Take a first look at the new artwork inspired by six of the rarest books in this north Norfolk library
PUBLISHED: 09:41 23 May 2019 | UPDATED: 09:41 23 May 2019
The Edge of Things takes inspiration from some of the books in Blickling Estate’s impressive book collection, and brings the age of enlightenment to a brand new audience.
Regular visitors to the National Trust's Blickling Estate will be familiar with the Long Gallery Library, a sumptuous room housing over 12,500 books - the largest and oldest collection in the conservation charity's care - covering every subject imaginable. But if you've ever wanted to get a closer look at the collection, a new exhibition called The Edge of Things will allow you to glimpse some of the world's rarest texts.
Inspired by just six of the books in Blickling's collection, artists Neville and Joan Gabie have created four immersive art installations. The works use sound, video, story-telling and an intricate tapestry project to bring a period of history, known as the age of enlightenment, to life - as well as to a contemporary audience.
Neville and Joan were given free rein in Blickling's historic library, under the guidance of National Trust librarian John Gandy. Using some of the most important works from the 17th century, they decided to showcase how our understanding of the known world - from science and map-making to language and exploration - changed national perceptions. "We really wanted to capture this important moment in history," explains Joan.
Bringing Language Home is one of the first installations in the house, and, located in the upper ante-room and in the Long Gallery itself, it is one of the most powerful. Based on one of the first books ever printed in the United States, known as The Eliot Bible, it uses a series of life-size moving portraits and emotive audio recordings to explore the idea of a lost language.
Together, these recordings tell the story of how The Eliot Bible, published in 1663, became the only record of the indigenous Wampanoag language, which fell out of use in the 1800s. But as contemporary voices of the community echo throughout the Long Gallery, the profound, real-world importance of this book becomes clear. In the last thirty years, the book - of which only 40 remain across the world - has helped to create a dictionary and teach a small Boston community the Wampanoag language.
Natural history and scientific discovery are the main themes explored throughout the other installations on the estate, and include After Gesner, a piece of community artwork. Using original texts by Konrad Gesner, a Swiss naturalist and physicist, Joan has produced ink drawings inspired by a zoological index of intricate illustrations and worked with Blickling's volunteer team to transform them into a series of stunning monochrome tapestries. As these are still being produced by the team, visitors to the Document Room can see them in progress before a full, fold-out tapestry is displayed in the autumn.
A gentle walk through the estate's gardens leads to the orangery, where a series of videos showcase the microscopic - Holding A Grain of Sand - and the macro - Carrying The Moon. To produce the works, which are inspired by scientific texts produced as early as the 13th century, Neville worked with a paleobiologist at Bristol University and a group of local astronomers from north Norfolk. The videos use scale in alternating ways to create a awe-inspiring contrast, and shots of Neville, included in the frame, are a subtle depiction of man's impact, not just on science, but on the natural world.
The Edge of Things is the second exhibition of this kind to be commissioned by Blickling Estate, following the success of The Word Defiant which took place last year. Both have been created as part of a large-scale project to increase awareness of the estate's impressive library - and the vital conservation work which needs to take place. Environmental factors such as damp and an infestation of death watch beetle, believed to have been in the library for decades, if not centuries, has put Blickling's impressive collection at risk.
"We hope that visitors to Blickling will find something new in The Edge of Things," says librarian John Gandy, who has worked with Neville and Joan throughout the project. "But we also hope that it will attract another segment - people who will see that the event is happening, and will want to come and see what it's about."
The Edge of Things was launched as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2019, and will be open daily until Sunday, October 27. Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/blickling-estate for more information.
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