A totemic tower dwarfs me, standing alone in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park‘s 18th-century chapel this five-metre plus sculpture evokes a sense of reverence. However, once you get up close there’s nothing reverential about it, as it’s a chaotic jumble of ceramic limbs.
This isn’t my first encounter with Rachel Kneebone’s 399 days – named after the number of days it took her to complete this complex assemblage of 63 panels. I first came across it at the V&A where it stood among other large scale sculpture – where it felt smaller and a welcome contrast to the more classical objects. Here it feels so much larger when it’s given space and it gives visitors more of a chance to admire its little details when it’s only accompanied by a few of Kneebone’s smaller works.
There’s something both chaotic and also a little unsettling about this crush of disembodied legs that both resemble those from Barbie dolls but also feel like they could be a legacy of some sacrificial ritual. The fact it may be viewed from the chapel’s upper terrace also gives a different perspective so I could see the antennae-like protrusions at the top that wasn’t clearly visible from below. The work wasn’t made for this space but it feels at home here.
Towards the opposite end of the impressive grounds is the newest semi-permanent addition to the park – Silence, an Oak Project Commission and a work by Heather Peak and Ivan Morison. It’s semi-permanent as the work is made from natural materials and designed to decompose over the course of approximately ten years and become one with the Earth beneath it.
It’s a wonderful meditative space to contemplate nature as the seating is made of local rammed earth and even though I visited a month after its construction it was already starting to crumble as part of its design. The roof is made of Yorkshire heather that would have been otherwise burned off and birds have already started nesting in it.
Built around a group of silver birch trees, you really feel at one with nature. It’s an impressive construction given no nails or screws were used in it. Many artworks have great things to say about sustainability but this work is quite literally practising what it preaches and it’s a work I’d like to come back and visit to see how it decays over time.
The major exhibition space belongs to the work of Joana Vasconcelos, it may have been open for over a year but two lockdowns mean far fewer people have seen it than would have under normal circumstances. That’s a real shame because her powerful in your face works are bright, bold and thought-provoking.
By taking objects associated with domestic life like saucepans and using them to create stiletto heels she wants to challenge how women are perceived in today’s society and she pulls it off with bolshy large scale pieces in her largest UK exhibition to date.
All of this comes alongside the collection of sculptures that are placed across the park including a temporary display of Damien Hirst sculptures doing what he does best – confronting us with a flayed unicorn or a gigantic dissected pregnant woman. Love him or loathe him, it’s classic Hirst.
Every visit should of course conclude with some relaxation inside the James Turrell Skyspace – this permanent part of Yorkshire Sculpture Park offers up an open portal that lets us lean back and stare out into the sky above. It’s what’s needed after taking in so much great artwork, and a lot of walking.
Rachel Kneebone: 399 days is on until 24 April 2022
Silence: Alone in a World of Wounds is now open to all visitors
Joana Vasconcelos: Beyond is on until 9 January 2022
Damien Hirst sculptures are on display until 1 April 2022
Rachel Kneebone and Vasconcelos images copyright Jonty Wilde. Silence image copyright Charles Emerson, courtesy The Oak Project. All images courtesy Yorkshire Sculpture Park.