A Playful Take on History

Better-known for his large-scale installations, acclaimed artist Steve Messam enjoys altering our relations with architecture and public spaces. In his new exhibition “These Passing Things”, he brings a whimsical perspective to our relation with history.

Nowadays, the visitors of the 300-hectare UNESCO World Heritage site of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Park are pleasantly surprised to witness a teasing recreation of the past in modern times. The three installations in Steve Messam’s “These Passing Things” exhibition hosted at the park invite the audience to look at landscapes and historic buildings from another perspective; increasing our chances of connecting with urban spaces by allowing us to participate in spaces and periods we do not belong to.

Comprising twelve floating pyramids in the canal of Studley Royal Park, the installation “Drifted” was inspired by the designs for a 16-metre-tall funerary Pyramid which was commissioned by William Aislabie in honour of his father (and the designer of the park) who died in 1742. Although scale drawings are available, no record or evidence exists whether this mysterious pyramid was ever built. The pyramids promise a new landscape experience on the canal while looking for traces of the past.

Another exhibit in the park is “Bridged” – an installation sitting across the river Skell, seeking to solve another mystery. This time, Messam uses his playful and cheeky nature to highlight a lost iron bridge from the 18th century.

The most striking of the three is “Spiked”, a piece that can be seen “occasionally”. The inflatable yellow spikes brazenly protruding between the columns of the Temple of Piety brings to mind the possibility of resurrecting history and makes us question our chances of connecting with the past.

Bold and wondrous, “These Passing Things” can be seen at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal until autumn 2021.