Stations of the Cross
Off a minor road in rural eastern Northamptonshire, a track at the edge of a broad field climbs gently to what looks like a cruciform ruin. Lyveden New Bield is not strictly a ruin, however, but incomplete; in fact, much as it was when work stopped in 1605.
Built as a substantial lodge, largely to the design of local landowner Sir Thomas Tresham, its Greek Cross plan, motifs and inscriptions signal, sometimes cryptically, his position as a Catholic outsider in Protestant England.
At one corner of the clipped green platform on which the lodge stands is a spiral mound beside a canal: the boundary of an Elizabethan garden which has been gradually revealed in recent years, with further earthworks (two truncated pyramids and another spiral), strips of water, orchards and terraces.Owned by the National Trust, but without the usual pot-pourri outlet, it's a seductive, lowkey, quite unfrequented site.
In such a setting contemporary sculpture could seem superfluous, but with this exhibition Rosalind Stoddart proves otherwise. In her Year of the Artist residency at Lyveden New Bield she has created four works which, in their conception and placement, for once make apposite that abused term 'site specific'.
The first that comes into view, Emblem, is only a few metres from Tresham's abandoned building, on the same level platform surrounded by a sunken path. Three large, linked, upright squares formed of hollow steel sections are staggered to echo the lodge's plan, while, in the middle one, layers of plain and coloured perspex make a cross whose proportions are those of the windows. The danger that this last element might be too simplistic or insistent, in its allusion both to the building and to Tresham's faith, is countered by the two squares which are left entirely open; they serve as frames to focus attention on the undulating landscape beyond.
On the far side of the New Bield, at a distance up a mown allee in the wildflower meadow which the National Trust has reconstituted, is Temple - clearly in the eye-catcher tradition of garden buildings, but an abstracted temple, whose columns have turned into vertical planes of MDF and that is without a pediment or roof. Seen at close range the white-painted MDF proves to be layered, and the outer elements in each 'sandwich' are variously shaped - a modelling for which the sun needs to shine. These planes, seven in all (the numbers seven, five and three being integral to Tresham's New Bield scheme), are set at an angle, so directing the gaze past one side of the lodge to the mounds and garden behind. They connect with the site as a whole, not just the building.
Following that trajectory, and returning closer to the New Bield, you discover Stoddart's less conspicuous third work, Looking Beyond - four separate squares of mirrored perspex, each on a shallow tier of painted MDF fixed some centimetres above a lower tier that is similarly layered and treated. The mirror on the latter reflects the painted MDF immediately above, becoming a coloured pool, while the topmost one reflects the New Bield or a passing cloud. The proportional relationships of tiers and intervening void perhaps call for adjustment, and of course there are precedents (for example, Robert Smithson), but the squares of sky that these mirrors bring abruptly down to earth have great immediacy.
The last work, Shrine, is out of sight: small, triangular, and again layered (metal/MDF), it sits inside the lodge on a plinth like a devotional object.While the three works outside, in different ways, establish connections between the geometry of the New Bield, its site and the encompassing landscape, this suggests something precious at its core.