Saturday, 24 May 2008

favourite places # 1: Kettle's Yard, Cambridge (house)

Kettle's Yardwas the open home of Jim & Helen Ede. The site now also includes a very good gallery but for me the house itself is the treasure here.

Four terraced cottages were renovated & transformed by Jim & Helen with the help of architect Roland Aldridge in the mid-1950's, providing a home & living gallery for thier art collection which featured works by artists, many of whom were or became friends of the Ede's, such as Miro, Gaudier-Brzeska, Laurence Whistler, Ben Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Brancusi, Gabo, David Jones, Barbara Hepworth, Kenji Umeda & many more. The entire house & all of it's contents were given to the University & is still as the Ede's left it.

So, why do I like it - well, firstly there are the personal memories of my first visit with my Mother. I knew little about it before visiting & somehow expected, perhaps, something similar to other gifted houses - sterile & often more of a museum than a welcoming place, created with inspiration and still 'alive'. Kettle's Yard is the later - apart from the pressence of the discrete guides who are on hand for any questions (some of whom knew the Ede's & have some great stories to tell of the artists who stayed there) it is still like walking into a lived-in house, with a collection of art & books that is still added to from time to time. One is free to sit on the chairs, read the books on the shelves & spend hours just sitting and looking at the works of art. For someone brought up in a country seemingly obsessed with trapping and moth balling history when it comes to buildings, Kettle's Yard was & continues to be a revelation. Every time I visit I discover something I had missed before - both visually & in terms of the sound of the place.


Although it is close to a fairly busy road, there is a sense of space & calm, especially if you visit mid-week & out of season when there aren't too many visitors (though they do have a system in place to prevent crowding). That's also the best idea because one really needs to have no time limit to fully appreciate the atmosphere.

Thinking back, it was also one of the first 'public' buildings that gave me a sense of audible silence - i'd been in many quieter structures before of course - country churches, remote houses & barns etc - but to be in a building in the heart of a thriving city, without sound proofing but able to retain a sense of quietness was stricking - perhaps because it confounded ones expectations on that level.

If I had to pick the best place in the UK to see modern art (mainly from the 20th Century) this would be my choice. It's a unique place, not only because it allows us to see the works of art in a non-gallery setting, but also because everyday objects (pebbles, glasses, books, plants etc) can be viewed as special objects too (without that becoming a heavy, enforced ideology).

As for the sound of the place - of course there's a huge variety - each room or living space has it's own character. The use of wood and flat white surfaces, along with glass surfaces and textiles all play thier part no doubt - but for me this has always been a building whose whole character and personal relevance illustates the relationship between what we see and feel and what we hear - the way our ears do not work alone.

As part of the first section of my own work on the 'in place' project i'll be recording the entire house & some of its contents during July & will no doubt post a few sounds from those sessions on the blog.

No comments: