Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire is now a spacious, comfortable country house, set in extensive landscaped lawns and gardens. It has a long fascinating and multi-layered history, originating in 1201 as an Augustinian Priory. (See Mottisfont’s website to learn more).
I arrived about lunch time – stepping out of the car into a crisp, cold day: a very bright sun low in the sky. Bright but not harsh, bathing everything in a golden light, casting long dark shadows across the grass. I didn’t want to hang around long in this bitterly cold air. I had come to see Resuscitare a site-specific installation by Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva in the grounds of Mottisfont Abbey.
I had missed Resuscitare on a previous visit because of torrential rain – but I knew that it consists of five fallen trees from the estate, brought to life again within an existing circle of beech trees. And I knew that both live and dead trees were gilded with imagery – the live with Dutch Metal , and the dead with real 23.5ct gold.
I moved briskly and actively around the circle of beech trees, taking quick photographs. Not so good for achieving a ‘perfect print’, but certainly good for recording fleeting perceptions – quickly before my thinking mind could get in the way.
The leaves radiated warm gold in the winter sunlight. Thousands were still on the trees; many more more had already fallen, covering the ground, and revealing bare trunks and branches. And between the bare limbs, I could begin to see the glowing gold of Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva’s installation. Stepping nearer, I could see that the trunks of some of the beech circle had been gilded with golden motifs, strangely archaic, strangely familiar. They were based on natural forms of leaf, twig and cosmos, and were, I discovered later, directly inspired by the décor within Mottisfont itself. Within the circle stood the five dead trees, upturned with root joints splayed at the top, reminding me first of Corinthian columns, then of the pillars and vaulted ceiling of the mediaeval undercroft that I’d seen at Mottisfont on my previous visit. The rich gold motifs shone bright in the sunlight, reflecting the masses of golden leaves that were hanging on the trees or spread far and wide over the ground… The effect was of a shimmering golden dance, a dance of light.
Dappled sunlight on the trunks blended with the gold patterning of the gilding – blurring the boundaries between the natural play of light and shadow and that which had been artificially applied.
Later, it came as no surprise to learn that the artist originated from Macedonia, a country extensively covered with forest… for, admiring the subtle shifting interplay of light and dark, live and dead, natural and artificial, and the delicate dazzling tracery of leaf and twig reaching towards the sky… I had already decided that Resuscitare could only have been conceived by someone who ‘had trees in their blood’.
Strangely enough, I did not particularly remark upon the overall concept of the piece, which addressed ideas about the cycles of growth and decay – though I was aware of it. What I felt more strongly, was how, on an energetic level, this microcosm of life was held safe within the circle of beeches.
The piece in its entirety spoke to me of wholeness and balance: a masterly simplicity of form, dense with possible meanings.
It was easy to find a multitude of resonances and visual metaphors all at once, something which, in my opinion, I think only very high quality visual art can achieve. I shall stop writing and let the photos speak for themselves, for I hate to ruin good magic.
More about Resuscitare, and Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva’s work can be found on her website, and also other sites – including Into That Good Night (from the Fabrica Gallery, Brighton). Here I read that “Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva’s work highlights an essential human contradiction – the need to witness decay and the desire to halt it”. Personally, I don’t, at this point, feel any particular desire to witness the natural processes of decay, nor to halt them. But it is a worthwhile and important theme for an artist’s work, and one that very clearly underpins the Resuscitare installation.
I haven’t said much about Mottisfont Abbey itself, as I just wanted to convey my personal impressions of this wonderful piece of work. You can find out more about Mottisfont on http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/mottisfont/.