Holly Hendry at Cowley ManorHolly Hendry at Cowley Manor

Cowley Manor is a country house hotel, modelled on the Villa Borghese in Rome, located near Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. It is part of the Curious Hotels group, aimed at guests and visitors interested in culture. Set in acres of parkland, woods and meadows with lakes and Victorian cascades, the hotel was opened by Peter and Jessica Frankopan in 2002 with the vision of a cultural programme which would support young artists. In 2012, the Cowley Manor Arts Award was set up in partnership with the Royal College of Art. This sculpture competition gives emerging young British sculptors the opportunity to showcase their work. 

On 21st April 2016, Marco Miehling won the fifth Cowley Manor Arts Award with Untitled (Nature), which comprised a bronze cleat connected to a sunken copper object by rope. A work which explores the merging of space controlled by man with the unspoiled space of nature. Miehling elaborated on the ideas behind this exhibit, explaining that it ‘emphasises the relation between geometry and nature; between the ordered and the unordered; between the presence and the absence. Its essential is based on Marcel Duchamp‘s tenet of the ‘absolute indifference’. There are two opposing objects. On the one hand they differentiate themselves in space, material and method of casting. On the other hand they have the same ritual of casting in general: a common denominator and a shared heritage. Both will be a contemporary witness of their space.’ Miehling’s Untitled (Nature) will be permanently displayed in the grounds of Cowley Manor, alongside the winning sculptures from previous years. The works of the six other finalists from 2016 will also remain on show until September this year. 

One 2016 finalist’s work, which particularly appealed to us, was Pummelby Holly Hendry, described as ‘an interactive sculpture referencing a guest’s use of Cowley Manor as a place of relaxation and complete immersion.’ We asked her to tell us more about this interesting submission.

How did your Cowley Manor work Pummel evolve?

Holly Hendry: I had the idea for this form floating around in my head for a while beforehand – based on the idea of furniture that is specifically made to shape our bodies like the odd curvaceousness of massage chairs. I wanted the work similarly to have all the seductive curves of a massage chair, but also to have weaknesses where it’s lumpy and bumpy and bursting at the seams like the kneading lumpiness of a Philip Guston painting that you ‘see feelingly’.

When I arrived at Cowley Manor, there was some discussion about where my work should be sited, but I found a perfect spot. I wanted a flat plane, and the site I chose felt right because it was on the top lawn overlooking the grounds near the sunloungers. I also liked the association of the shape as a sunlounger or deckchair, which would tempt people to interact with the sculpture in that way, as it is made to fit the body – especially the squiggly bit!

Can you expand on the notion of scale in response to site here?

Pummel has a very human scale and almost feels like furniture, alluding to the domestic, but as it was modular, the work took on a bigger scale in its constituent parts. I like the idea that we can relate to it, yet it feels constructed and unnatural, particularly in that setting.

How do you plan your work?

I don’t tend to draw and sketch, instead I like to try out materials and experiment to see where things lead. I love using certain tools and testing how material inflates or adapts. As well as this very physical, tactile approach, I also like to use computer drawings to imagine the inner space and scale of the work in relation to its setting, and this combination gives me a good impression of how the final work will look.

How was the work made and can you explain your casting methods?

The sculpture was made of oak beams, CNC plasma cut stainless steel and Jesmonite that was cast from an inflatable that I had also made. I sewed latex sheeting to make the inflatable and then made a mould from that which I used to cast the solid form. Because I made the inflatable, it wasn’t totally air-tight and so as I was casting it, it was deflating. The mould was a frozen moment in the form’s deflation, when it was becoming squishy and saggy – totally beyond my control! It was exciting to witness this process, and for it to become part of the final work. This was so different from the original ‘perfect’ form I had envisaged, because it became mottled, lumpy and had my finger prints on it, so Pummel seemed a fitting title. I am interested in quite a traditional process like this – and then seeing it going off the rails a bit.

With your themes of uncertainty and concealing, what drew you to these materials?

The oak is a material that will alter over time with the weather; it will move and change colour to a greyer tone, yet the Jesmonite will stay the same, so that this becomes an evolving relationship. I like the prosthetic element set against the natural, and the way that it is bolted together, but feels as though it has the potential to move. The material is seductive – you think it is going to be soft and squishy, but when you sit on it, the Jesmonite is hard and uncomfortable. The wood is green oak, which is used in the framework of houses, and is quite pale against the ‘pop’ of the pink. The oak acts as the skeleton of the work, anchoring it, which the more organic forms then fit to, because the Jesmonite was cast into the stainless steel elements. It was important to have these parts CNCplasma cut – perfect, shiny and unchanging. Industrial and exact in opposition to the lumpy Jesmonite form; a predeterminedly precise component that contrasts with the unknowing and imprecise form that I enjoyed creating in the casting process.

These constructed elements also relate to the notion of the ‘add-on’. The details of the steel plasters are like the sticky plaster, which protects and conceals, becoming like a second skin – but these are also still objects in their own right. For me, it relates to the skin and our ability to heal, as well as the application of a plaster being an edge which both seams and seals a punctured surface.

What inspires you to make public art?

It is interesting making work in the public domain, where there are different rules from that of gallery space – for me, it is all about interaction and reaction. In my other public art work, which was titled Plasteredand existed at The Secret Garden Party (SGP) last year, I made joints that looked like enlarged furniture joints, so the work was about craft and the familiar. The organic form of the wooden structure was developed after considering its intended use for a festival. I wanted it to function as furniture too – something you want to slide your body between. The wooden framework was pasted with human-size ‘cartoonified’ versions of plasters – chunky, fleshy forms that implied some sort of use for bodily cushioning, where people could stand, sit or lie on the surface – a reverse of the original use of a plaster, while still connecting to ideas of repairing and healing. In a similar way, people come to Cowley to relax, unwind and revive themselves, so I hope they see Pummel and instinctively want to interact with it, although when they do – it may not feel quite as they expected!

Main image: Holly Hendry, Plastered, 2015, Birch ply, silicone and flexible foam (photo: Holly Hendry)

Aurora Corio