Metaphor For Meta

A busy weekend at Great Brampton House. Sorting through applications for our residency programme for 2014, and admiring Sparrow + Castice’s latest work on the lawn Metaphor For Meta. News on successful applicants coming shortly. We can’t wait for spring to spring.


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2014 and all that…

As we awake from our winter hibernation, we bring sad news of the death of Down Stairs’ instigator Martin Miller on Christmas Eve. Words can be cheap, but Martin was truly one of a kind, and we will all miss him greatly.

None the less, Down Stairs carries on, and we are pleased to announce we are accepting applications for our 2014 Residency Programme. Deadline for submitting is the 28th February, so you have around 25 days to work out what you might do with time spent here in the grounds of Great Brampton House, with accommodation in Social Sculpture, and studio and workshops in The Stables.

Full details can be found by downloading this PDF Down Stairs Residency 2014





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The final residents of 2013

As winter sets in, it’s time to put Kieren Reed’s Social Sculpture into hibernation until the spring. A touch of anti-freeze in the toilet does the trick nicely. We are currently devising strategies and approaches for 2014′s resident artists. If you would like to be considered for a berth in the cabin and stables, please get in touch with expressions of interest. In the meantime, we’ve updated our list of previous artists in residence to include notes on Jonny Briggs and Elliott Burns.

Elliott-Burns-on-the-lawn    Close-to-home-29

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A week in November

IMG_6558 IMG_6562 IMG_6565 IMG_6568 IMG_6569 IMG_6570 IMG_6620 IMG_6621 IMG_6625 IMG_6629 IMG_6704 IMG_6711 IMG_6725 IMG_6731 IMG_6737 IMG_6738 IMG_6739 IMG_6749

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Cabin Fever

Cabin Fever

notes on living in Kieren Reed’s Social Sculpture

          Elliott Burns,  September 2013


July 4th 1845, Henry David Thoreau begins a two year long living experiment; he takes residence in a cabin in the woods, next to Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts. Nine years later he publishes Walden, a highly polished, condensed account of his experience covering his day to day living, the woods, wildlife and laying out his philosophy on society and life. Thoreau’s cabin is likely one of the most famous cabins of American history, possibly history in general, today there is a replica of his cabin, and the land around is designated a National Reserve.

The concept of a cabin captures the imagination, the ideas surrounding it pre-date Thoreau’s hermitage; a rugged individualism, self sufficiency, an affinity with the wilderness, though it is Thoreau that connects the structure with the idea of intellectual pursuit. This combination of the pioneering spirit and philosophical enquiry fills the cabin with potency, making it a structure and symbol that may be appropriated.


In Kieren Reed’s Social Sculpture the cabin literally becomes a place of exploration, where its functionality is played upon in a variety of manifestations. Previously Reed’s cabin was installed at the Whitstable Biennale 2012 where it took the form of an information centre. Currently it resides in the grounds of Great Brampton House, part of a new residency program with Down Stairs.

The cabin has been extended with a porch and is fitted with a bed, sink, toilet and some simple furniture as well as a radio, wind up torch and a few of Reed’s small sculptural artefacts. The concept is simple that visiting artists will live and work in the cabin, during their residence they will uncover new uses for the space and traces of the usage will be passed onto following artists. On August 10th I was the first artist to take charge of the cabin.

The facilities of the cabin were complimented by access to a converted stable block, where I had a small studio and could use the wood workshop, kitchen and shower. Over my three weeks at Great Brampton House I would split my time between these two buildings and the surrounding grounds.

After my first evening at Great Brampton House I made my way back to my accommodation a little after twelve, finding a route between the barrier of trees that separated my from the rear of the house I approached the cabin slowly using the light from my phone. With a little fiddling I was able to unlock the door, brush my teeth and make ready for bed, except that the key could not lock the door from the inside, I could not angle it in sufficiently. After a few repeat attempts I began to consider alternate methods of fixing the door shut, jamming the key in the lock as best as I could I fixed my belt buckle to the key, pulled the door to and fed my belt up to a series of hooks and secured it by one of the holes. The door was fixed the following morning.

My intention in recalling this incident is not to critic the workmanship of the cabin, but rather to illustrate the manner in which resident artists should approach it, it is not a finished piece, it is a piece to be expanded upon, altered and edited. The potential of the cabin is limited only by the challenges perceived and the ability of the individual to fix them, there were issues that I was not equipped to deal with and there are potential improvements that I would have made if I had the materials. The future residents who will suit the cabin the best are those that embody a creative approach to DIY, can make do with simple supplies and envision their own unique improvements.

The second issue regarding the use of the cabin is the division of labour, not between individuals, rather between places. There are two main spaces to work, the cabin and the stables, one affords the comforts of modern living such as electricity, wifi and a couch, while the other is set up to intentionally minimise the luxuries we have become accustomed to. When I began writing this article I was sitting in the living room of the stables, it would have been a much harder task to pull together this text without the internet and a power supply. However, there is something to be said regarding the affect of a simplified setting on writing.

“I put a piece of paper and a pencil under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark.” – Henry David Thoreau.

I too have maintained this practice, each evening I returned to the Cabin I set up a few candles and get into bed with a book, notepad and pen, with nowhere for the mind to escape to except onto the page I found my thoughts were afforded more breathing room. I copied lines from books onto post-it notes and stuck those to the walls; the cabin became a thinking space, part studio, part mental retreat. That said it can be a struggle when you are used to a virtual library being at your fingertips, no doubt if I had been born twenty years prior my brain would function in a different manner, not reliant on the instant gratification of the internet.


Over time the cabin will become a palimpsest of small histories, each resident artist leaving traces which feed into the next residency, and slowly a reduction from dependence on the stables and its modern comforts to a full interaction with the simplicity of the Cabin will occur.

This rate of change is dependent on the artists who come to stay in the Cabin; certain artist will mesh better with the intentions of Reed and Down Stairs. As the project moves forward it might be worth appealing to artist who envision a direct interaction with the cabin, to use it as a sculptural framework on which to build. Simple alterations and adaptations would go a long way to developing it towards an artistic ideal. No great feats are needed, only craft with an attention to detail and a communal spirit, though it is a community of people who are passing through and might never meet.

I cannot claim to have made the fullest use of the Cabin, primarily it is where I slept, I have read and written in it, it has been conductive to my thinking and in a manner it has shaped it, I have left traces of my time in it and tried to transform it for the artist who follows me. The progression from a room to live in to a truly creative space will be gradual, but over time the build up of histories will attest to the capability of it as a source of inspiration.


- Elliott Burns

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Jonny Briggs: Beware the chickens




A few days in and the learning curve ever steepens. Many a photo has been taken yet my goodness what an incredible project the treehouse looks to be, so have been helping to make it; admittedly just by cutting 11 pieces of wood. At one moment I stood poised with the chainsaw, and noticed the houses curious chickens slowly moving in, encircling where I stood in a near perfect circle and warbling at me with concerned, strained, clucks. Maybe I’m projecting because I felt concerned and strained myself, but they invite me to question what sparked their curiosity? I’m dauntingly reminded of evidence suggesting birds have descended from dinosaurs as I clutch the chainsaw tighter. Luckily Benjamin rescued me from pecking peril and they soon scattered. There’s something about these birds that make me wonder if they’re all communicating to each other about us humans.

The wood cabin is just the peace and simplicity I need at the moment. Being around nature helps reconnect me with me. I’ve so much time to think and be, and the ideas for the work are becoming ever clearer each day. Ahead this afternoon I’m building a new set for a photograph, which involves cutting logs in intriguing angles. And hopefully some wallpaper I made will be delivered this afternoon too for another photograph. Moreso a photograph of a photograph. The house is an inspiration, so much to take in and a surprise round every corner. So many sheep, so many curiosities, and I can’t ever remember eating so many eggs.


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Raise the Floorbeams High Carpenter



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The Great Brampton House Lawn Experiment

I love fools’ experiments. I am always making them.

- Charles Darwin

After his famous journey on the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin returned home to Down House in Biggin Hill, Bromley. Over the next 40 years he would conduct field experiments in his extensive gardens. In 1881 he published his findings in The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worm, with Observations of their Habit; despite its somewhat unexciting title it would sell over 6000 copies in its first year, more than his Origin of Species. If one of the greatest biologists who ever lived could devote such a period of his life to an intricate study of the natural world lying just outside his house then surely there is something to be achieved in making an artistic evaluation of the seemingly common natural world that surrounds us.

After childhood many of us abandon our instinctive draw to examination; it would be considered foolish or a waste of time to spend even an afternoon with our heads close to the biological microcosms that surround our dwellings. It is with the freedom afforded by the job title ‘Artist’ that I have been allowed to return to such an endeavour. Whilst resident artist of Down Stairs Gallery and living in the grounds of Great Brampton House, I have made my own ‘fools’ experiment’. During my three weeks I have conducted an in detail investigation of one of the most overlooked, walked over, elements of the English garden. The grass.

The experiment (apologies to the real scientists who might be appalled by my use of this term) consists of creating a 4.752 metre x 3.564 metre photograph of an area of lawn at Great Brampton House. The term photograph may too be contentious as I am not using what would traditionally be referred to as a camera. I have instead used a Canon CanoScan LiDE 600F flatbed scanner and my laptop; here is a brief account:

  1. An area of lawn 4.787 x 3.609m is selected, four stakes are placed, one in each corner, lengths of wood are placed along the top and down either side.
  2. Along the top length of wood marks are made measuring out 21.6cm sections; on the left hand side an additional allowance of 3.5cm is made for the body of the scanner.
  3. Down each side length of wood marks are made measuring 29.7cm sections; at the top endsan additional allowance of 4.5cm is made for the body of the scanner.
  4. This creates a grid of 264 A4 portions, 22 horizontal, 12 vertical.
  5. The portions are numbered A1 to V12.
  6. Each portion is scanned at 800dpi; the top length of wood is moved down the lawn each time a horizontal section is completed.

The product of this is a set of data, 264 images, intricate beyond the grasp of the human eye, portraying a world in almost microscopic detail, the fine ridges lining each blade of grass, their frayed ends, minute hairs and idiosyncratic features are all present. Tilted onto a vertical plain it becomes easier to analyse these aspects, a surface to navigate across becomes an image to look closely into.

However, the work also serves to expose the fallibility of its own production method, and by some extrapolation the fallibility of all methods of representing the world. A scanner can be considered a camera if we accept it as a camera whose focal range is little more than a few millimetres; beyond the elements pressed against its pane, details quickly blur. It differs too in its means of capturing the image; rather than exposing the image onto photographic film in a fraction of a second a scanner moves across a surface piecing the image together over a period of time; time therefore becomes a more present factor in the result.

The image I am creating faces another flaw in its production; in piecing together all 264 fragments it is impossible to align the edges. In fact, because each new scan requires the scanner to be pressed against the grass again, rearranging it slightly, it is likely that no two edges will align. What is created is therefore an entirely false composition, fraught with inaccuracies.

I am however, interested in what these inaccuracies say about the creation of an image. Each medium has its own particular failings; nothing we create can ever truly grasp the conception of the human eye, and we must admit that the eye too is also a flawed mechanism.

“To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.”

- Charles Darwin

Consider the view of the world we accept when we look at the Earth via one of Google’s navigation tools. Google is constantly updating its vision of the world, adding new layers of information, picturing more streets, adjusting its 3d models; yet it will always be a flawed portrayal. Looking at Great Brampton House on Google Maps the lawn is reduced to a homogenised patch of green, lacking any details. This suits the purpose of the user but it also shifts the way we respond and perceive the world. We are now often reliant on these secondary sources of information to navigate our daily lives, shrugging off the primary information provided by our eyes and intuition.

By making such a detailed analysis of this patch of grass I hope that the absurdity of these digital technologies becomes more exposed. I have created a work that is as intricate an image of the lawn at Great Brampton House that I can make but is also an utterly false representation of it; many of the tools we use to look at the world feature a similar paradox. We are delving into a world where we are increasingly reliant on the created image and as that happens we are likely to erode the relationship we have with our own senses.

- Elliott Burns,

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Offcuts for the Cabin


As part of my residency at Great Brampton House I have been aiming to make a response to Kieren Reed’s ‘Social Sculpture’, the cabin which I have been staying in. Currently the cabin is fairly sparse, populated with a bed, sink, toilet, boxes for storage and some small wooden objects crafted by Kieren.

Taking inspiration from a work by Kieren Reed and Abigail Hunt, ‘Liminal’, I began recycling off cuts of production found around Great Brampton House. The work consists of a set of 52 wooden fragments and a large reclaimed tile. Artists invited to stay at Great Brampton House in the cabin are encouraged to play with these elements, using them as an informal board game without any particular rules. The work is portable, may be expanded by new participants and may be played by any number of people over an undefined period of time.

- Elliott Burns,

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Great Brampton Tree House



Coinciding with my residency at Great Brampton House, Jasmine Riordan has been running a project to install a treehouse at the furthest end of the house’s grounds. The term treehouse may not suffice to capture the scale of this undertaking, when complete the structure is intended to be used as a fully furnished accommodation for guests.

Yesterday the first of two platforms were raised into the tree. Secured by bolts at the top and support beams running towards the tree’s base the two floor sections will then be connected via a third section created in situ. Eventually a building will be erected upon this with a balcony offering views across adjacent fields and Brampton Hill Wood.

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