Decay is part of the process for Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s latest installation, Silence – Alone in a World of Wounds, which is made of timber, thatch and paper
Although Studio Morison has only just completed its latest project – a pavilion for silence at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park – it is already contemplating its decay.
‘In time, there will just be two concentric circles left in the earth,’ says Ivan Morison, who with Heather Peak comprises the artist duo.
Not that he’s in any way sad about this. Instead, the gradual deterioration of the structure is part of the concept, which was only ever meant to be temporary. It also fits well with Studio Morison’s long held interest in ruins.
‘We think of our work as ruins for the future. They’re incomplete. They have a function that you can’t quite put your finger on,’ says Morison.
For 15 years, Studio Morison has created a diverse range of work that aims to transcend the divisions of art, architecture and theatre. Running through its portfolio is an interest in bringing people together to connect with each other, and their surroundings, in what can best be described as ‘social sculpture’. In about one third to half of its projects, the result is some form of structure, sometimes using timber from the studio’s own woodland in Snowdonia in Wales. A common thread is the use of compelling form to enable visitors to see the spaces and places around them afresh, from a different perspective.
‘There’s never a brief to build a building. The invitation is to make art. It may sometimes result in something built. Or it may result in a performance. It’s about the right way to achieve what we want to achieve in that place,’ explains Morison, who has taught at the RCA and the AA.
Silence – Alone in a World of Wounds at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park was the first commission by the Oak Project, which seeks to create kinship with nature through the arts. Studio Morison’s sculptural space is a response to the question ‘Can art save us from extinction?’ The pair were interested in how they could help people to connect more deeply with the issue, and hopefully through a ripple effect change their relationship to the natural world and move them towards more meaningful action and change.
The idea of creating a place for silence came to them quickly and has, says Morison, a dual meaning. As well as being silent and listening to nature, there is the idea that the natural world is itself becoming more silent due to the effects of climate change. Asking visitors to be silent, and creating a journey through the structure to the inside, will hopefully ‘make them become part of the work themselves,’ he adds.
Studio Morison chose to site the space alongside a lake in a copse of silver birch, some of which are integrated into the thatch-topped structure itself. The pavilion is constructed with a timber frame, a gridshell roof and low rammed earth walls. Before arriving in the central open courtyard, visitors pass around a liminal cloister-like passage, which allows oblique views out to the park through the timber slats. Views to the central space are screened by paper walls, and turf is visible above as an underlay to the thatch. There are two seating areas for contemplation – one around the exterior perimeter, and another inside, sheltered by the overhanging eaves.
The idea is that the structure will slowly erode as the materials it is made from age at different rates. First to go will be the paper internal walls. These are initially protected by the thatch, but that in time, will erode as it is used for nesting and nesting materials. Gradually the rammed earth will round off, and the hemp twine that ties the roofing timbers will disintegrate. The pavilion will become a skeletal frame with an organic mass on the ground, and eventually just two concentric circles in the earth.
The YSP sculpture follows a number of enigmatic interventions by Studio Morison in the landscape of the countryside. These include Mother… a thatched conical artwork for Wysing Arts Centre in Cambridgeshire. Inspired by a hayrick, the space aims to reframe visitors’ experiences of the fenland setting, and explore the connections between mental health and the natural world. In Shropshire, the extraordinary clay structure called How To Survive the Coming Bad Years in the woods of Attingham Park (2008) was inspired by the forms of Middle Eastern rookeries, and built using soil, straw, timber and lime.
The studio's built work is not restricted to idyllic rural locations, however. Urban projects include Cave in Milton Keynes (2012), an elemental shelter formed of three concrete slabs and with no prescribed use, for people to appropriate as they wish and so feel ownership of the space. In Coventry, public realm work includes an ongoing project at the cathedral precinct as well as fantastic play structures for a new area called Preach Trade Play at Bull Yard in the city centre. The latter is accompanied by an area of long outdoor seating where people can gather to sit, eat and socialise in extended groups. The inventive names – the seating is called Tiny Little Witches Hovering – suit the quirky nature of the pieces. As part of Coventry UK City of Culture 2021, Studio Morison worked with boat builders to create the RV Furor Scibendi, a brightly decorated canal boat containing a library of short stories. This will sail on canals between Coventry and Lancashire as part of the Small Bells Ring project to host readings, performances and discussions.
The studio is working on a dozen or so projects, including a couple of confidential pavilions, as well as non-built, people-based work.
‘Creating connections between people and groups of people is a sculpture within itself,’ says Morison.
To hear more about the project, watch Ivan Morison speak about Silence – Alone in a World of Wounds as part of the RIBA Architecture Anew series.