Janine Sterland meets the team behind Chatsworth’s innovative parkland sculpture exhibition and discover the origins of The Burning Man

Home to vast arid landscapes, rugged canyons and infinite skies etched with dark mountains, Nevada’s Black Rock Desert seems a world away from Chatsworth’s manicured rolling hills.

Yet it’s within this parkland, until October 1, that Chatsworth hosts the Radical Horizons exhibition; a series of extraordinary sculptures usually associated with the far-flung surroundings of the Nevada Desert.

‘The Peak District is a majestic and inspiring environment; it is an incredible opportunity to exhibit art here,’ says Kim Cook, director of creative initiatives at Burning Man.

‘And whilst the differences between Nevada and Chatsworth’s parkland are dramatic, what is also interesting are the unlikely similarities.

‘There is an evocation of story and a feeling of mythic quality, in spite of their distinct differences. Both landscapes are vast and inviting to the imagination and can hold the scale of artwork of this magnitude.’

Another similarity is that both locations presented significant engineering challenges during the sculpture installation process.

‘You cannot dig more than six inches into the ground in either location,’ reveals Kim.

‘At Chatsworth this is because of its archaeological relevance and at Burning Man it is because we are on a prehistoric lakebed.’

The History of Burning Man

With its origins on Baker Beach in San Francisco during 1986, Burning Man began when American Larry Harvey wished to celebrate Summer Solstice through building and burning a wooden figure.

‘It was a spontaneous act of creative self-expression, and the people who gathered decided it was enough fun to repeat it the following year’ Kim explains.

Great British Life: Wings of Glory, by Adrian LandonWings of Glory, by Adrian Landon (Image: Adrian Landon)

In 1990, the gathering had grown to around 800 people and, as the beach was no longer a viable location, the group discovered a new home in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

‘Today, more than 80,000 gather each year to build the world’s most imaginative and ephemeral city,’ says Kim. ‘We are fortunate to have more than 16,000 volunteers who create a place we call Black Rock City.’

In addition, Burning Man communities and leaders are active in 37 countries and collectively produce more than 100 events annually around the world each year.

‘Burning Man has grown from a scrappy, anarchist gathering into a global cultural movement that sparks innovation in design, business, technology, education, and urban planning,’ says Kim.

‘At Black Rock City Nevada each year hundreds of artworks are temporarily installed in the desert, ‘these include big and small art, quixotic pieces; art that shines by day and glows by night.’

A Common Ground

Great British Life: Le Attrata, by Margaret Long and Orion FredericksLe Attrata, by Margaret Long and Orion Fredericks (Image: Meike Gugel)

‘With the team at Chatsworth we have created a project both engaging and meaningful for visitors, while exploring the values and artworks stemming from Burning Man’s event in the Black Rock Desert,’ explains Kim.

These similarities include principles of sustainability, as Burning Man is the world’s largest leave-no-trace event - whilst Chatsworth has worked diligently to address sustainability.

Also at Chatsworth, there is a history of makers such as carpenters, joiners, metalworkers, and gardeners; Burning Man artists are also closely aligned with world maker culture.

‘When you take sustainability, maker culture and innovators as a whole, both Burning Man and Chatsworth have the opportunity to influence positive change in the world and encourage the next generation of artists by making the exhibition a hands-on experience’ Kim says.

In addition to the eight sculptures selected for the exhibition and one site-specific work, three will be built on site over the summer.

The Considered Sculpture Trail

Great British Life: Wings of Winds, carefully crafted from upcycled American coins sat amid Chatsworth's rolling landscapesWings of Winds, carefully crafted from upcycled American coins sat amid Chatsworth's rolling landscapes (Image: Brenda Newsam)

‘A great deal of time and thought was put into where the pieces would work, as well as how visitors would interact and journey around them,’ reveals Sarah Owen, director of development at Chatsworth.

‘We deliberately haven’t designated a set ‘route’ for people to follow, they are free to explore the landscape and discover the pieces as they move round the park.’

This relaxed trail includes eight pieces previously shown at Black Rock City - one being a site-specific commission by artist Benjamin Langholz which, describes Sarah, ‘reflects the materials and shapes on and within the Derbyshire landscape.’

During July, Rebekah Waites will build a piece called ‘Relevé’ based on the legend of the nine ladies stone circle and Dana Albany will work with local community children to build an artwork entitled ‘Coralee.’

Taking the form of a mermaid inspired by the folklore of the Mermaid’s Pool, situated just below Kinder Scout in the High Peaks, this will be built of found objects collected locally by the children.

‘There are also commissioned pieces as two were based on previous works but made specifically for Radical Horizons,’ adds Sarah.

These feature an enormous symmetrical rotating ‘Wings of Wind’ design as well as a mother bear and her cub, carefully crafted from upcycled American coins – each cleverly placed on their edges to create differences in tone and replicate the texture of animal fur.

Challenging Installations

Great British Life: Lodestar, by Randy PolumboLodestar, by Randy Polumbo (Image: Espresso Buzz Photo)

The sculptures which travelled from America (mainly California) were shipped by boat, presenting significant challenges with tight timescales and unexpected port delays.

‘A couple had to be trucked to Houston then shipped, whilst some came in a container of their own; others were packed together and shipped by airfreight’ Sarah describes.

One of the largest sculptures, made from an airplane fuselage, came as one piece; shipped on a roll-on-roll-off cargo ship. It was then driven from Southampton to Chatsworth on one large truck.

This sculpture, amongst the others, were installed by Chatsworth’s clerk of works Craig Pickersgill and the Chatsworth domain team, plus members from Burning Man, including their heavy installation manager.

‘The equipment and machinery required to install them was pretty epic!’ Sarah laughs. ‘You realise the scale of the landscape when you place monumental sculptures on or in it – they look huge in the containers but put them here and they suddenly seem a lot smaller.

‘That said, they are of a scale to work within this landscape – they are not lost within it, but sit magnificently within the parkland surroundings.’

Inspiring Backdrops

Great British Life: Visitors to Chatsworth can enjoy some unique sculpture additions this summerVisitors to Chatsworth can enjoy some unique sculpture additions this summer (Image: Chatsworth House Trust)

Each sculpture, Sarah says, has been positioned within its location for a specific reason.

For example, visitors will find ‘Wings of Glory’ against a backdrop of Chatsworth’s iconic stables – echoing its historic connection with horses.

Another, ‘Coralee’, will be placed next to the ice pond and ‘Wings of Wind’ is found by the river, ‘so when you stand in the middle and look back towards the house, it’s perfectly framed within it’, Sarah describes.

‘They have all been so well landscaped into the surroundings they look as if they have always been here. Also, the light plays so well on them, as does the changing seasons.’

Ensuring the artworks are as accessible as possible, Chatsworth are allowing visitors to engage with the art and there are no ‘don’t touch’ signs.

‘This takes away the fear of art being something you need to know about, have studied or be able to talk about in a certain way,’ suggests Sarah.

‘People take their own meaning, make their own connections and can enjoy it unhindered by expectation.

‘Ultimately, the most rewarding part is seeing and listening to families and visitors out together on an adventure of finding the art and seeing their joy in the experience.’

This resonates with Kim, who feels deeper connections are made with the human spirit collectively and individually when we engage with art and each other.

‘These memories may be the most meaningful thing we can aspire to provoke,’ she concludes.

‘Long after the artworks are gone, it is my hope people will feel more connected to this landscape, to the people and animals they encountered here.

‘As with Burning Man in Black Rock City, Derbyshire is a community of warm and engaged people; this is the greatest asset any place can hope for.’

To discover more and book parking visit www.chatsworth.org.