Citadel park picturesque tours


In the winter of 2008/09 Ellen Harvey contacted me about the Beyond the Picturesque exhibition to take place in the spring ‘09 at the SMAK Museum in Gent, Belgium, for which she had undertaken a project entitled Observations Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, in which she purportedly found amongst her family archives, a hitherto unpublished work by the Rev. William Gilpin, an 18th century English aesthetic theoretician and great proponent of the Picturesque and the Claude mirror. Ellen invited me to undertake a collaborative performance of Picturesque Tours, utilising several of my handmade Claude mirrors, both hand-held and a larger tripod-mounted specimen. These tours were  to be an attempt to recreate the experience of an 18th century landscape tourist, seeing the environs of Citadel Park, in Gent, mediated both through the Claude mirror, but also through the expectations and desires created by her fictional guide book, supposedly made by the Rev. William Gilpin.

Starting in ernest, then sliding into the tongue-in-cheek, she played the ‘discoverer’ of these long-lost family archives, now brought to the public for the first time in two centuries, while I played the flown-in expert on the Claude mirror and the Picturesque. It was amusing to pretend Gilpin had visited Citadel Park in the 18th c., when the park had only been constructed in the late 19th c., and gratifying to see the response to Ellen’s ‘archive’ on the Museum wall - complete with images so incongruous to the period - that the penny then dropped for many of our outside ‘tourists’. They had been had, but good-naturedly with the point well taken.. Nonetheless the cultural conventions of the Picturesque prevailed then and still do with much park design, and Ellen was able to select more than adequate views that fit the notions of the Picturesque, and I was able to re-create those views in my Claude mirror for the ‘tourists’ to see.

Serendipity played a crucial role in the performance, both in our sensibilities and humour clicking, but also in the happy coincidence that her elliptical signs of Gilpins’ drawings installed at each Picturesque Viewing Station were almost an exact match in size, and image seen within, to my large tripod-mounted Claude mirror. It looked, to all concerned, and sounded, if I may presume, like we had worked closely for some time.

My record of the Tour is below. The Tour was abbreviated, not following the Guide due to time constraints. Ellen’s record can be found here.


Collaboration with Ellen Harvey, 3, 4 & 5 April 2009