I was at the National Trust’s house The Vyne last Thursday, being shown round with sixty other artists.
The Vyne’s the focus of all kinds of activity: what you might expect, with knowledgeable volunteers giving tours of house and garden, but also geo-caching, disabled groups developing the walled garden, and a wetland conservation area, amongst many other things. There’s something about the many layers of history, of narrative maybe, that seems to help people feel attached to it, and makes these multiple overlapping communities all feel at home there.
It reminded me of my time doing outdoor conservation work at Heligan (this is us clearing the second pool in the Jungle Garden). Among the long-term volunteers were many people in crisis who found a place there – I think the story of the reclamation of the gardens spoke to them very personally, and Heligan was big enough in all senses to accommodate them.
So I’m more optimistic than usual about the unravelled project at The Vyne, which will use art to evoke stories, histories, and a sense of place. It’s not just the specific art interventions that are exciting, it’s the encouragement to visitors to make use of the place and its history. The gardens and the woods are always in the process of being re-made, made-over: without human intervention they would be lost into wilderness (as Heligan was once, of course). Unravelled seems to be a way to make over the stories of the house, to make a fresh, living connection with the place.