Taking inspiration from Pope’s grotto, this exhibition distils the experience of a Grotto into six essential elements: darkness, water, myths, transformation, nature and artifice. Designed as ‘empirical’ grottos from which experimentation can be launched, the four objects in the gallery seek to express Pope’s understanding of the Grotto as ‘natural caves with sacred springs haunted by nymphs’.
For Pope, the grotto was a constant source of inspiration and his conception of how and what a grotto was and should be evolved over time. While the grotto was undoubtedly a place of escape, it was also designed as an immersive crucible for creative thought and work. Pope sought to create the ideal conditions to inspire both poetry and radical political thought and as such the grotto reflects contemporary understandings of what it means to inspire.
As a dedicated artist and polemic, the grotto was integral to both Pope’s writing practice as well as his household. This is perhaps best expressed when we understand the central location of the grotto directly within the basement level of his villa, at the heart of his home.
Upending what we might think of today as the traditional museum, the grotto walls were embedded with precious sculpture, crystals and natural treasures. In this way, the grotto was built as a physical expression and welcoming home for the ‘muse’, enticing in the nymphs and spirits associated with creative revelation.
It is known that the grotto was used as a study, Camera Obscura, retreat, entertaining room and political meeting space. While pope played with natural form, the grotto was also a fantastical place of artifice, where tricks of the light reflected the shadows of boats from the nearby river onto the crystal-studded walls.
In this exhibition, we have experimented with the grotto in all its forms and hope to encourage you to interact with space and find inspiration. The exhibition is designed to evolve over time, and we welcome you to return, explore and witness the process over the length of the installation.
The exhibition is in collaboration with poets Eley Williams and Nicholas Tufnell