Exhibition Catalog

Unravelling the Manor House

Preston Manor
Introduction by Stella Beddoe
Unravelling the Manor House
Preston Manor

...Laura Splan's work with facial peel produces ghostly objects that map the body of one who is no longer in the house...

Stella Beddoe

Unravelling the Manor House at Preston Manor

In 2010 Unravelled launched its first project Unravelling the Manor House, at Preston Manor in Brighton. The exhibition opened at Preston Manor, part of Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove in May 2010.

The start of the show coincided with The Brighton Festival and ran for 3 months from 1st May 2010 to mid July 2010. Unravelling the Manor House saw twelve artists and makers using or subverting the notion of craft in extreme and conceptual ways. Eleven of the twelve artists developed new artworks specifically for the exhibition. The work responded to the house and brought the existing collection at Preston Manor to life.

We included a broad cross section of artists working in a variety of media and at various stages of their careers and provided them with a high profile showcase for contemporary artists and makers and the opportunity to engage with historic houses and stimulate practical craft activity and debate.

One of the five sites under the care of Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton and Hove, Preston Manor evokes the atmosphere of an Edwardian gentry house both ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’. Dating from c.1600, rebuilt in 1738 and substantially added to in 1905, the house and its contents give a rare insight into life during the early years of the 20th century.

Visitors can explore more than twenty rooms over four floors, from the servants’ quarters, kitchens and butler’s pantry in the basement to the attic bedrooms and nursery on the top floor. The Manor also has walled gardens and a pets’ cemetery

The Unravelling the Manor House artists explored many different stories, discovered during their research, that informed their work. These included a fantastical story about the odd job man, the parties and affairs conducted by family members, the upstairs downstairs ways of life and the suspected murder of a nun at the house.

About the Artwork

Trousseau is a series of site-specific sculptures created for Preston Manor. They are constructed from remnant cosmetic facial peel and reference the body as it relates to the unique history of Preston Manor. They are created by covering parts of my body with a gel facial masque. Once dried, l then peel the thin, plastic-like material off for use as fabric to construct the sculptures. The material has a fragile and transparent quality that retains a bodily form and an impression of the skin. The hooped embroideries in the Morning Room include excerpts from period publications quoted in the Preston Manor visitors guide. The Edwardian era sources allude to prescribed cultural ideals as they relate to beauty, gender and domesticity: "be the embodiment of all that is simple and pure” (Lady’s World) and "let the walls be white so that by contrast our bodies might appear ruddy with health” (The House and Its Equipment). The hanging sculpture in the North-West Room contains glove forms peeled from my own hands. The sculptures are embellished with ruffles and buttons alluding to garment-like artifacts. The sculptures have a ghostly exo-skin quality that evokes the accounts of paranormal events in Preston Manor. The objects function as metaphorical remnants of the past. I am interested in heirloom and domestic artifacts as loci of social and cultural constructs. These objects represent the way in which we invest our expectations of others and ourselves in the material world. There is an assumption in the heirloom tradition that one needs and wants the objects one receives. The shape of a unique hand in a glove challenges these notions. The receiver is attempting to "slip into the skin of another” that may just not fit. The ghosts here are not only paranormal but also cultural and historical.
—Laura Splan