Fermynwoods Friday 42 – Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November.
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.

For this week’s Fermynwoods Friday, artist Sophie Cullinan does exactly that, recalling our 2009 bonfire night commission at Lyveden New Bield.

My first experience of working with Fermynwoods Contemporary Art was when I was commissioned to create an illuminated walkway with pupils from Brigstock Latham’s CE Primary School, to guide audiences to an outdoor performance of ‘Gunpowder, Treason and Plot’ at Lyveden New Bield, to mark bonfire night in 2009.

Gunpowder, Treason and Plot was created in partnership with Watch This Space, an artist collective who fuse live performance, original soundtrack and recorded visuals in the creation of unique interactive audio and performance tours in unusual spaces.

The remote National Trust site of Lyveden New Bield is a magical place, particularly in the dark. Built as a symbol of his Catholic faith by Sir Thomas Tresham, father to gunpowder plotter Francis Tresham, this ambitious, never-completed building was the dramatic background upon which to re-enact the explosive story.

The event brought to life the history of the site using a spectacular combination of cutting edge digital art in the form of large scale projections and lighting, alongside an original sound track with live performance from BTEC Performing Arts Students from Kingswood School, Corby.

Prior to the event, during my week-long residency at Brigstock Primary School, the pupils had made over one hundred beautiful fire totems. These were installed along the path leading from the car park to an area of ground between the moat surrounding Lyveden and the two spiral mounds flanking the lake, mirroring the original plans for visitors to promenade around Lyveden New Bield – a scene picked out by the actors slowly circling up the mounds raising and twirling their umbrellas in unison.

In the daytime the totems curled brightly around the path, their spring-loaded, flaming tops flying in the wind. In the blackness of the night, they became something else altogether. A bejewelled torch lit path rising into the unknown.

As the show began, the audience were spellbound by mesmerising sounds and images projected onto the building itself, detailing the religious significance of its specific measurements, its footprint of a Greek Cross, and its adornment of many Catholic symbols.

As the dramatic performance came to a climax I became aware that behind me the building was ominously billowing with smoke – perhaps something had gone wrong?! Then came an eruption of fireworks. It took me a moment to reassure myself that despite all visual evidence to the contrary, Lyveden was not actually on fire, it was just an exceedingly compelling performance.

Sophie Cullinan

This project was made possible with support from The National Trust, Arts Council England, East Northamptonshire Council, Cultural Community Partnerships, Brigstock Latham Primary School and Kingswood School, Corby.

Look out for more Fermynwoods Friday posts each week looking back on some of our favourite projects over the past 20 years of Fermynwoods Contemporary Art.