Isle of Bute, Scotland
To get to Martin Boyce’s new outdoor commission in the landscaped grounds of Mount Stuart, you have to walk down a long, straight pathway from the 19th-century, neo-Gothic mansion. Surrounded by mature trees and well-established plantings, his tennis court-style installation sits in a clearing just off the path—a newly created rectangular patch of gravel surrounded by specially fabricated chain link fencing. Four white, perforated steel “lanterns” and a moon-like disk in the same metal hang above the space from brackets attached to wooden telegraph poles. Two doors on the near side and far end of the perimeter fence stand wide open, beckoning us to enter; industrial “debris netting” hangs curtain-like to the side of each entrance.
On a drizzly late spring day, this oddly incongruous sight first calls to mind a prison exercise yard, the muted gray of the galvanized steel fence providing a gloomy contrast to the vivid greens of the overhanging trees. In the middle of the enclosed space, roughly where the net would be if this were a functioning tennis court, a young but well-established ash tree—the position of which influenced Boyce’s choice of site—adds another note of dissonance. A feeling of abandonment, of nature encroaching on the human-made, hangs in the air like a ghostly hum.
An Inn For Phantoms Of The Outside And In borrows its title from a line in Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Reverie (1960): “Sleep opens within us an inn for phantoms.” Boyce was also inspired by hearing about a long-gone tennis court elsewhere on the grounds. The in-between spaces here are both physical and illusory; the installation acts as a hazily theatrical repository for memory and imagination.
Although functional looking at first (from a distance, all seems practical and solid, the slightly weathered feel suggesting permanence and purpose), viewed up close things are askew, a little surreal. The footplate of the court and the fence around it are set at a slight angle to each other and don’t line up; one of two metal net posts is on the wrong side of the fence, as if it had escaped its enclosure. There are other sculptural interventions arranged on the ground, including an imposing white concrete fireplace. As you wander around, your feet scuffing the gravel, there’s a sense of dream-like confusion and crisscrossing historical narratives, the precise attention to the fabrication of each element creating a feeling of both order and disquiet.
While the installation—in Boyce’s words, a “constellation of ideas”—responds to Mount Stuart, its history and the specific site, it also references forms and themes that have occupied the Turner Prize-winning artist’s practice for some years. (His ongoing interest in abandoned architectural spaces, including tennis courts, is highlighted inside the house, where a complementary display of darkly atmospheric photographs is being shown.) It also includes, like much of his work since 2005, visual references to four Cubist concrete trees made by Jan and Joel Martel for the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in Paris; their extrapolated shapes appear as corner fence supports and decoratively angular door bracing. Boyce’s sculptural environments mimic and reframe the quotidian, creating moments of intrigue out of the everyday. At Mount Stuart, walking into and around An Inn For Phantoms, which remains on view through November 18, 2019, is a little like being initiated into a mystery—one with all the slipperiness of a half-remembered dream.