The Burning Man comes to Derbyshire

The local arts and culture brigade got very excited recently, after news broke that we were to be treated to a Burning Man Sculpture Trail on parkland surrounding Chatsworth House in our home county of Derbyshire. The sense of anticipation was understandable: Burning Man is a huge annual event in the Nevada desert, and has never previously been seen in the UK.

Burning Man started on a California beach in 1986, when artists set light to an 8 feet (2.4 m) tall wooden man. This act of “radical self-expression” caught the imagination of the local artistic community to such an extent that the burning was repeated the following year, when the effigy had almost doubled in size. By 1988 it was twice as tall again, reaching a height of 30 feet (9.1 m).

In 1990 the event moved to a location in the Nevada desert, and began to grow rapidly. In 2019, the last year before the Covid pandemic, participants in the Burning Man event numbered nearly 79,000 and the effigy had grown to 61 feet (19m) in height.

The stated mission of the Burning Man Project is:

“to produce the annual event known as Burning Man and to guide, nurture and protect the more permanent community created by its culture. Our intention is to generate society that connects each individual to his or her creative powers, to participation in community, to the larger realm of civic life, and to the even greater world of nature that exists beyond society.”

Source: Burning Man website, retrieved 22/07/22

The Chatsworth estate

Chatsworth House, built in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Devonshire. In 1981 the house, many of its contents and 737 hectares (1,822 acres) of the surrounding landscape were leased to the Chatsworth House Trust, and the family now pays rent to the Trust for the apartment they occupy. The current (12th) Duke and Duchess work with the charity and others to welcome visitors to Chatsworth.

Be in no doubt, Chatsworth House is a big business. According to its 2018 annual review, in 2017/18 the house and gardens welcomed a little over 600,000 visitors, generated income of almost Β£15m and employed 366 people, including 114 full-time posts.

Covid hit Chatsworth hard, so there’s ground to make up. In that context, securing an exhibition linked to Burning Man, a brand with a global reputation, was a real coup. Although access to the sculpture trail itself is free, parking at Chatsworth certainly isn’t, so the Trust is doubtless laughing all the way to the bank. But that’s OK, they deserve credit and a bit of profit too, for having the vision to host Radical Horizons: The Art of Burning Man.

Wings of Glory, by Adrian Landon

The first sculpture we spotted after parking our car was Wings of Glory, inspired by the Pegasus myth and sculptor Adrian Landon’s fascination with horses. Fashioned from metal and standing around 20 feet high, the sculpture is appropriately located close to Chatsworth’s former stable block. Every hour, with a painful clanking and grinding sound of metal-on-metal, it languorously flaps its wings and puts on a show. The giant Pegasus appeared at Burning Man in Nevada in 2019.

Mum, by Mr & Mrs Ferguson

Perhaps because we have enjoyed seeing bears in the wild on several occasions in North America, Mum resonates deeply with us and is one of our favourite sculptures on the Radical Horizons trail. A bear cub climbing on its mother’s back can’t help being cute, but look closer and you can see that the bears’ coats are fashioned from around 55,000 US and Canadian pennies embedded into a polystyrene and concrete body. Mother and cub were born in California, where they were created exclusively for the Burning Man at Chatsworth exhibition.

Coralee, by Dana Albany et al

The ethos of the Burning Man is underpinned by 10 Principles. Two of these, “Communal Effort” and “Participation”, seek to encourage everyone to get involved in the production and appreciation of works of art. These Principles are reflected in Coralee, which was created by artist Dana Albany working with children from Spire School in the nearby town of Chesterfield.

Coralee, which for artist Dana Albany symbolises female strength and good luck, depicts a mermaid and is based on a local Derbyshire legend. On the face of it this is a bit crazy, given that this landlocked county is many miles from the sea, and therefore not an obvious haunt for mermaids! However there is a small lake in Derbyshire’s Peak District that was popular in ancient Celtic water-worship rituals. It’s known as the Mermaid’s Pool.

The waters of the Mermaid’s Pool are believed to offer healing qualities to those mad enough to bathe in them. At Easter, in the dead of night, a mermaid is said to appear in the pool. If she likes the look of you she will grant you immortality. But if you don’t take her fancy she will pull you beneath the icy water, where you will inevitably drown. It is, I have to say, one of the most unexpected and bizarre Derbyshire legends I have ever encountered, and it’s good to see it given a new lease of life in this piece of contemporary sculpture.

And what a wonderful, uplifting piece of artwork it is. The body is fashioned in part out of recycled metal artefacts including spoons, springs, sprockets, hinges, bicycle chains and assorted pieces of wire, while the mermaid’s tail features fish scales made from recycled glass. The focus on recycling reflects a concern for the environment that is implicit in Burning Man’s Principles of “Civic Responsibility” and “Leave No Trace”.

Coralee is without doubt my favourite of all the pieces that make up the Radical Horizons sculpture trail. I do hope that it lives on somewhere, whether that be at Chatsworth or elsewhere, once Radical Horizons comes to an end in September.

Elysian Spires, by “Shrine”

Artist “Shrine” worked with children from the Derbyshire Virtual School to produce Elysian Spires. The School seeks to “enhance the life opportunities for Derbyshire children [living in the care of the County Council] by supporting and promoting the importance of their education, and enabling them to achieve the best they can be.” Created with the participation of this community of young people, and celebrating the turning of non-precious objects – in this case hundreds of donated glass bottles – into treasure, Elysian Spires is clearly in line with the guiding Principles that also underpin Coralee.

Flybrary, by Christina Sporrong

Flybrary dominates the view as you drive to the Chatsworth car park. Books fly from the 20 foot high rusty metal head, books which for artist Christina Sporrong represent a flurry of ideas. She invites viewers of her sculpture to let their imaginations run wild, and asks “what’s on your mind?” And isn’t that the point of the whole Radical Horizons exhibition, that it stimulates the imagination and encourages unfettered thinking. Great stuff!

Lodestar, by Randy Polumbo

Lodestar features the shiny fuselage of a World War II jet plane that went by the same name. Its nose touches the ground, while a flower blooms from its tail. Away from the world of aeronautics, the word “lodestar” is a star (especially the Pole Star) that is used to guide the course of a ship, and this prominent, eye-catching sculpture certainly acts as a marker for anyone seeking to navigate their way around the Radical Horizons exhibition.

Transmutation, by Arturo Gonzales and Maru Izaguirrre

Transmutation is inspired by the brightly coloured Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures known as alebrije. In this case, a colourful sabre-toothed cat sporting both antlers and wings takes to the air above Chatsworth, and encourages the viewer to wonder “what if…?”.

Wings of Wind by Bryan Tedrick

Wings of Wind is another sculpture that is made in part from reclaimed materials. It is moveable and rotates slowly in the wind, or when pushed by eager visitors who are also allowed (encouraged, even) to clamber over it. As it spins, different parts of the landscape are framed by the steel hoop upon which the two wings are hung. In this photograph, it frames a distant view of Chatsworth House.

Murder Inc., by Charles Gadeken

Murder Inc. is unlike any of the other sculptures in Radical Horizons. The rest are monumental in scale, but with Murder Inc. it is not size but quantity that counts. This work comprises exactly one hundred separate pieces, and as artist Charles Gadeken is keen for us to know, each one is different.

The crows of Murder Inc. are life-sized and life-coloured (black!), and show the birds going about their normal daily business. At a glance, and before you clock that they aren’t moving or making any noise, it’s easy to believe that this is a flock or living, breathing birds.

Crows feature heavily in folklore, both in the UK and in many other parts of the world. Often regarded as symbols of death, the collective name for crows is “a murder” which is clearly the inspiration for the title of Charles Gadeken’s work.

Q: When is art not art? A: When it’s a horse jump!

Our morning spent viewing the Radical Horizons exhibition at Chatsworth was inspiring, demonstrating clearly that in the 21st century art comes in all shapes and sizes. In fact it’s sometimes difficult to know just where art ends and real life begins.

As we were wandering through Chatsworth’s parkland, seeking out the various sculptures that make up Radical Horizons, we came across the impressive piece of work shown in the photograph above. It was pleasing to the eye and sat comfortably in the surrounding landscape. Anxious to know more we checked out the trail guide, but were puzzled to find it wasn’t listed.

Not to be defeated, we searched high and low around the work to find an information board that might tell us about the artist and the title of his sculpture. Still no joy. And then, suddenly, we twigged, finally understanding what was going on. This isn’t part of the Radical Horizons Sculpture Trail at all. Rather, it is simply an elegant horse jump, one of many scattered about the Chatsworth parkland.

But who is to say that the horse jump doesn’t also constitute a work of art? Art really does come in all shapes and sizes!

27 comments

  1. Laurie Graves · August 3

    This post and the sculptures deserve nothing less than a Maine “wowsah”! How I wish I could see them. They are fantastic, and I really liked your brief descriptions of them. What a treat it must be to have them nearby.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · August 3

      I’ll see your Maine “wowsah!” and raise you a Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire “ey up mi duck!” (= an all-purpose colloquial greeting traditionally used amongst local people in this part on England πŸ™‚. )

      I’m so pleased you liked this. Yes, it was definitely a treat to have these sculptures here, within 40 minutes drive of home. I would normally have expected travel much further to see something of this quality. Hopefully they will repeat the event at some point in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Paddy Tobin · August 3

    A fabulous display – even the jump at the end!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · August 3

      Yes, spectacular stuff, and it was good to see so many people out there appreciating it…and the horse jump too!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Yeah, Another Blogger · August 3

    55,000 pennies! It must have taken forever to put them in place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · August 4

      Quick calculation…if you could get one coin correctly positioned every 5 seconds (which seems ambitious as they are placed so precisely) = 12 per minute, which = 720 per hour, which in turn = 17,280 per day. This means it would take a bit over three days, with absolutely no breaks for anything at all, to get all the pennies in place. What a labour of love!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. kaymckenziecooke · August 4

    Fantastic to see the photosof the sculptures and the detailed, informative and interesting info. Thank you. My favourite is the mermaid as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ms. Liz · August 4

      100% this, thanks for sharing on twitter Kay! Mr PM, this is such a great post.. thank you! I’m also very keen on Flybrary and would love to have it in our garden πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

      • Platypus Man · August 4

        Hi Liz, Thank you for the kind words and the follow. Flybrary is an extraordinary work, mind-blowing, totally dominating the landscape as you drive up to Chatsworth House. You must have a BIG garden! πŸ™‚πŸ™‚πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · August 4

      Thank you Kay. Glad you liked the mermaid…it’s a very special piece of work.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ann Mackay · August 4

    Wow! These sculptures are wonderful, especially the mermaid. I’m glad you showed the close-up photographs because the detailed work that has gone into creating her is amazing. I hope that ‘Coralee’ does find a permanent home.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · August 4

      Agree totally. I find myself in awe of the creativity that went into the making of Coralee, and several of the other sculptures too.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. tanjabrittonwriter · August 5

    I am in full agreement with all our fellow bloggers that this is a wonderful post about these amazing sculptures at Chatsworth House. I also like the mermaid and hope that you will take up the challenge and visit Mermaid’s Pool in the middle of the night, take a dip, see what happens, and report back to us (if you can). 😊
    100 different crows are great, but I have to admit to never having liked the collective term used for a group of them, which I won’t repeat. That name was bad enough, and then Hitchcock came along and gave covids an even worse reputation.
    Did I miss the Burning Man? Or is he still in the offing?
    Best,
    Tanja

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · August 5

      Thank you, Tanja. Hitchcock (although a talented guy, and a Brit by origin too!) damaged some people greatly with that film. I’ve met people who really believe that corvids are as malevolent as The Birds implied.

      We visited the Chatsworth sculpture trail just a few days after it was launched, and while the final sculpture was still under construction. We couldn’t get close enough to see what it depicts, but it’s not just a man, I think. It is this that will be set ablaze when the show comes to an end in September. With luck we’ll be able to manage a return trip to view it before the fire is lit.

      Liked by 1 person

      • tanjabrittonwriter · August 5

        From what I know Hitchcock didn’t just do damage with that film, but he also wrecked the lives of some actresses he worked with. I’m not really a fan.

        I hope you will be able to return to the exhibit and get a look at the final sculpture, if you are in the mood, that is.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. alison41 · August 9

    Faabulous! thanks for sharing . Really enjoyed the pics, and the concept

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Carol Ann Siciliano · August 10

    What a delicious post! I agree: good for Chatsworth for corralling Burning Man and good for you & Mrs. P for savoring (and sharing) it all. I love contemporary sculpture and the artists’ inventive use of materials. (I also appreciate how they respond to Burning Man’s announced values.) The mermaid is my favorite, along with Flybary. Yet I lingered over each one. I laughed out loud about the horse jump story. Definitely art, even if unsigned.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · August 11

      I’m glad the horse jump tickled your fancy! (Do you have that phrase in the US? It may sound a bit rude, but it isn’t. Honest!) The horse jump is a welcome reminder that, when designed creatively, even the most mundane items can become works of art.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carol Ann Siciliano · August 13

        Yes, we do say “tickled my fancy” here. I like it too; I should use it more. And speaking of words/phrases, the New York Times puzzle “Spelling Bee” elicited Doughnut from me. I thought of you!
        Lastly, with you, I do very much enjoy the touches of beauty designers add to mundane objects. The horse jump was a particularly pleasing example!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Adele Brand · August 14

    Oh, I like the bear made from coins. I bet the artist had stiff fingers when that was done!

    Corvids have a strange place in the human imagination but their association with dead things is far more than folklore, of course – it’s hard to imagine any carcass that they’d refuse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · August 14

      My best estimate is that it took the equivalent of around 75 hours continuous work to position all those coins. Stiff fingers for sure!

      You’re right about corvids, of course, but I still have a soft spot for them. They are survivors, and clever too. I like that the artist paid tribute to a bird that is so maligned in our folklore.

      Like

  10. Priti · August 15

    Beautiful article ! Excellent local arts well shared thanks β˜ΊοΈπŸ‘

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · August 16

      Thank you Priti, I’m glad to know this gave you some pleasure.

      Like

      • Priti · August 16

        You are welcome πŸ™‚ stay blessed.πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

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