For our Quiet Down There summer team day-out, we went to see A Woman’s Place at Knole House. We looked at the exhibition, walked around the gardens and discussed future projects for QDT.
A Woman’s Place, curated by Lucy Day and Eliza Gluckman, is a collection of commissions by six contemporary artists. Lubaina Himid, CJ Mahony, Lindsay Seers, Emily Speed, Alice May Williams and Melanie Wilson have created art installations that explore equality through the stories of women who have lived at Knole.
Lubaina Himid has two works, Flag for Grace- on the very top of the tower and Collar and Cuffs a collection of paintings attached to the water pipes in the courtyard. In these works Himid represents Grace Robinson, a laundry maid at Knole in the 17th century and possibly the only black servant working at Knole at this time. The flag is an African print of red, white and blue and the paintings depict intricate details of the materials and lace that reference Grace's work at Knole and the fashion of the time. I loved these female portraits positioned in the courtyard- they were small and easy to miss but possibly this was intentional to highlight that the courtyard was a space that Grace would have not been able to go to.
Melanie Wilson’s soundwork Women of Record starts by describing the lines of the house, the scale, stone walls and this really draws you in. The soundwork is inspired by extracts from Lady Anne Clifford and Lady Frances Cranfield’s letters and autobiography. Both lived at Knole and describe relationships and inheritance and feelings of injustice and loss. The listener then hears contemporary stories recounted alongside which mirror the losses experienced by Anne and Frances. The contemporary stories are told with such raw emotion, in a way that the listener can relate, which in turn gives a deeper understanding to the historical stories and the strength needed to survive as a women at Knole.
At the top of the house in a back room we watched Alice May Williams’ film By The Accident Of Your Birth. The film takes its title from Vita Sackville-West's book The Edwardians and is inspired by her inheritance being given to her cousin Eddy instead of her. The film looks at class and gender identity and privilege and power. The repetition of the visual image and the language used make it thought provoking and powerful. The quick pace creates drama, keeping the viewer on edge and leaves you wanting to know more.
I leave Knole feeling completely inspired by the works i had seen and thought that the commissions really added to the traditional experience of visiting the house. For me, the contemporary artworks made it easier to connect and learn about the history of Knole and the fact that the stories were previously untold and were about real people made it more personal, more interesting and a more fulfilling experience.
By Emily Atkinson