In Kate MccGwire’s latest work, a swell of bird feathers floods a Victorian dovecote

In Kate MccGwire’s latest work, a swell of bird feathers floods a Victorian dovecote

Perhaps it is no wonder that an artist whose studio is located in a barge on the River Thames, filled with categorised boxes of bird feathers, feels passionately about curating an immersive experience when displaying her art. Indeed, Kate MccGwire’s installation, Sasse/Sluice, commissioned by Snape Maltings as part of the Aldeburgh Festival in Suffolk, is flooding with wonder.

The site-specific work is located at the Dovecote Studio, a Corten steel renovation of a ruined Victorian dovecote, designed by Haworth Tompkins in 2010. MccGwire’s piece, made of tens of thousands of pigeon feathers, pays homage to the birds that would have inhabited the space, as well as the wider historic environment of Snape.

Installation view of Sasse/Sluice at Dovecote Studio, Suffolk. Photography: Jo ScottPhotography: Antonio Camera

Sasse/Sluice, on view until 18 July, fills the floorspace of the Dovecote studio. The piece is both geometric within the sharp steel structure and strikingly organic, engulfing the space with feathers that seem to represent both creature and sea. Opposition is at the heart of the installation, which confronts dichotomies of visibility and hiding, nature and man, and the living and dead.

The title of the piece itself references locks and sluices designed to control water levels – a paradox that both suppresses the power of nature and sustains it by protecting marshes, fields and livestock from flooding. The immersion of the piece continues with its sounds, where the ever-present murmur of birdsong from the marshes reminds the viewer of natural universe of Snape’s present and past. As MccGwire told us, ‘The Dovecote, the pigeons, the flow of the water, the sluices and the threat of the rising sea levels and the surrounding marshes at Snape all came together in this piece.’

Sasse/Sluice (detail), 2018, by Kate MccGwire. Photography: Jo Scott

Behind the installation is a hidden history. MccGwire, who initially collected pigeon feathers on walks, has weaved her own web of pigeon associates – fanciers and gamekeepers who send the artist their birds’ moulted feathers. The variety of colour, size and type in the feathers allows MccGwire ‘to create areas in the installation which feel as if they flow quicker or slower, to create a very dynamic installation which represents the flow of water’.

Luckily, there’s more. In the entrance to the main Concert Hall at Snape is another one of MccGwire’s pieces – a new cabinet based sculpture titled Viscera, made with pheasant wing feathers. A nod to pheasant roadkill, one can be confident that this piece will touch on different inspirations, a different history and a different melding of natural and man-made worlds. The ability of MccGwire to transform organic materials into sculptures that eddy between corporeality, nature and artificiality is a testament to the artist’s untamed imagination. §

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