A show at the Wysing Arts Centre in Cambridge takes its name from economist Keynes’ speculations about the emotional effects of our living environments
Wysing’s 17th century farmhouse is usually an artists-in-residence-only area, but for a show that considers the effect of the domestic environment on art it opens its doors for the first time.
The farmhouse is part of a complex of buildings at Wysing where artists live, work and discuss ideas. In each of the rooms, sculptures, paintings and installations produced by some of the hundreds of artists who have taken up residency at Wysing over the past 25 years are interspersed with the household furniture.
The show takes its title from the early twentieth century essay, “Can we consume our surplus or the influence of furniture on love” by economist John Maynard Keynes. In this hand-written paper, Keynes discusses whether the domestic environment can “suggest to us thoughts and feelings and occupations?”
“We wanted the rooms to suggest a feeling or story,” Wysing curator Lotte Juul Petersen says.
Co-curator Giles Round was an artist in residence in 2011, when he set up decorative arts company The Grantchester Pottery with fellow resident Phil Root. Still working out of a studio on the site, their relationship with the farmhouse and its occupants continues.
The duo have contributed a number of works to the exhibition, including a graphic wallpaper of green and black punctuation that lines an upstairs bedroom and an angular glazed stoneware coffee set: Daniel coffee service, 2014. Positioned in the centre of the kitchen table, the piece alludes to the many conversations that have taken place around the dining table and the impact that discussion has had on the artists’ work.
“A lot of the works come about by just sitting around the kitchen table. The environment is very much one of discussion,” Peterson says.
Laure Prouvost, winner of the 2013 Turner prize, returned to the site of her 2011 residency to paint a series of trompe l’oeil signs directly onto the walls. Prouvost’s Fake Signs ask for the space to be reimaged with a different spatial layout (“Ideally this wall would not be here”) and with a cacophony of voices (“Ideally all the conversation that ever happened here would play at once”).
“Instead of it being a show about domestic objects, we’ve allowed all the artists to come back and respond to the house,” Peterson says.
While some works respond directly to the physicality of the space, Florian Roithmayr used the opportunity to reflect on the symbiotic working relationships and the knowledge-sharing that are encouraged among residents.
After his residency last year, Roithmayr apprenticed in Germany with a concrete beautician, a craftsman who refines the concrete work in a building after it is completed. His contribution to the exhibition – The Attendants, 2014 – is a set of cast concrete braces that delicately curve around stacks of folded white towels supported on floating shelves. The surface of the concrete has been cosmetically enhanced, manipulated to reveal and emphasise the aggregate within the material.
While the towels directly reflect the domesticity of the exhibition setting, the concrete work subtly references the collaborative approach that has continues to influence the artist’s practice long after Wysing.
Several of the works will remain in the house as a legacy to future residents. One of these is a library of texts donated by the artists that will expand as each new residency begins and contributes a text that is key to their practice.
Over the duration of the show, the artists will host a series of talks, performances, screenings and dinners intended to “bring the intimacy of the farmhouse into the public realm”.
The Influence of Furniture on Love can be seen at Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge until 2 November 2014.
Images: Wysing Arts Centre, 2014. Photo: The Grantchester Photographic Society