A site-specific work-in-residence at Brantwood, Coniston, Cumbria, the home of John Ruskin. An 18 minute ‘performed’ guided tour of the Dining Room for the general public visiting the museum.
Editors' note: Sue describes the performance in her contribution to our Flowers Onstage series, having brought a 'Pulmonaria 'Glacier'' (Lungwort) from Brantwood to her garden. An excerpt:
'Visitors coming to Brantwood were offered the chance (free of charge) to come to a ‘special guided tour’ of the Dining Room, overlooking the lake. I began as an ordinary tour guide would, speaking about the objects and features, but over the 20 minutes, I evoked some of the extraordinary events that had occurred in that room, using three ‘elements’: salt, money and flowers.
Ruskin had published a book in two volumes in the late 1800s about plants and flowers called Proserpina...
‘The flower exists for its own sake. The production of the fruit is an added honour to it - is a granted consolation to us for its death. But the flower is the end of the seed - not the seed of the flower.’
I scattered flowers – collected and dried from both Brantwood and my own garden - around the edge of the dining table...Flowers normally contained and organised in vases now strewn over the table.
I invited the ‘audience’ to consider this: Charles Darwin had dined there in 1879. He was 70, Ruskin was 60. The discussion was probably rich, with Darwin speaking about the recurring struggle for existence, the mechanical process that had little or no reliance upon soul or will. And Ruskin passionate about his beliefs that nature did not exist by competition alone, that co-operation and ‘soul’ played crucial parts.
Next to the flower petals, I placed a circle of one pound coins: money laid down for Ruskin’s criticisms of capitalist ideology, of mechanisation and loss of craft. His highly influential writing on ‘value’ was laid out in his book Unto This Last. Gandhi had read this on a train journey in South Africa; it inspired him to direct action, to the Salt March and the collapse of colonial India. So into the centre of the table, I poured salt. Normally contained as a condiment, now salt was spilling over, the grains scattered on the money and in with the flowers.
At the end of my ‘tour’, I offered a ‘souvenir’ of the dining room to each member of the audience - a small bag containing either salt, a pound coin or some dried flowers. Not only did this reverse the usual order of purchasing a memento of the house, but it provoked a complex choice for each visitor: each one had value, significance, a use even, and each object was imbued with meaning. Most visitors I remember, chose the flowers'.