Jamaica Biennial 2017 – Bulletin 5: The Biennial @ Devon House

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Deborah Anzinger – A Piercing Void Where We Meet (2017, digital study)

The 2014 edition of the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Jamaica Biennial was shown at multiple venues—a first for this exhibition in Jamaica—and this included Devon House, the original home of the National Gallery and one of Kingston’s main heritage sites. Devon House was included as part of the National Gallery’s fortieth anniversary celebrations, as a home-coming of sorts, but also in response to the Devon House Management’s invitation to organize regular joint exhibitions.

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Laura Facey – Bumpy Top Desk and Mirror (2016)

The Jamaica Biennial 2014 at Devon House featured work by Laura Facey, Ebony G. Patterson (who won the Biennial’s Aaron Matalon Award that year), Greg Bailey, Cosmo Whyte, James Cooper, and Oneika Russell, and was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed parts of the exhibition. The approach taken was for the works selected to be installed the Devon House mansion interior, alongside or in replacement the regular furniture and art works, and, in the case of Laura Facey, also in the formal gardens in front of the house. The result was a rich dialogue between the history and context of the house—which was built and owned by Jamaica’s first black millionaire, George Stiebel, in 1881—and the issues raised in the art works, such as the historical and contemporary dynamics of race and class, the politics of visibility and invisibility in the face of social violence, and our relationship to the natural environment.

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Sharon Norwood – Root of the Matter XI (2016)

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Jamaica Biennial 2014 – Behind the Scenes: The Installation of Laura Facey’s Walking Tree and Needle for the Planet

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Once an exhibition is up and running, everything may seem effortless and it is easy to forget what went into the installation. In this post, the first of several that give you a glimpse behind the scenes of the Jamaica Biennial 2014, we let you in on what was probably the most technically challenging part of the process: the installation of Laura Facey’s large wood sculptures, Walking Tree and Needle for the Planet.

Because of the unusual size and weight of the works — 14 meters tall for Walking Tree and nearly 10 meters long for Needle, with both weighing several tonnes — the decision was made to exhibit the works outdoors, in the formal gardens at Devon House. The problem was however to get these works from Laura’s studio in rural St Ann to Devon House and then to mount them there without damaging the gardens. Special precautions also had to be taken to ensure that the works were stably mounted, for the safety of visitors and the works themselves. With other works, the installation was a piece of precision engineering, kindly contributed and very ably executed by Tankweld Limited.

The process started with several site visits, to determine where and how the works were to be mounted. The largest and heaviest of the two sculptures, Walking Tree, posed special challenges because it is top heavy and susceptible to wind. The Tankweld team therefore decided that it needed to be anchored with steel plates and 3 feet long steel pegs which would be concealed below the lawn.

December 2 was the big day on which the two sculptures would be transported from Laura’s studio at Mount Pleasant in rural St Ann to Devon House and mounted there in the formal gardens. The day started with loading the two sculptures, which were at Laura Facey’s studio at Mount Pleasant in rural St Ann, onto a large flatbed truck, using a second boom truck. This was followed by what must have been a hair-raising drive to Kingston via the notoriously steep new North-South High Way and the equally challenging Bog Walk Gorge and Flat Bridge. The convoy arrived on schedule at Devon House in the early afternoon and the installation of Needle was completed without too much difficulty, although special care had to be taken not to damage the Royal Palms that fringe the formal gardens. For Walking Tree a larger boom truck was needed and this was done the next day. It was an even more delicate operation, as can be seen in the accompanying photographs.

Once the installation was completed, we all agreed that it had been well worth the effort and the two sculptures make a visually stunning intervention in the Devon House gardens, right in front of the manor’s facade. The installation has been very popular with visitors and has served as the backdrop for countless photographs. The works can be seen there until March 15, after which we will have to embark on the equally challenging task of removing them!

We wish to use this opportunity to extend our sincere gratitude to Tankweld Limited for making this project possible.

Jamaica Biennial 2014 at Devon House

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One of the most exciting new developments in the Jamaica Biennial 2014 is the collaboration with Devon House, which is hosting Biennial projects by six artists, five from Jamaica and one from Bermuda: Greg Bailey, James Cooper (Bermuda), Laura Facey, Ebony G. Patterson, Oneika Russell, and Cosmo Whyte.

Having some of the Biennial exhibits outside of the National Gallery of Jamaica itself helps to give the Biennial greater visibility and encourages greater engagement from a variety of audiences – in addition to Devon House, part of the biennial (the Renee Cox exhibition) is also shown at National Gallery West at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre and one project, by Blue Curry, can be seen on the streets of Downtown Kingston. The collaboration with Devon House is the first of what we hope will be an ongoing programme of shared projects and comes at particularly opportune time. The National Gallery first opened its doors at Devon House on November 14, 1974, forty years ago, and operated there until mid-1982, when the institution was relocated to its present building on the Kingston Waterfront. Showing part of the Jamaica Biennial 2014 at Devon House thus amounts to a home-coming on the occasion of our 40th anniversary.

The six artists selected for the Devon House exhibition of the Jamaica Biennial 2014 were selected f because the thematic content and formal qualities of their work have relevance to the context of the House and we opted to make interventions into the space of the House that would make visitors think in new ways about its history and significance. The young painter Greg Bailey is represented with a large formal portrait painting of a black man in a tailored suit seated in an ornate chair, provocatively titled Boasy Slave. It takes the place of the portrait of the 18th century Governor Peter Beckford, in the dining room. This substitution comments ironically on the social and racial dynamics of colonial and postcolonial Jamaica and also makes reference to the history of Devon House itself, as the first plantation style Great House to be built and owned by a black Jamaican – Jamaica’s first black millionaire, George Stiebel – to the distress of the 19th century white elite. Lady Musgrave Road, the story goes, was constructed because Governor Musgrave’s wife did not wish to see Mr Stiebel and family on their verandas when she drove out to go to town.

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