Change in Attitudes, Nunnington Hall: Layla Khoo
In July 2018 I approached National Trust property, Nunnington Hall with a view to working with their collection, and was asked to create an artistic response to their collection of taxidermy hunting “trophies” in a way which would engage their visitors in both the stories around the historic collection, and open wider discussions on the topics of collections and conservation. Having agreed to work together, we then had to tackle the issue of funding. With the support of the National Trust, I applied to Arts Council England project grants, unsuccessfully at first, but after a second application made stronger in areas needed, we were very grateful to receive the Lottery Funded Grant.
In order to better understand the historical context of these hunting trophies and the importance of them within the Nunnington Hall collection, I first wanted to gain a better understanding of the man responsible for the hunting – Col. Ronald Fife. By researching his published memoirs, “Mosaic of Memories”, accessing archives of information held by the National Trust, speaking with knowledgeable volunteers and being given a more personal insight by the Clive family, I was able to put together a picture in my mind of who Col. Fife may have been, how he and his family may have lived, and the circumstances around the hunting. From this research, began the creation of concepts which would not have been possible without the support and trust of the team at Nunnington Hall to allow me to develop the work in an organic way, with very few restrictions to the brief.
The finished works
The final results from my time working with, and researching at Nunnington Hall were three distinct pieces of work
In considering the “Change in Attitudes” towards conservation and big game hunting I took some inspiration from the quote “Take only memories, leave only footprints” widely attributed to Chief Seattle. Taking three examples of animals featured in the taxidermy collection. I approached Flamingo Land zoo to find out more about their efforts towards conservation of the same animals, and how the history of zoo keeping has run parallel to the history of big game hunting. Three tiled panels feature casts take from pugmarks from the zoo, which historically would have been used by hunters to track their quarry. The tiles feature an abundance of footprints, reducing to fewer and fewer to be found as time passes.
After researching Col Fife’s background, it appeared to me that there were three distinct facets recalled of his character: the military leader, the keen hunter, and a devoted and loving husband and father. To convey these different aspects to Col Fife, I have created three mirrors, each engraved with a quote to “reflect” on these different aspects of who he was. These more personal pieces are displayed in Col Fife’s bedroom, considering which version of himself he saw when he looked into the mirror.
Inspiration for the largest piece of the installation has been taken from the Black Rhino horn in the collection. Historically this piece was displayed on the wall of the Stone Hall, but due to it’s high value and the risks associated with this, it can no longer be displayed. There are approximately 5000 black rhinos left in the world, each one represented in my work by a black porcelain model of a rhino horn, reflecting both Col Fife’s passion for hunting, and his wife Margaret Fife’s collection of ceramics. The installation invites the audience to consider the very human compulsion to collect a “trophy” from places we have visited, and asks the visitors to make a choice. A trophy may be taken by any visitor, by removing one of the horns from the installation. In doing so, visitors must acknowledge that what has been taken will not be replaced, leaves less and less for others to experience. If this is the choice made, ownership and responsibility must be taken for this choice, by signing in the place of the rhino horn that has taken. Or visitors can enjoy the installation, take a photo, consider the implications and discussions this may bring to mind, and leave it intact for others to experience.
As well as funding from Arts Council England, this project would not have been made possible without the additional support provided by National Trust, Art Fund, Valentine Clays, Flamingo Land Zoo and York College.