INSIDE is a collaborative project between Thorp Stavri and Two Temple Place. It is a clash of glamour, wealth and heritage with the contemporary problems of the ordinary man - or at least I felt tiny and unimportant as I stood in front of the entrance to this neo-gothic building built in the 1880s by, arguably, the wealthiest man in the world William Waldorf Astor.
As stated on the website: Richard ‘Tigger’ Hoare, who died in 2020, founded the charitable Bulldog Trust in 1983 as a “charity to support charities”, giving millions to small organisations with big hearts. His philanthropic spirit was never more in evidence than in his purchase of Two Temple Place, which he fell in love with in 1999 and gave to the Bulldog Trust so that its stunning interiors could be seen by the public.
INSIDE is an evolution of a 5-day residency at Two Temple Place for ten artists organised by Eric Thorp and Nicholas Stavri in August 2022. Even though it seems as if the walls of the building, heavy with embellishment and the history of aristocracy, would crush anyone who dares to bring a different point of view inside, from January 28 to February 26, 2023, the artists loudly demonstrate their opinions, fears and dreams through their works, performances, tours and workshops they created in relation to the site and its history on both floors.
The first piece that greets the visitor is Herald, a small chimera made with biopolymer, jesmonite, paper and resin by Yambe Tam. The artwork comes to life when you scan the QR code and winds up the imposing staircase, reminding you of the building's lush history of restoration and repair.
In contrast, Sabrina Shah's paintings strip these gleaming wooden walls on the ground and first floors of what she believes the place represented: status, wealth, control, inherited power, gender, desire and belonging.
Other works that disrupt this building’s ostentatious interiors are John Costi sculptures placed on the staircase's handrail and the Astor’s library shelves. These small totems of found objects challenge a space that seems specially designed to intimidate the visitor with the owner's wealth.
Right next to Costi's works, Gabriela Pelczarska presented her new film PLEASE DON'T, PLEASE DON'T DO THAT. The work is about the artist's fantasy of being locked in Two Temple Place and freely exploring its nooks and crannies without the supervision of people working there. I'm sure everyone would love to do this, no matter how much we're against privilege and absurd wealth—running barefoot on millions of pounds? Sign me up!
Josephine Chime, Jack Evans, Joshua Phillips and Chloe Louise Lawrence took over the largest room with stained glass windows. Chime's work addressed how women pass on their lineage to their descendants through mitochondria cells, and Lawrence created a sculpture made of soap, wood, and acrylic, which shows the contrast between the Two Temple Place architecture and the places where she grew up.
Jack Evans, as usual, confused me by humorously presenting more historical objects, this time by creating pixelated versions of sinister creatures found around the building. However, the use of salvaged wood and natural objects drew me to Phillips's work the most. The connection to the interior was visible immediately. Dry oak leaves tucked into the gap between the raw boards were also visible in a metal form on the chandelier. This simple gesture of bringing branches and acorns seemed astounding and made me even more aware of being in the very centre of the city and surrounded by handcrafted wooden walls and floors.
A winding marble staircase accessed the last two works and the room with an archive, cabinets with artists' sketches and testing pieces.
The performative piece by Yui Yamamoto felt heavier than the rest of the artworks. She asked, "What did you do to be accepted?" on the long pieces of paper. I thought about it for a long time, wrote my answer and put it in the box. I then imagined her reading it during one of her performances when she cut the barbs from the wire installation and replaced it with my words. It made me think about how important history is to who we are now, and I felt a strange connection between me, the artists and the rest of the participants.
Sam Williams' film '(The Figure Was) An Enchantress, A Wanderer, Wild Man, Green And Grinning, Body Of Water, Boggy Earth' produced in collaboration with Hollie Miller, amazed me. After a long journey through historical references and the heaviness of neo-gothic interiors, this film felt like a safe haven. Perhaps because I spent a huge part of my childhood in forests and near rivers, the black room where the film was screened, sounds and visuals felt comforting.
The Thorp Stavri and Two Temple Place project proves that a conversation between those upholding the British history of high society and heritage and immigrants, disadvantaged and socially rejected, is possible after all. I hope this collaboration won't end here. Artists' takeover shows that there is room for equality, diversity and inclusivity in places teeming with white male privilege. Art can build bridges and open up conversations, but if we genuinely want to make a difference, we must nurture and expand that conversation.
Huge thanks to Nicholas Stavri for showing me around the exhibition. Eric's and your commitment to creating new opportunities for other artists and curators is awe-inspiring. I was also very impressed with the number of workshops and events that considered different types of audiences.
Once again, big congratulations to the artists, curators, Two Temple Place staff and everyone who helped with this project. I'm looking forward to the second edition!