by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
Around the historic remains of one of the best preserved Roman forts in Britain – the Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland, England - artist Morag Myerscough has created a colourful temporary art installation that reimagines the original stone gatehouse built around AD 122. Myerscough collaborated with the local community to create a place "where you could feel the past and the present in your body". The installation titled The Future Belongs To What Was As Much As What Is is where the London-based installation artist and designer seeks the understanding of what walls mean now, and what it meant in the past.
"When I was a child I was fascinated by the Romans and my father took me and my sister to Corbridge. I was fascinated that the Romans had underfloor heating as we did not have central heating at that time at home. That is my story; I am a visitor to the Wall as many people are but there are also many different stories from people who have different relationships with the Wall and that is what I wanted to discover,” Myerscough tells STIR in an email interview.
Echoing the original structure, the installation reimagines its original size and also allows visitors to climb up to its top to savour magnificent views of the landscape that were last seen by Roman soldiers over 1600 years ago. Myerscough was commissioned by the English Heritage – a charity that manages over 400 historic monuments and buildings of the national collection. The installation has been brought up to celebrate Hadrian Wall’s 1900th anniversary, with the aim to "create a meaningful way to connect people of 2022 back to AD 122," as per English Heritage’s Chief Executive, Kate Mavor.
The pavilion design features a large-scale scaffold frame whose outer shell displays brightly coloured placards sporting words such as People, Home, Spirit, and Freedom, in addition to phrases that include 'Just Get on With Life', 'Being on the Edge of Something', and 'It’s an Anchor But it is Spread Out', to name a few. The placards were created in collaboration with local poet Ellen Moran and developed together with community volunteers who helped in flushing the gatehouse's façade with a spirit of its own. The workshops where these meetings were held, according to the British designer, was where they shared stories and drank tea. "Every word and phrase on the structure has a story behind it. I wanted to make a piece of work that was co-created and empowering,” she says. Creating these placards also meant understanding how inscriptions were so important to the Romans and why certain patterns have lasted forever.
The artist recalls the time when she visited Housesteads, and was given the opportunity to choose the location she likes for her contemporary artwork. Standing in the remains of the northern gatehouse and looking at the wilderness, she had a strong feeling that her work has to connect directly with the Wall. "The plan of the Gatehouse was there and I just knew I had to reimagine the Gatehouse. […] A Gatehouse was so important as it was a point along the wall of transition, an opening, a gateway, a portal, communication, questioning occupation and much more,” she adds.
A combination of ephemeral contextual architecture and multidisciplinary art that interprets the enduring beauty of an iconic Roman landmark, one sees a proliferation of intriguing contradictions in this project. I ask Myerscough whether through her work she intends to balance these opposites, or is the project a celebration of them all. While commenting that it is a hard inquiry to dig into, she goes on to say, “Housesteads Fort has become a static monument but it was an active society. My aim for the work was live voices on the outside and on the inside to give the visitor views that had only been seen by the Roman guards 1600+ years ago. The title of the work created in one of the workshops sums it up The Future Belongs To What Was As Much As What Is". She describes the many challenges of building the installation on such a complex site as the project’s most special aspect.
'The Future Belongs To What Was As Much As What Is' is open to public till October 30, 2022.