Contemporary art for Scottish Borders

Scotland’s Mellerstain House has welcomed three remarkable, large-scale inflatable installations from acclaimed Artist, Steve Messam. The out-of-the-ordinary pieces, Pointed, Towered and Scattered, are temporarily sited within the grounds of one of Scotland’s most outstanding examples of 18th-century architecture at the inaugural exhibition of Borders Sculpture Park.

Curated with Sarah Coulson of Yorkshire Sculpture Park, each piece of artwork from Messam’s XXX collection creates a dialogue with the surrounding environment, disrupting and transforming the way we perceive it. This exciting project brings high-quality, engaging and innovative contemporary art to the Scottish Borders; within the classical setting of Mellerstain’s William and Robert Adam-designed house and Sir Reginald Blomfield-designed gardens.

Messam’s site-specific works explore a sense of space, presence and place, combining historic features with bold, contemporary sculptural practice on a vast scale. The largest artwork in the series, Scattered, provides a visually-arresting centrepiece on the ornamental lake at the bottom of the great lawn.

Pointed and Towered are installed in ruins hidden in secluded glades, and must be discovered on a walk through the grounds. All white in colour, the three extraordinary forms are a contemporary echo of the marble sculptures that were originally envisaged to adorn the gardens.

By integrating inflatable, fabric sculptures very directly into the buildings and landscape of Mellerstain, Messam seeks to uncover some of the many layers of narrative bound up in this magnificent estate. In doing so, he establishes a lively dialogue between past and present, adding an unexpected and temporary new dimension to familiar vistas and architecture.

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Scattered, a series of spheres that appear to float like huge, opaque bubbles on the surface of the lake, punctuates one of the most known and impressive views of Mellerstain – a sweeping line from the main house across to the Hundy Mundy folly on the horizon – offering new views and perspectives. Up to 4m in diameter, these pure white shapes disrupt the wide-open space of the water and play with its scale, surface and light, bringing a sense of scale to the landscape.

Pointed sits within the former gatehouse and Pekingese stud and fills the void of the building, extending out from the long absent pitched roof that the inflatable form itself mimics. From this reimagined roofline 28 dynamic, elongated peaks rise over 3m into the air, reminiscent of a starburst or a stylised explosion frozen in time.

Towered emerges from the curved walls of the ruin of the old laundry near the beck; its column-like forms standing over 8m high. Though the two buildings appear to be follies in a state of partial ruin, they did originally serve a purpose. Some mystery surrounds their precise use at certain times, though, and Messam extends this uncertain history with new narratives, playing with their inherent sense of magic.

Jane, Lady Haddington of Mellerstain House, comments: “We have been imagining the Borders Sculpture Park for a while now, working with Curator, Sarah Coulson, to bring the project into being. We have always thought that the grounds of Mellerstain and the views they provide would lend themselves to temporary art exhibitions, which would complement the historic collections we have in the house and provide a new attraction for the summer season in the Borders.

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“For our inaugural exhibition, Steve Messam has created an amazing visual experience – which is what Borders Sculpture Park at Mellerstain is all about. The three massive works give a bizarre, even magical, feel to their surroundings.”

Steve Messam comments: “In the use of historical buildings and the designed landscape, XXX draws on the architectural significance of both the rare complete Robert Adam house and the historically important Sir Reginald Blomfield-redesigned gardens at Mellerstain. As interventions, the sculptures speak the language of scale – all three are bigger than a house. As studies in scale and form, these artworks have to be directly experienced in the environment to be fully appreciated, so I hope they will encourage even more people to visit this wonderful architectural gem in the Scottish Borders.”

Sarah Coulson, Curator of XXX at Borders Sculpture Park, comments: “It is wonderful, after a number of years of thinking, research and careful development, to see Borders Sculpture Park’s first project come to fruition. Steve Messam is the perfect artist to launch the programme as his practice is embedded in the rural environment and he understands its challenges and nuances. His work demonstrates a skillful understanding of scale and is underpinned by a careful reading of the environment in which it is sited, ensuring that it feels intricately connected with the place, as well as adding exciting new layers to its visual memory.”

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