New Arcadia (2014) Digital collage lightbox
Orleans House Gallery
New Arcadia and The Pleasure Garden explore disparities, hypocracies and contradictions found in eighteenth century society: A time marked by dramatic shifts in society, with an increasingly urbanised population, a widening gap between rich and poor, but also new opportunities to shift up or down the social spectrum. The richest in society began to enjoy wider possibility of travel, not just through trade, but also tourism both at home and abroad in the form of The grand tour. For those unable to undertake expensive and protracted travel, new leisure activities existed such as Pleasure Gardens enjoyed (and exploited) by a wider spectrum of society
Increasingly the architecture and design seen (and purchased) abroad was adopted the into private and public gardens and architecture at home. New Arcadia draws inspiration from eighteenth century garden design and Neoclassical architecture, in particular Charles Hamilton's extraordinary gardens at Painhill Park (Surrey). Hamilton's design for Painhill Park acts as a series of vistas complete with spectacular follies and striking pastoral scenes. Hamilton creates a series of visual spectaculars that include elements such as vinyards, a Turkish tent and even a ruined Greek temple designed specifically to display real antiquities purchased by Hamilton on the grand tour cicuit.
I was particularly drawn to the “ruined abbey” which was designed to mask a brickworks that lay on the edge of Hamilton's estate. The use the abbey folly to screen out an industrial brickworks acts almost as a metaphor for the age. Seductive and fantasitical visual escapism based in the past, or an imagined and constructed rural idyll offered provides a striking contrast to the increased industrialisation and associated architecture, widening poverty and exploitation, and the seedy undercurrent of alcoholism, prostitution, deprivation and crime found in many sectors of society including the Pleasure Gardens of the era.