January Object of the Month
As a fresh year begins, join our General Director as she takes a look at one of our boldest sculptures
OBJECT OF THE MONTH
Sirens, 1956, Iron
Geoffrey Clarke RA (1924-2014)
Outside the Britten-Pears Archive building
Every month, a member of staff from the Britten-Pears Foundation chooses their favourite item or object from the archive. This month features General Director, Sarah Bardwell:
"January and the Red House site is closed. The House itself is shrouded in protective covers following a deep clean, the galleries are in disarray as the old temporary exhibition is being replaced and a new one installed and the gardens are bare bones broken only by the occasional glimpse of evergreen. At first glimpse everything appears rather forlorn and initially it seems impossible to select an object for this bleakest of months. However one part of the collection which stands proud and is obvious year round, whatever the season is the sculpture in the garden. Much of it does need some love and better presentation and explanation, and this is one of our projects for the coming year, but there is one piece that stands out both, literally and figuratively, above everything; Geoffrey Clarke’s Sirens.
It sits in front of the 2013 Stanton Williams designed Britten Pears Archive building and is positioned, complete with a titular plaque, within a setting of bamboo and grasses. At this time of year it dwarfs the planting, three, tall, individual, concrete and iron bodies striking up for the sky.
Returned to the Red House permanently in 2005, originally Sirens was presented as part of the “Sculpture in the Open Air” show, presented at the Red House, which formed part of the Aldeburgh Festival in June 1956. It is suggested by Ron Howells in his book written to celebrate Clarke’s 80th birthday that:
“The Sirens occupied perhaps the most commanding position in the exhibition, proud and watchful at the entrance to the Red House. Yet Clarke envisaged them, cast monumentally in bronze ‘near water on an exposed rocky promontory’ to lure the mythical mariners to destruction.”
The iron heads are intended to spin in high winds although I confess I have never seen this. Clarke had also hoped to fit brass reeds within the structure so that when they did spin they would make a noise that Clarke described as “plaintive intriguing sounds.” This sound element was never included, apparently so that Britten and Pears were not disturbed, but it would certainly make a very interesting addition. It is intriguing that despite this consideration, and for a time both being Aldeburgh residents, (Clarke lived in the Martello Tower before selling it to the Landmark Trust) Britten and Clarke never met. This is sad as it appears that artistically they were like minded.
I particularly love the way spiky iron heads sit on top of irregular concrete pyramids, material that is so reminiscent of 1950s, yet somehow it is not at all dated and wonderfully of the 21st century. One of the magical things about this piece is that during the height of summer it becomes a little secret to be discovered by the most determined of visitors amongst a miniature maze of bamboo and grasses in full bloom. So really this could be the object of the year. Do have a look next time you are here, whenever that may be."