YORK digital artist and filmmaker Kit Monkman’s People We Love installation explores “the invisible transaction between a person, a piece of art and that emotion which bonds us all”. Love.
The latest edition of KMA’s community-inspired artwork has taken over the Chapel at Castle Howard, near York, where a bank of five high-definition screens is showing portraits of the estate community, residents and visitors filmed in March as they gaze at a picture of their choice. A picture you never see, but you will feel each unspoken story as the faces tell the tale of a person they love.
After gracing York Minster twice (the first run was stopped by Covid), followed by Pittsburgh, USA, Viborg, Denmark, and Selby Abbey, North Yorkshire, the latest KMA installation is once more designed by Monkman and produced by York-based Mediale.
“Each installation is a portrait of a community at that moment,” says Mediale founder and creative director Tom Higham. “What’s really exciting is doing a series of different places that collectively make a 21st century portraiture archive.
“York Minster was an awe-inspiring space for the installation, but there is something more intimate about the experience here in the Chapel. You can’t compete with the grandeur of the place, but you provide something that is complementary.”
The Castle Howard setting enables moving images of the digital age to stand alongside the grandeur, oil-painted portraiture and collections of the John Vanbrugh-designed stately home.
“Viewers of People We Love will meet the penetrating gaze of the work’s subjects, never knowing who the focus of their detailed attention is,” says Kit.
“In the most direct sense, the aesthetic subjects of the installation, the people we love, are absent, and can only be conjured into existence through an act of imagination on the viewer’s behalf. The work turns on this notion, the notion that love and empathy start as an act of imagination.”
People We Love finds its inspiration in The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Coxwold clergyman, humorist and novelist Laurence Sterne. First published in York in 1759, the book contains a blank page for the reader to imagine, draw or write about a person they love.
Participation in the Castle Howard project was by open invitation to attend the late-March filming. Among the faces is the Honourable Nick Howard, present occupant of the 18th century stately pile, in informal attire of black T-shirt and unbuttoned work shirt.
“It was brave of him, maybe that’s the right word, maybe the wrong word, to do it,” says Kit. “This house is full of portraits denoting power and stature and yet these portraits are about vulnerability, showing these really honest, vulnerable faces close up.
“If you sit in the Chapel for a long time with these faces, in the beautiful chapel light, you will have an inner dialogue with them. You absolutely will start to project a story on to them, or at least have an empathetic response.”
Among those meeting the gaze of the faces on screen on the opening day were Tim and Delia Madgwick, from nearby Yearsley. “The installation feels quite benign but also radical,” she says. “So much of our culture today is about attention-seeking, but this really repays quiet attention if you’re prepared to spend time with it,” says Delia.
“There was something that was all encompassing about being filmed, holding a photograph of Tim, being asked questions. All your senses were at play and it felt like you were in the womb. You had a sense of being very safe.”
Delia took part in People We Love after undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, being filmed when she had no hair but had no qualms about facing the KMA camera for the six-and-a-half-minute recording.
“I didn’t feel self-conscious, even knowing it was going to be out there for hundreds of people to see. It was an extremely appropriate moment to do it, and that moment was all that mattered,” she says. “I found Kit’s approach very welcoming and comforting.”
After deliberation, Tim was her choice for her photo. “My daughter said, ‘Good! I’d have been worried if you hadn’t done that’!” says Delia.
Tim selected one from their time in Australia. “It was a lovely picture of us taken in Perth, Western Australia in 1982/1983 , when we decided we couldn’t stay over there. It’s that moment, looking at it, where you think, ‘where have the last 40 years gone? How things have changed’.”
Delia put herself forward to be filmed first. “Afterwards, I said to Tim, ‘you must do it too’, ” she recalls of her experience.
“It was very emotional, when you reflect on having been together for 44 years and the challenges we have been through this winter” says Tim. “I looked at the photograph for some time on the day, so it was on mind, and as you look at it, you realise the essence of the person you’re looking at hasn’t changed.
“In fact it has developed and matured, and what has changed is that life experiences have added to it. We could reflect on our good fortune when thinking things were not quite so fortunate.”
Coming next for People We Love will be a return to Viborg Cathedral for a new installation of Danish faces from September 2023 after an installation of York faces there last autumn. ArtHouse Jersey will follow. “Some discussions are under way for 2024, but nothing is locked in yet,” says Mediale’s Tom Higham.
People We Love is on show in the Chapel at Castle Howard, near York, until October 15, open 10am to 4pm, as part of the general admission ticket at castlehoward.co.uk.
Copyright of The Press, York