Towards the end of the last century, Richard Mabey experienced a severe bout of depression. ‘I’d been bogged down in the same place for too long,’ he wrote in his 2005 book Nature Cure, ‘trapped by habits and memories. I was clotted with rootedness. And in the end, I’d fallen ill and run out of words.’ Resident for almost his entire life in the Chilterns, Mabey moved to the flat expanses of East Anglia, a landscape that can be as forbidding as is beautiful. He recovered by embracing the region’s nature.
Nature Cure serves as an inspiration for the artist duo Studio Morison’s new pavilion MOTHER…, a thatched retreat in the Cambridgeshire fens. Intended to allow for the contemplation of nature and provide a quiet space for reading and writing, it draws on the aesthetic of the hayricks that punctuate the East Anglian landscape.
Founded by Ivan and Heather Peak Morison, Studio Morison was established in 2003. Much of the their practice has straddled the boundaries of art, architecture and design.
Morison have form when it comes to beguiling pavilions: their previous structure include an origami take on the baroque pineapple at Berrington Hall, Herefordshire, in 2017, a yellow PVC ‘escape vehicle’ at Holtingerveld in the Netherlands in 2018, and a zigzagging mesh construction in Munich the same year.
Even when compared to these projects, MOTHER... reflects the qualities of its location. ‘The sculpture,’ says Ivan Morison, ‘offers an opportunity to perhaps still the mind for a while by focussing on the simple material qualities of the work, and the changing nature of the landscape that surrounds it.’
These material qualities were achieved through a process of labour that draws upon the rural history of its setting. Studio Morison felled and milled the timber framing, and used local straw for the thatching of the walls of roof. It is accessible through slit-like openings, which allows those within to glimpse the surrounding fenland. Inside, there is a circular of wall-hugging benches, above which rise wooden supports. The installation’s conical celling centres around an open oculus.
Between February and May, MOTHER… will host a programme of events that combine discussion with performance. The first, MOTHER-SHIP on 29 February, features a new performance work ‘presenting a mythic reading of MOTHER… as a transformational vessel.’
Commissioned by the Wysing Arts Centre, the pavilion is part of New Geographies, a scheme placing public artwork in the East of England. It is installed at Wicken Fen: a National Trust property near Ely that stands as one of England’s few undrained fenlands.
‘Such is Studio Morison’s sensitivity to place and materials,’ says Wysing Arts Centre director Donna Lynas, ‘the work, with its evocative and timeless shape, sits within the haunting landscape of Wicken Fen as though it had always been there.’
MOTHER… is at Wicken Fen until 18 October 2020.