Aide Mémoire is a double-sided postcard that was commissioned by curator and artist, Professor Chris Dorsett, for the exhibition Unfinished Business – A Contemporary Response to William Bell Scott that ran throughout the summer of 2011 at the National Trust site of Wallington in Northumberland, UK.
Unfinished Business was a group exhibition celebrating the bicentenary of William Bell Scott, the 19th century poet, writer, artist and teacher with particular reference to the unfinished cycle of mural paintings commissioned for the Central Hall of Wallington.
The following text accompanied Crisp's work for the exhibition:
William Bell Scott’s brief when commissioned to make his paintings for the newly constructed Hall in 1856, was ‘to illuminate the history and worthies of Northumbria’ and his chosen style reflected the contemporary Victorian appetite for combining myth, legend and historical fact in one grand-narrative. The Central Hall itself had been recently converted by John Dobson to resemble a courtyard from an Italian Renaissance palazzo; an allusion that, on a practical level, seems absurd in the climate of Northumberland but that, nonetheless, echoes similar acts of architectural appropriation found up and down the country during the Victorian period. Bell Scott, Dobson, Ruskin and their patrons would have seen the ‘contemporary’ as the bringing together of different styles, aesthetics and time-frames to evoke feelings of regional identity underpinned with moral sentiments. Therefore the structure of the house existed as a ‘canvas’ upon which these ideas and ideals could be drawn.
By contrast, as a contemporary artist responding to Wallington in 2011, Fiona Crisp has focused on the enduring identity of the structure of the house itself with its mixture of private space and public spectacle. The Attic and The Cellar, depicted on opposing faces of the work Aide Mémoire, are spaces that quietly exist above the heads and below the feet of visitors to the property. By making beautiful portraits of these two unglamorous and largely unseen spaces Crisp pays homage to the pure, persistent presence of the house.
Crisp’s images, like William Bell Scott’s cycle of paintings, compress and combine different historical time frames, not through the use of dramatic narrative but in a quieter, more prosaic fashion. Here we see the 18th century Bell Tower existing alongside the most ubiquitous indicator of modern technology, a television aerial. These images are not straightforwardly documentary; instead the generic labels point us to a more generalized and possibly more psychologically charged reading of space. Both attics and cellars are, after all, places where we put the things that we no longer want to use but, nevertheless, cannot throw away.