For almost a quarter of a century, the Cass Sculpture Foundation has commissioned more than 400 works, mostly by the UK’s top artists and sculptors. From Henry Moore and Sir Anthony Caro, to its best-known student Phillip King; the foundation’s 26-acre woodlands in Sussex showcase an ever-changing display of monumental sculptures, dotted among tall trees and verdant grounds.
It all started with Wilfred and Jeannette Cass, now aged 92 and 89 respectively. The couple, who are avid art collectors, wanted to provide support in the local arts scene. The result is a not-for-profit organisation that has helped many emerging British figures in the world of contemporary sculpture.
All this will change in July as the Cass Sculpture Foundation goes global by commissioning works for a major show by international artists. ‘A Beautiful Disorder’ features the work of 16 contemporary Chinese artists, with most displaying daring statement pieces. Among them is a politically charged plant-based installation by renowned socio-political artist Zheng Bo.
Bo’s sculpture, not to be missed at the exhibition, is called Socialism Good. Using red, yellow and green plants, the colourful display forms the popular Chinese propaganda slogan of the 1950s: “Socialism is Good.” It would be unlikely to last a day in China but Bo’s fertile project built specifically for the five-month-long exhibition at Cass will remain safe in the UK for an extensive period of time, allowing it to evolve into its own beautiful disorder.
The title of the exhibition is in fact a quote from a letter written in 1743 by Jean-Denis Attiret, a French painter and Jesuit missionary sent to China. In his letter describing the organic garden landscape of Yuanming Yuan in Beijing, Attiret wrote: “Unlike the geometric and structured gardens of Europe, they would rather choose a beautiful disorder… There reigns almost everywhere a sense of anti-symmetry.”
The chaotic and often opposing sensations felt by Attiret in that ancient Chinese garden somehow resonate most in Li Jinghu’s Escape (My Family History). Inspired by his personal experience of growing up in Dongguan (the border city between Mainland China and Hong Kong), Li created a minimalistic structure of two fences standing opposite one another on a levelled grassland.
The disarray will be witnessed by a roving searchlight affixed to each fence. Their illuminated trajectories occasionally intersect to form a cross on the ground and, over time, the grass that has been continually exposed to both searchlights will grow taller and more vibrant, creating an abstract, organic emblem on the ground. More than that, the moving structure has been designed to evoke the geopolitical anxiety of border controls and illegal immigration, faced by many of Li’s family members.
In addition, there’s an unruly piece created by Xu Zhen (MadeIn Company), who is also currently involved in an exhibition focusing on Chinese artists showcased by the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris. For Cass, Zhen and his team embarked on a long-term research project to come up with Movement Field, a site-specific installation consisting of a maze with various-sized replicas of protest and demonstration routes. So when visitors walk around in the seemingly peaceful garden, following the historical paths, they would symbolically be re-enacting these socio-political marches. But not all the participating artists in ‘A Beautiful Disorder’ are fuelled by politics.
Sculptor Jennifer Wen Ma focuses on landscape or nature that encourages viewer involvement. Visit Ma’s installation at the main gallery of Cass Sculpture Foundation to enter, explore and experience her interactive sculpture of a seemingly capsized tree.
In Attiret’s letter of 1743, he wrote: “You would think, that they were formed upon the ideas of so many different foreign countries; or that they were all built at random, and made up of parts not meant for one another. But if it were you who saw them, you would admire the art, with which all irregularity is conducted.
“All is in good taste; and so managed, that its beauties appear gradually, one after another. To enjoy them as one, you should view every piece by itself; and you would find enough to amuse you for a long while, and to satisfy all your curiousity.”
The exhibition will run from 3 July to 6 November 2016. For more information, please click here.