20 June 2012


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Photo credits: Thierry Bal commissioned by Tatton Park Biennial.

Whoever said that the proliferation of the Biennale system need always be a bad thing? Maligned from Sao Paolo to Dakar as the transient playgrounds of an imported, global cultural elite, the rise of the biennial has nevertheless had a trickle-down effect that has lead to more modest manifestations of the format appearing in some interesting and unlikely places. Rather than overwhelm and overrun their locations these smaller biennials are often able to interact with them in a more intimate and nuanced way. Such is the case at the third Tatton Park Biennial, which I visited on a trip away from the capital last weekend.
Set in the house and grounds of a country estate in deepest Cheshire, the exhibition comprises sculpture, sound installation and a programme of artist films that interrogate ‘flights of fancy’, both literal and metaphorical. Explored through the context of the Tatton estate itself, whose last Lord of the manor was an early flight enthusiast and which was used as a military airfield during World War II, flight also serves as a potent metaphor for escapism and reverie with many works chiming with the playful, family-friendly tone of a park famed locally for its adventure playground. Some works such as Dinu Li’s flying saucer, crash-landed on the lawn and Jem Finer’s cosmic caravan take this playtime, toy-box whimsy too far. The most successful pieces are those that evoke a restrained, elliptical kind of nostalgia, tinged with the pathos of impossibility. Hilary Jack’s abandoned bird’s nest, human-sized and woven around the giant trunk of a chestnut tree, is a beautiful but mournful shelter that captures the double bind of ‘flying the nest’ – that pastures new always mean something left behind. And most stunning of all is Olivier Grossetete’s hovering Pont de Singe. Bobbing serenely above the Japanese pond, it gestures impossibly, unreachably to roads left untravelled and incurable dreams.

Tatton Park Biennial 
'Flights of Fancy’ 
12 May to 30 September 2012
Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 6QN
Park Opening Hours: daily 10am – 6pm

Photo credits: Thierry Bal commissioned by Tatton Park Biennial.