Me and my research: Brontë art - Museums Association

Me and my research: Brontë art

Nick Cass on his work studying contemporary art and heritage interpretation
Interview by John Holt
Through my work as an artist and a museum education person, I have become increasingly interested in the role that contemporary art interventions play in interpretive strategy in heritage venues.

As a case study for my research, I chose the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, which a lot of visitors who were brought up on the sisters’ books treat as something of a shrine.

This helps create a really interesting tension between those period settings and some very innovative contemporary art installations that are held in the building.

On the whole, it seems that most of the artists chosen to be involved in the programmes have a connection with the Brontës that influences the work they produce. Paula Rego’s lithographs based on Jane Eyre are a good example.

More recently, Catherine Bertola produced To Be Forever Known, a sound installation that used readings from Charlotte Brontë’s letters, while her Residual Hauntings was a series of ghostly black and white photographs in which she re-created some of the sisters’ domestic rituals.

One of them was the famous walk around the dining tables as they thought about their work, a custom that Charlotte continued alone after her sisters died.

Others include Su Blackwell’s 3D illustrations cut from the pages of books and Cornelia Parker’s project, which involved psychics going around the house in an exploration of some of those Brontë myths and legends.

The parsonage has become a really interesting meeting place of ideas and the approach has potential for other heritage contexts and institutions of all shapes and sizes.

The National Trust, for example, is taking a lead among organisations aiming to use contemporary art as a way of animating otherwise static displays and shedding new light on well-known stories.

Nick Cass is an artist, lecturer and a research associate in the School of Fine Art and Cultural Studies at Leeds University

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