Large flying horse made of disjointed metal parts
Art,  England,  Photographing Public Art

Radical Horizons: the Art of Burning Man at Chatsworth

Burning Man is a unique event that takes place every year in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, USA. But today we are not in the deserts of Nevada. Instead we are among the green hills of England’s Peak District.

The beautiful Chatsworth House has been the home of the Dukes of Devonshire for centuries. The house, and its stunning gardens, are popular visitor attractions. The latter were designed by Joseph Paxton, while the surrounding parkland bears the unmistakable hallmarks of Capability Brown.

This summer, the park (which is free to visit apart from a car park fee) has been taken over by twelve large sculptures. Four of these were built on site, including three created in the parkland with the help of local schools and community groups over the course of the year. This echoes the build process at Burning Man which sees teams of volunteers gathering in the desert to create new artworks. The remaining eight have travelled here from the festival in Nevada.

I hope Marsha will overlook the £5 we paid to park here and allow me to share my favourites for the Photographing Public Art challenge. We stopped off in Derbyshire on our way home from Yorkshire, staying a night in a pub near Chatsworth specifically to be able to see these works, and were so glad that we had.

NB Some of my text below is taken verbatim from the map of the exhibits on the Chatsworth website.

Wings of Glory, by Adrian Landon

This is a mythical horse and has been sited in front of the former stable block. Unfortunately something was wrong with the mechanics when we visited so the wings, which should move, were still. But it was still an impressive piece, towering above us as we started our explorations.


The Flybrary, by Christina Sporrong

This huge head was visible from the drive as we arrived so we made a bee line for it after photographing Wings of Glory. There are books flying from the top, like a flurry of ideas. The Flybrary is an invitation to let your imagination run free!


Transmutation, by Arturo Gonzales and Maru Izaguirre

This fantasy creature was inspired by Mexican folk art. It is a hybrid of many animals and viewers are invited to see which they can spot. It clearly has the tusks of a walrus and in addition I believe I found horses’ hooves (rear legs), bears’ feet (front legs), deer antlers and a cat’s face. What can you see?


Elysian Spires

This is one of the collaborative pieces, created with the help of Derbyshire Virtual School which supports young people in care to reach their full potential.


Lodestar, by Randy Polumbo

A flower blooms from the fuselage of a plane. This is a military jet called Lodestar, but the name also describes a guiding principle or inspiring person.

I found this piece slightly disconcerting because of its resemblance to a plane crash. It reminded me of watching the TV series Lost!


Relevé

This is another of the collaborative pieces and is designed to celebrate the rebellious spirit of dance, music and art. It reminded me of simple houses in Africa, or perhaps a yurt or Navajo hogan.

If you look closely at the strips of wood attached to the lower part of each ‘column’ like shingles, you find that they have been written on. At first I deplored this defacement of a work of art. But on close inspection I came to realise that these messages and occasional drawings are part of it. They document individual responses to the work and its use of found materials.


Le Attrata, by Margaret Long and Orion Fredericks

This was one of my favourite pieces. As the map/guide says, you wouldn’t normally expect to see moths made of such a rigid material as metal. This piece has been inspired by the way moths are attracted to light. At its centre is a reflective steel ball which I assumed represents the light to which these giants have been drawn. It also presented an interesting opportunity for reflection shots.


Coralee

This was another of my favourites; I liked the way the mermaid has been situated next to a beautiful tree-shaded pool. She was created from glass and scrap metal donated by the Chatsworth estate and the local community. Children from a nearby school made the glass scales and visited the site to work with the artists.


Mum, by Mr and Mrs Ferguson

From a distance this mother bear and cub may look furry but they are anything but! Close inspection reveals that their ‘fur’ is made from hundreds of old coins (I think halfpennies) set into the surface on their sides. The guide notes that it is over 1,000 years since wild bears would have roamed here. Maybe the artists had their disappearance in mind when they elected to use an obsolete coin?


I did photograph all the sculptures (bar one which we couldn’t find) but these are my favourites and/or those which turned out best!

I visited Chatsworth in August 2022

59 Comments

  • Jane Lurie

    For a moment I wondered if you had been to Burning Man! Such a big deal here. Love your photos of these unusual sculptures. The creativity of artists is amazing!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      No, I’m not really into festivals and as I said to Paul below, I prefer my deserts silent and empty! But I would like to see pieces like these in such a setting, just without everyone else around!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Sandy 🙂 No, I don’t think they’re touring anywhere so I doubt you’d get the chance to see them – although tbh I don’t what’s planned for them after the exhibition finishes at the start of October.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      As I said in my reply to your comment on your own post, that’s odd. I’d understood WP had sorted the glitch and others who’ve tested it (Paul and Resinrapture below) say it’s working OK now. Maybe if you log out and in again?

  • Marsha

    Wow, Wow, Wow! This post reeds a look and a relook and then another even after reading every word and every comment. First of all I looked up Capability Brown. I bet he would be thrilled to see his landscapes now and see how they are not only still there, but still living and inspiring. I loved the head with books flowing from it. I think this depicts the theme for the entire campus. New ideas flowing from the minds of others inspiring others even into new fields. Several of these pieces look inspired by works of science fiction or even Disney, in the case of the mermaid. Your photography is fabulous. The details as I look into the twirly eyes and root fingers of the mermaid, or look to the sky from the underside of a bug are marks of great photography to me. Your comparison of the banana plane to Lost intrigued me. I loved that show. Again sci-fi. The African or native home with the twig roof, especially as seen from inside impressed me as well. I agree with you about the artwork. However, the pictures and words do add to the fabric of the piece and give it texture. Speaking of texture, the bears are so fascinating. Who thinks of this stuff? Extinct bears made from extinct coins. Such brilliance. I can’t say enough about this post, Sarah.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you so much Marsha 😊 I really appreciate the time you’ve put into looking at these pieces and commenting so thoroughly. I do see what you mean about the SF influences – maybe more at the fantasy end of that genre? And the point you make about Flybrary and the overall theme of the exhibition is an excellent one!

  • Paul

    Hello Sarah, The art is very cool, especially the horse. Not a giant fan of the notion of Burning Man, the event. I think that we should leave the more untouched areas like the Black Rock Desert untouched. The event is not exactly environmentally friendly. Nature never meant for the desert to accommodate up to 80,000 self indulgent humans.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Paul. I’ve never been to Burning Man nor had any desire to do so, and I completely take your point about the impact it must have on the desert environment. I wouldn’t want to be among such crowds in the desert either – it should be a place of quiet and solitude imho.

  • ResinRapture

    I’ll try to comment from the post directly. Fantastic pieces! The mermaid, the giant insects and the horse are my favorites. They have a bit of steampunk about them. And the flybrary fascinates me, or the way you photographed it, I am not sure. Are the metal plates of that head of different color or is it just the angle that gives the impression? The front view of that giant head looks surprisingly two-dimensional, like a cartoon almost, because even though the plates have an angle they don’t seem to cast a shadow. Hard to describe what I mean.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you for your thoughtful and interesting responses to the artworks. Yes, the WP problem seems to be sorted now so I deleted your duplicate comment 🙂 I agree about the steampunk vibe – maybe that’s why those pieces especially appealed to me too? The ‘books’ flying out of the Flybrary head are of a shiny steel, not rusty like the rest of the sculpture. The head is very much three dimensional, but maybe that rust, combined with the rather dull lighting, gives the metal a flat look in the photos?

      • ResinRapture

        Glad to see it really seems to be sorted. It’s almost sad to imagine that some of these sculptures will fall victim to rust at some point. Maybe the artists planned on that, and the patina adds to the charm, but they must have taken years of work to finish and I imagine the fine details of the mermaids features will probably just fall apart. As for the flybrary head – two-dimensional was maybe not the right word, that sounds negative, it’s more cleanly separated areas of color, like a painting. No harsh shadows. It looks perfect.

        • Sarah Wilkie

          Yes, I do see what you mean about the lack of shadows. As I said, the weather was a bit dull at that point (it got brighter later) so that will have eliminated most of the shadows. The rust I’m sure is deliberate, as it’s a new piece. I’m not sure where they will all go after 1st October when this exhibition is due to end. They will actually burn Relevé on that date but what happens to the others I have no idea!

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    Just tested (as you no doubt noticed) and it appears to be working again. Chatsworth is another place with which I’m hugely familiar, given where I grew up. I still love visiting there, both for its own enjoyment and for the nostalgia thing. Reminds me of my Mum & Dad.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you for testing – much appreciated 🙂 Immediately afterwards my site went down completely – caused, Bluehost told me, by work to improve the server!
      Funnily enough I first went to Chatsworth with my parents too – not because we lived in the area but because visiting stately homes was part of my childhood, something we always did on holidays. I was often bored, but at other times entranced, especially by the gardens and overall splendour!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Margaret 🙂 We hadn’t been for years and didn’t go inside either house or gardens on this visit either (too short of time) but I was reminded that it deserves a revisit one day!

  • ThingsHelenLoves

    A fascinating set of sculptures, love the shot of The Flybrary with the house in the background. Have you been to Burning Man in Nevada?

  • restlessjo

    Chatsworth is amazing in itself but these are fabulous. The first reminds me of War Horse but I really love the bears. I often find small penny sculptures in the woods in the UK.

  • margaret21

    We’d got it planned to come and see this for ourselves, but it hasn’t worked out. So thanks for visiting so we don’t have to! I’ve commented by logging out and logging in again. Your last post quite simply denied me all commenting rights!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Agh, with all the comments on this post I was hoping the problem was sorted! Paul told me WP are saying that it is. Glad you persisted and enjoyed the photos. I would still say see it for yourself if you can (you have until 1st October) as they’re so impressive in person 🙂

  • leightontravels

    Fascinating collection, I’ve enjoyed this wander through the grounds and reflecting on each piece. Moths are amazing. I do love Transmutation the most as it is inspired by Mexican folk art. Are they wings of an eagle? And that spiky tail reminiscent of certain dinosaur species?

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes, I thought those wings looked like a bird of prey of some sort. The tail could be two separate animals, with the darker bit at the end different to the rest? I was thinking lizard of some kind for the spiky part??

  • Nemorino

    What a great collection of lively and dynamic outdoor sculptures! That mythical horse at the beginning reminds me of the S-Printing Horse in Heidelberg, which I used to have on VT but so far have neglected to add to my current site. I’ll remedy that soon — thanks for the reminder.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Glad you enjoyed these Don 🙂 I’ll look out for your post on the Heidelberg horse – I don’t remember seeing anything like that on my one brief visit there!

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