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Form and Transform: Michael Eden at Waddesdon Manor

31 May 2018 | Emily May

Previously having collaborated with the likes of potter and ceramicist Kate Malone, Waddesdon Manor is as notable for its commissions of contemporary artists as it is for its extensive collection from yesteryear. It is in this spirit that they welcomed Michael Eden to the Manor as their artist in residence, who is now exhibiting his innovative re-interpretations of the Waddesdon Collection in their Coach House Gallery.

With a background as a potter, Michael Eden has surpassed all expectations by moving away from traditional techniques to create his first major solo exhibition. Employing technologies usually utilized by Formula 1 engineers, Eden has produced a range of garishly coloured decorative vases and sculptures out of nylon, using a process called Additive Layer Manufacturing, which layers thin sheets of powder to create the final, intricate product. Further technologies such as 3D scanning/printing are also used to facilitate the process, which are demonstrated to fascinating effect within the exhibition, as you can see a 3D printer working before your very eyes. One may presume that the use of such cutting-edge technology opposed to a more “handmade” approach would result in a dehumanisation of the artist, yet the resulting artworks are lively and interesting, reflecting Eden’s own enthusiasm and playfulness. After all they are still technically handmade, but instead of a potter’s wheel, Eden’s tool is a computer mouse.

Image Credit: Emily May
                                                 
Viewers are reminded of this digital start point, as many of the artworks are displayed with a backdrop of Eden’s blue print designs, which look like cobwebs, or computerised skeletons of the final products. There are also some opportunities to compare the new creations with their historic counterparts, for example After Saly is displayed in front of the 18th Century vase drawings on which it was based, enabling direct comparison. However, it is advisable to venture up to the house after viewing Form and Transform to hunt down the original artworks that inspired the rest of Eden’s collection. It is worth noting that some of these influences aren’t all full vases, but sometimes Eden has taken small details from the architecture of the building to combine with other elements to create his multi-layered work, such as some brickwork patterning on the front façade of the manor.

Rather than being placed on plain white plinths, Eden’s creations are nestled within room-like settings to reflect how the original inspirations from Waddesdon’s collections are displayed in a domestic manor house, opposed to a traditional black box gallery. Art works are placed delicately on marble side tables and are stood on detailed wooden desks - Eden’s Pair of Elephant Vases (based off the original vases by Sevres on show in the Manor) are even displayed in the very boxes their counterparts are stored in when they are “put to bed” during the winter months.

Image Credit: Emily May

It was during this “winter hibernation” that Eden made his first visit to Waddesdon in 2016. “It was like a film set” Eden states, describing how the rooms were dimly lit, and all the sculptures, furniture and precious objects were covered in cloth, following Alice de Rothschild’s (who inherited the house in 1892) strict programme of conservation. Many of “Miss Alice’s rules” are still implemented in the Manor, and they became a key inspiration for the carefully considered curation of the exhibition. As you embark upon your procession down the Coach House Galley, you begin in subdued light, with many of the display furniture draped in white linen, giving an impression of the eerie torpor that Eden experienced. However, at the end of the exhibition you are greeted by “enlightenment”, a section paying homage to the hope of spring with an expansive, golden, reflective mirror, bright spotlights and colourful surroundings. This final section also alludes to the 18th Century Enlightenment period, and the spiritual state of the same name referenced in religions such as Buddhism, and this philosophical theme is reflected in one of the standout works of the exhibition Dido Monstrance.

Image Credit: Emily May

Dido Monstrance is entirely covered with gold leaf, and like most of Eden’s unique objects, requires careful examination to disseminate the intricate details and stories it possesses. What at first may appear to be an abstract, spiky golden starburst is in fact a covert comment on the modern-day philosopher. Sat around the bottom of the object are a series of miniature Greek philosophers, staring into smart phones. Above them, the protruding sparks are adorned at the ends with the emblems of social media sites Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, highlighting the fact that modern philosophy has fallen into the hands of the internet and its “keyboard warriors”. Is this democratic, or diluting academic thought? It’s up to you to decide. Another such art work that requires closer inspection is After Piranese I, which at first glance seems like an abstract grey form, yet transpires to be a 3D collage of famous figures, with intertwined replications of Nefertiti, Einstein and even Mickey Mouse!

Image Credit: Emily May

There’s plenty more to explore at Waddesdon amidst their endless rolling grounds and extensive art collection, which notably feature Reynolds paintings, an extensive armoury and an array of antique desks - one of which once belonged to Louis XVI! Don’t miss Michael Eden’s design of Waddesdon’s carpet bedding to the rear of the manor – a further contribution during his time as artist in residence - which will be a flower bed depicting a pixelated view of the house’s south facade, to be completed by 8 June. There’s also the current Silver Caesars exhibition which runs until 22 July, a once in a lifetime display of mysterious Renaissance treasures, which you can read more about in our review.
 
Form and transform runs until 21 October 2018 at the Coach House Gallery in Waddesdon Manor. Entry to the exhibition is free with grounds admission. Waddesdon Manor is open Wednesday – Sunday from 21 March - 28 October with the grounds accessible 21 March - 4 November. There is a free shuttle bus service from Aylesbury Vale Parkway station to the visitor Welcome Pavilion. Waddesdon Manor is located in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP18 0JH.
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