Sculpture and Sheep – Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Situated in the rolling fields of the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park has been attracting art lovers and picnickers since 1977. With more and more permanent installations being, well, installed and some great visiting pieces, this Shlurer thought it was about time he visited after a lifetime of being Yorkshire born and bred.
It’s not the first place you think of for exhibiting world-renowned sculpture. Amidst sheep, the accompanying shit their presence implies and wandering cows, art lovers, picnickers and lovers of the outdoors can find plenty of surprises within the 500 acres of God’s own county the park occupies. And this is no mere scenic pathway from one dark interior-inhabiting sculpture to the next. Here the pieces are very much a part of the scenery, relating to and juxtaposing with the various natural formations they share the land with.
Bare to the elements, Henry Moore’s earthy sculptures take on a whole new form. He always took inspiration from natural forms for his shapes, and here they appear perhaps in their most natural viewing environment. Weathering and being worn down and altered by the weather, they become part of the landscape in a very real sense. His human figures seem like petrified giants from a bygone time, like the above female figure gazing out over the park.
Not all the permanent fixtures are so easily found (unless you cheat with a guidebook). Hidden treats lie hidden in the woods and grounds, in arrangements bound to baffle future archaeologists. Your first glimpse of them is as strange eldritch shapes in the distance, popping in and out of view through the trees. This approach to the sculpture layout leaves the park with a magical unearthly vibe throughout. This feeling is compounded by some of the more experimental pieces, including an open-domed area occupied by two benches which, upon being sat on, play musical notes depending on which bar you hit. You’re very much through the looking glass here folks.
Aside from the mystical wooded area, the park has temporary displays by featured artists to maintain variety in the sculpture on show. Yinka Shonibare MBE is the key figure of the current crop, with his Wind Sculptures standing tall and improbable, like shards of sinuous glass descended from the clouds. Best appreciated up close, they incorporate his usual use of traditional African batik fabric patterns, making comment on how British colonialism affected and shaped African identity. At 6 metres high and with a very asymmetrical shape, it’s impressive enough that they stand without their also being pleasing to the eye.
Some sculpture is too sensitive to the open air. Luckily for the longevity of the work, there are a wealth of side galleries. The jewel in the crown for these indoor galleries, if not the entire park, has to be the breathtaking Seizure (2008/2013) by Roger Hiorns. In its custom-built concrete bunker and with a capacity of 5 people per tour, this former abandoned London council pumped full of 75,000 litres copper sulphate and left for a month to crystalise is, without a doubt, stunning. The blue otherworldly glow and vision of the crystals is visually arresting and chemically beautiful. Everything is encased from ceiling to floor to light bulbs to bath tub in crystalline growth. It’s a piece genuinely evolving over time; the floor was once as crystalline and pointed as the walls and ceiling, but the constant footfall has worn it smooth, leaving it resembling the pockmarked surface of the moon. Even its destruction leaves it looking like something from elsewhere than a council flat in Southwark.
I cannot overemphasize the sheer damn size of the park. Taking in cow herds and sheep, the grounds take at least an hour to walk from one end to the other, and that’s without stopping off to admire the art. A definite day trip if you want to see everything, Yorkshire Sculpture Park may be one of the best countryside trips available in the North. I recommend to anyone, regardless of your love or not of art. There is just something for everyone.
All photos by Sam Coe, taken on a Minolta X-700 loaded with Lomography Tungsten 64 film cross-processed.