Fermynwoods Friday 43 – Stone Clad Cottages

Stone Clad Cottages was Richard Woods’ candy-coloured faux stone cladding makeover of Sudborough Green Lodge, from October 2008 to January 2009. For this week’s Fermynwoods Friday, independent curator, project manager, mentor, and audience member Kate Stoddart remembers the installation from afar.

Living in a UK city with several contemporary art spaces, Yorkshire Sculpture Park an 80-minute drive away and London a 90-minute train journey, new work of inter/national artists is on my doorstep. My job involves making contemporary art more accessible in rural locations and takes me to these places and other cities.

But there are places that I don’t get to. They are the arts organisations that are off my regular routes, that feel less connected. We have little other reason to detour. We find excuses. We have busy lives.

I would like to argue Fermynwoods Contemporary Art and other extraordinary places (often working in areas with little other arts infrastructure) – Cove Park, De la Warr Pavillion, Wysing Arts Centre, Beacon, Grizedale Arts do not suffer as much as we think from this absenteeism. Yes, there are pressures of the funding bodies to build visitor numbers, but what about the remote audiences? We may be far away, but we connect and we are familiar with the ethos and programme of Fermynwoods, which talks to us virtually and visually. Their mission of ‘Infiltrating the Everyday’ is a brilliant invitation to artists and visitors to check in and see how we can be affected, moved in an everyday way, by art which always feels both accessible and curious.

In my mind, I have ‘seen’ Richard Woods‘ Stone Clad cottages, his transformation of Sudborough Green Lodge. Recently, I even told a member of the Fermynwoods team that I had. What I had actually done was to overlay my experience of walking around the cottages in their everyday wear with the incredible images of them in their multi coloured cladding. I know the walk, I can picture approaching them across the field and my imagination is doing the rest. I am there.

Unfamiliar with his work until then, I stare at the images which evoke thoughts of European fairy tales and Abstract Expressionism. The cottages appear like cartoon versions of themselves with their psychedelic coloured stones. I wonder what the surface feels like. What is ‘faux stone’? I read on about Woods’ practice of architectural transformation and his interest in DIY. Fermynwoods described the work as an ‘alien object’, but I would add to our conversation that it’s a welcome surprise, full of humour – a play space. This work signalled a moment in Fermynwoods’ life – a new level of ambition and scale. In physical terms, a landmark work responding to a rural location and our perceptions of nature.

I experienced the work from my desk. It has now become part of my memory, and I think about it in the same way as the Fermynwoods work which I have actually seen. I have continued to watch out for and pore over the programme and sometimes, even get there in person.

Fermynwoods continues to break new ground with artists working with landscape, nature and people. An amazing twenty years. Twenty harvests of ideas. An incredible layering of projects and a composting of artists’ development. A rich archive. The legacy of Head Gardeners Ros Stoddart, Yasmin Canvin, James Steventon, their teams and the artists who work with them. Keep growing.

Kate Stoddart

Stone Clad Cottages - photo by James Smith
Image: Stone Clad Cottages, Richard Woods. Photo courtesy James Smith

Stone Clad Cottages was supported by Arts Council England and The Forestry Commission.

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.