Stirring the Swarm is a ceramic installation that tells a curiously dark tale inspired by the collection of Entomology in the Natural History collection at Wollaton Hall, Nottingham. The exhibition lures viewers into this macabre story as they find these enchanted insects, gathered in the Castle after their journey from Wollaton Hall.
Anna Collette Hunt’s ceramics aim to rekindle a forgotten, childlike sense of curiosity and delight. Scenes from her Wall Dish series of intricately detailed and decorated plates, speak of historic grandeur and past traditions, whilst closer inspection reveals a sometimes sinister undertone. Each piece has a story to tell, tempting the viewer’s imagination to assign personal narrative to the assembly of images, forms and textures within the work. Stirring the Swarm develops this notion further by creating a fictional narrative that viewers can stumble into and follow, tapping in to the imagination of the artist. The exhibition has the atmosphere of a Brothers Grimm-style gothic fairytale, intended to stir imagination and incite curiosity, whilst fleeting and disjointed sounds add to the unease and discomfort of the installation.
A static swarm of 10,000 handmade ceramic insects infest the South Hall stairwell at Nottingham Castle, each one unique and strikingly beautiful. Dry, dingy creatures cling lifelessly to the walls, frozen in the viewer’s sight, alongside more dazzling ‘specimens’ that sparkle and shine with rich glazes and lustres. Many also have missing limbs or wings to reflect their ancient and delicate condition – or perhaps they mutated during their escape, sprouting extra heads or wings: evolution and magic transforming the swarm into a new lifeform. The rich palette of gold, green, blue, brown and cream pays homage to the flocked wall paper of Wollaton Hall, the pattern of which has even sprouted on some of their wings.
The exhibition is a result of Anna’s preoccupation with historic houses. After reoccurring visits to Wollaton Hall, she was repeatedly drawn to Entomology, particularly to the fragility of the aging beetles within the collection and by the possible stories that could be crafted from them. Stirring the Swarm was made in several stages: as Hunt created the original models and their moulds, then a team of assistants made and glazed the 10,000 individual elements. Some insects have a trickle of gold lustre, which references the traditional technique of presenting insects in museum collections by pinning each one to a board. This particular aspect has also fallen into the story, where the enchanted beetles bleed gold from their wounds.
Venue: Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Off Friar Lane, Off Maid Marian Way, Nottingham. NG1 6EL