Friday, December 26, 2008

Maiden Castle

The photograph I have behind the title of this blog was taken at Maiden Castle in Dorset. The path through the grass reminded me of Richard Long but the green slopes of the castle itself are also reminiscent of recent land art. In an article in the January edition of the BBC's Garden's Illustrated, Ambra Edwards places Maiden Castle at the start of her chronology of landforms:
  • The ancient earth sculptures - ziggurats, pyramids, barrows, henges, tumuli and forts
  • The re-shaping of the land for Renaissance gardens, like Donato Bramante's terraces and ramp for the Belvedere Court of the Vatican
  • Charles Bridgman's military-inspired ramparts, bastions and other landforms - most evident today in the amphitheatre at Claremont
  • Following Capability Brown, a decline of the artificial landform in favour of more natural landscapes, before some signs of revival in mid-twentieth century garden design, like Fletcher Steele's famous Blue Steps at Naumkeag in Massachusetts
  • The earthworks of the late sixties - Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson et al
  • Recent gardens influenced by land art, like Charles Jencks and Maggie Keswick's Garden of Cosmic Speculation
The article ends by describing the work of Kim Wilkie, who has designed an inverse pyramid for Broughton Park to match the existing mount: 'The earthwork will be named after Orpheus to celebrate its descending form and as a place for music and contemplation... An inverted grass pyramid will descend 7 metres below the level of the restored terraces. Walking around the landscape, the new design will be invisible, but drawing near to the mount, a gentle grass path will spiral down to a square pool of still water deep underground. The water will reflect the sky, a little like an inverted James Turrell occulus.'

This description shows how landforms tend to be conceived in terms of movement - walking around them, climbing up or into them - and as sites from which to contemplate the surrounding environment. As objects themselves they are often best seen from a distance; I have mentioned here before the way that some of the early earthworks were conceived as art viewable from the air. The abstract form of Maiden Castle is often shown through aerial photography, as in the Dorset Shell Guide compiled by Paul Nash, or more recently in Julian Cope's The Modern Antiquarian (although the Modern Antiquarian website has many other photographs of the castle, along with field reports and folklore).

1 comment:

snarlerson said...

Maiden Castle has been a theme in my life for over forty years. I visited it first with my baby son and pushed him around up and down the ramparts in his push chair. I recall reading of Mortimer Wheeler’s excavations and how he found evidence of the Roman assault. So, in addition, to its marvellous sculptural shapes, there is an element of sadness and horror. Then there was the wonderful Julie Christie being shown how sword drill worked by the charismatic Terence Stamp in Far from the Madding Crowd. The elegiac landscape of Maiden Castle formed the background. My next visit, again with my son, was on the journey down to Devon for my uncle’s funeral but my son was laid low by hay fever. But my last trip was much happier. It was almost a repeat of my first but, this time, the little boy being pushed around was my first grandson.

Of course, there is another good reason for going to Maiden Castle, as it it enables one to visit the Prince of Wales’ Poundbury. It is almost universally fashionable to sneer at his efforts to create a new village but the sneerers in print , on TV or in person, have never offered me a more humane and attractive alternative exemplar.