect with people because most of us switch on a tap without even thinking about it.

Hopefully people will reflect on the exhibition for a long time afterwards, and it might influence the small choices we make every day.

Hugo: Absolutely. I feel like exhibitions should be starting points rather than something that begins and ends. I want to open people’s eyes and minds to think about things slightly differently, or to understand how things connect; and to always feel included in that discussion. Never to feel like they are being lectured at or told. We really want to use the Biennial as a way of inviting people into Harewood and making them feel as welcome as possible. And like I said before, to introduce stories into this environment that are surprising, but also very relevant.

What would you say to each visitor as they view the exhibition?

Jane: I encourage you to experience the exhibition as a set of very personal stories, that will talk about that person or that studio’s approach to craft and what’s important to them. What you will hear is those makers saying it in their own voice. I suspect it will surprise a lot of people. I hope some of the choices seem quite bold and some will be quite poignant and quite thoughtful, like Mac Collins and his very personal response to the house and his own history and heritage. But there are also moments of just sheer joy and beautiful objects that are a window into it that particular maker and their achievements.

If I saw the visitor afterwards, I’d remind them that we’ve also got several podcasts and films with the makers – so you can return to those craftspeople who really stuck in your mind and inspired you to do something.

Hugo: One of my favourite things in the exhibition is actually not an exhibit. We have built a blank wall in the Servants’ Hall where we ask the question, What is your radical act? We hope this will encourage visitors to think about what they do in their day to day lives, and that could be something as simple as having a reusable shopping bag or reducing car journeys. That’s what I hope people will be thinking about as they move around the exhibition.

One thing people might be inspired to do is get hands-on with craft-making, and for that they can look forward to our Make it Harewood weekend in July. There will be workshops, music and food, all to show that everybody can be involved in craft and everybody can benefit in some way. It’s a wonderful recurring theme throughout the show, that working with your hands makes you feel happy. It improves your well-being mentally, physically, psychologically and Make it Harewood is a wonderful opportunity for people to have a go. So visit the website for more details on when that will be and who will be involved.

Thank you both!

 

 

In memory of Dame Fanny Waterman

Dame Fanny Waterman 1920–2020

Harewood is deeply saddened to hear of the news of the passing of Dame Fanny Waterman, who died peacefully in December having reached the age of 100. Dame Fanny leaves an incredible legacy, she was a true ‘force of nature’ in the world of classical music. Through the Leeds International Piano Competition, which she launched in 1961 with her husband Dr Geoffrey de Keyser and Marion Thorpe CBE (then Countess of Harewood), affectionately known worldwide as ‘The Leeds’, she helped launch the careers of many of the most talented pianists of our time.

David Lascelles, Earl of Harewood, remembers her fondly:

‘I’ve known Fanny Waterman, Dame Fanny, since I was a boy. She and my mother were close friends, they wrote highly successful piano tutor books together and Fanny was always very generous in acknowledging her central role in the early days of the Leeds International Piano Competition, ‘The Leeds’.

‘I was, briefly, Fanny’s pupil, one of the worst she ever had she confided later, which I suppose is some sort of a backhanded compliment.

‘Fanny was 100 when she died – of course she was, her determination and extraordinary fighting spirit could have no other outcome. She was an extraordinary woman, a true embodiment of that over-used expression ‘a force of nature’.

‘It has been a privilege to know her and Diane and I and the rest of my family join together to send our condolences and warmest wishes to her sons Robert and Paul and the rest of her family.’

21 December 2020

Our condolences go out to Dame Fanny’s family, and to all those whose lives she influenced with great positivity, affection and acclaim.

A full tribute can be read on The Leeds International Piano Competition website >>

Photo courtesy of the Leeds International Piano Competition, pictured: Dame Fanny Waterman, Benjamin Britten (composer and close friend of George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood), and the then Countess of Harewood, musician Marion Thorpe.

My Books – By Lady Emily Shard

Harewood_House_booksEmily_ShardContinuing Harewood’s journey through the books that define the people who work with the Trust, Emily Shard, Trustee and daughter of the Earl of Harewood, shares some of the books she has loved.

A coffee table read you return to again and again. Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Wall. The British Ceramicist takes you on a Journey though generations and across Europe, following his family’s netsuke collection (miniature ceramic animals). A incredible reflection on both Art and Human history.

A book that has inspired you. So many books inspire me – Hopefully we take some kind of inspiration from lots of what we read, and that this is an ongoing process. Recently I read American Poet Ross Gays’ Book of Delights. Gay wrote a short piece every day for a year about something that has delighted him – his meditations on the sometimes tough world and unexpected places where delight can be found, are inspiring. He encourages us all to look carefully, take time and stake out space for joy.

A book you enjoyed reading to children. All of Oliver Jeffers’ books. We started with Lost and Found (The story of a lost Penguin) but they are all brilliant and the author and illustrator has humour and warmth that kids love. His stories often touch on more challenging themes than most children books.

A book that has related to your life path. The Lord of the Rings by J RR Tolkien – this classic was read to me by my dad as a child as my bedtime story. Dad cut out some of the more wordy, boring bits and the magic and characters of the Middle Earth World totally captivated me. I had the good fortune of working on the films in New Zealand, which was an amazing experience. My Children have recently started reading the series too.

A book you didn’t think you would like, but surprised you. The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver – a dystopian novel which uses dark humour to give us a terrifying vision of the future through one family experience, and an insight into what the human impact might be of changing global economics.

A book you would take to a desert island. Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. This story about love, identity, memory and guilt, can be read and reread with new meanings unearthed every time. Alternatively, I might take a recipe book. This might prove to be torture if there is no food on the island, but something like Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen shares traditional and long-forgotten recipes for making all kinds of food from scratch, and with very basic equipment.

A book that in your opinion everyone should read. Living Planet Report by WWF is released every two years and is a breakdown of global trends in species diversity and humanities pressure on important habitats. I have been working with WWF on a few projects in the last few years and the importance of placing ‘value’ on nature and world resources has become even more clear to me, and should be to everyone.

A very English bookThe Salt Path by Raynor Winn is a true story of the writer and her husband’s walk along the south west coast path, following the loss of their home, health and sense of purpose. She evokes the very British south coast land and seascape and makes you want to walk the path and connect with nature. There’s such a power of nature in creating wellbeing and a sense of self.

Favourite Shakespeare play – I love so many of them, Macbeth, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream but I prefer to watch them than read them.

A book someone passed to you and you passed on. Lift as you climb by Viv Groskop. The comedian, presenter and public speaker gives guidance about approaching personal progression and bringing others along with your success. It’s thought provoking, supportive and reassuring. My neighbour gave it to me and then I passed it on to a friend.

What are you reading next? – I am shortly going to start reading The Feather Thief: The Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson. It’s the true story of obsession that lead to an amazing and very weird theft. I heard a brilliant podcast about it and the story sound really bazaar and fascinating.

Emily is a film producer for Silverback Films, whose work includes the Netflix Our Planet series, Disneynatures Elephants, Penguins and Dolphin Reef as well as various programmes for the BBC. She cares passionately about the environment and lives in Bristol with her family.

Read more Book Blog podcasts on the Harewood blog. 

The books that shaped me – Pauline Mayers


Pauline Mayers is an independent writer, theatremaker and choreographer based in Leeds and currently working on projects with the Geraldine Connor Foundation and Leeds Playhouse that link to Harewood.

1. A coffee table read you return to again and again.
I don’t generally tend to return to the books I’ve read unless it’s related to making performance. The themes I have had in my work have centred around British history, identity and care. Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga is one that comes to mind. The way that history is taught in schools is currently being hotly contested in light of the Black Lives Matter movement in recent weeks. Olusoga’s book with the accompanying BBC series re-integrates British history, recording the 18 centuries Black Britons have been present in the UK.

2. A book that has inspired you.
Last Night On Earth by the American choreographer Bill T. Jones, is like a meditation on his methods of making dance and his journey to becoming a choreographer.

3. A book that has related to your career or life path.
I was gifted a biography on the late Josephine Baker called Jazz Cleopatra by Phyllis Rose. Baker was an American dancer who took Europe by storm. Through this book, Baker became a mentor to me during my dance training at one of the top ballet schools in the country, the Rambert School in London.

4. A book you didn’t think you would like, but surprised you.
Recently I read (in a matter of hours!) Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. It’s a trilogy about a young student called Binti who is the first from the Himba people to gain a place at the most prestigious university in the galaxy, Oomza University. However, in order to attend, Binti must leave her home and travel the stars. Binti is about her journey. Okorafor creates a world that is fantastic and dark. I really loved the world and the characters created.

5. A book that in your opinion everyone should read.
A book I love to read again is Angela Saini’s Superior. A brilliant book about the origins of science from the 1700’s. This I feel is required reading for everyone in the UK.

6. A book someone passed to you and you passed on.
A book that relates to the work I make is Slavery, Family and Gentry Capitalism in the British Atlantic by Simon D. Smith. It’s about how the Lascelles family, the original owners of Harewood House, built an extensive business empire centred on the slave trade and finance in the West Indies. It’s a fascinating book, that shines a light on the main business interests of Henry Lascelles, which included his involvement in the transporting of the enslaved from “Floating Factories” off the Ghanaian coast to Barbados in the West Indies.

 

Follow @HarewoodHouse on social media to keep up to date with the latest stories and events from Harewood.

Staying Creative with artist Juli Bolaños-Durman

“By slowing down, going back to basics and making something with our hands like our ancestors did to survive…”

What are you working on during lockdown?

When the lockdown happened, I found myself really stressed listening to the uncertainty of it all in the news, so I decided that for my mental health I would turn them off and started to draw and colour. For me, this is an activity that I have enjoyed since I can remember, and thanks to my studio practice, I have made it a ritual that allows my nervous system to calm myself, self-regulate from a space of hope and joy; now more than ever.  But when I started to share these exercises on my social media, I realised my audience responded to these and thought to myself how I could support an international community from my perspective. This is how #StayCreative with Juli was born, fostering community at heart by focusing our energy on what we CAN control and that is our actions and the blank piece of paper in front of us. These are a series of free activities such as illustrations for you to trace, download or print and make 3D sculptures using materials from your recycle bin. I have put together some videos for the audience to join me in staying creative and tapping into this powerful tool. Find out more at www.julibd.com/staycreative

Also, I have been strategizing on how I can use this time to develop a new line under my studio practice umbrella that could give me more flexibility working from home, instead of my usual glass sculptures that need specific specialised machinery, studio space and team-work. Here is where drawing comes into again. I want to continue to push forward my illustration by promoting more pattern making projects, wallpaper design and illustrate short stories for kids focusing on themes of resilience, vulnerability and creativity during uncertain times. Hopefully, this will bring in new projects and clients while indirectly promoting my overall creative practice helping to weather the storm. By focusing my energies on activities that give me hope and not being run over by the fear of it all. But most importantly, fostering more community engagement, the value of non-formal education and how we can use creativity as a vehicle for innovation.

What is inspiring you at the moment?

This pandemic has reinforced my curiosity and methodology to be even more resilient and resourceful, using what we do have around us working from home and having a positive contribution. This is an opportunity that invites us to see things from a different perspective and how we can give a second chance to waste material to become a symbol of revival and authenticity. 

Also, watching how the community has come together to support one another and the courageous task the essential workers have taken on. I want to be a part of a caring community and contribute from my perspective for a better system moving forward.

How might craft help us rebuild a better future?

In a world where we can no longer compete with machines, our education systems need to be modified from teaching facts to thinking with our hands. By promoting a persistent spirit of inquiry and resilience, guiding us into adapting to these uncertain times and building a more just world filled with beauty for everyone to appreciate. Craft is one of these tools which must be put at the forefront and invested in.

Every time we make/mend something, it is a poetic act of rebellion, a challenge to our current consumer habits and the status quo; now more poignant than ever. By slowing down, going back to basics and making something with our hands like our ancestors did to survive. By connecting to this visceral bond between the maker/ material and how this playful methodology is a tool to foster joy; a powerful life-force that can only be fostered within ourselves to share and create a better world.

#StayCreative at home, and download Juli’s resources below

– Juli Bolaños-Durman, May 2020