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S N A P _2 0 1 2

SNAP 2012
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 site.

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 that were 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 site.

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 behalf.

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 possibility".


* Maggi Hambling, The Sea (Lowry Press, 2009), p.18