The Word Defiant! Installations

Burned books lit from above, Blickling, Norfolk

Each of the seven installations that make up The Word Defiant! have their own story linked to the theme of books under threat, using contemporary global stories to highlight the international importance of Blickling’s Long Gallery and book collection. Take a look at how each space represents a different way in which the written word is at risk.

The library and its books are currently undergoing a comprehensive conservation programme after being plagued by damp and deathwatch beetle for many decades. Through this project, we hope to raise at least £500,000 to ensure its survival long into the future. All the books used in the installations were already earmarked for recycling.

The Word Banned | Brown Drawing Room

In 2017 Chinese censors banned Winnie-the-Pooh after unflattering comparisons were made between A.A. Milne’s fictional character and Chinese premier Xi Jinping. Images of Jinping with Barack Obama set alongside images of Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger were first circulated on Chinese social media platform WeChat in 2013. The restriction remains in place.

The Word Redacted | Kitchen Corridor

In 2010 U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Anthony Shaffer published Operation Dark Heart, the memoirs of his five-month tour in Afghanistan. The U.S. Department of Defense bought and destroyed the entire first print run of 9,500 copies at a cost of over $45,000. The Pentagon allowed a second print run subject to 433 redactions. Shaffer sued the Pentagon for the right to print an un-redacted copy, with the Pentagon agreeing to 235 redactions. Look out for the well-known phrase embedded in the books (in pink, from left to right); it is also spelled out in the Morse code you’ll hear.

The Word Redacted in the Basement Corridor
Set Designer Lydia Denno looks at The Word Redacted installation
The Word Redacted in the Basement Corridor

The Word Burned | The Cellar

When ISIS militants took control of Mosul, Iraq in 2014, they burned down its university library destroying thousands of books and manuscripts dating back to the Ottoman era. Following the liberation of the city in 2017, former students and academics saved around 2,000 volumes from the ashes of the library. Their work to restore and rebuild the library continues. 

The Word Drowned | West Turret Bathroom

The ‘Acqua Alta’ or ‘High Water’ are exceptionally high tides that occur in autumn and spring in the North Adriatic and cause flooding across Venice. As a result, the Libreria Acqua Alta bookshop stores their volumes in basins, bathtubs and even a full size Venetian gondola, ensuring that when the tides come in, their precious contents remain safe.

The people in the installation represent life, and the books upholding the city and the people. There is an energy and defiance and humanity in the little people. They ask questions of culture and how much culture elevates and supports us, and how lost we might be without it.

The Word Superseded | Chinese Dressing Room

The transition from paper maps and charts to online and satellite GPS-based services that can be updated remotely has resulted in physical documents becoming increasingly redundant. Blickling Estate’s second-hand bookshop receives many donations of A-Zs, maps and charts, many of which we struggle to sell as they are out of date and have become replaced by digital forms. The audio is sat nav instructions to juxtapose with the physical map.

The Word Defiant | Long Gallery Library

Blickling holds the most significant book collection cared for by the National Trust. The estimated 12,500 volumes were assembled by Sir Richard Ellys and brought to Blickling in the early eighteenth century by Ellys’ cousin Sir John Hobart, 1st Earl of Buckinghamshire. The books continue to be the subject of a major conservation and re-assessment project. Blickling’s magnificent library represents books defiant in the face of the threats represented in the previous six installations.

The sound represents the start and culmination of language, fragments of language that build into a cacophony. It is also intended to give a sense of movement, urgency, rushing and life. All the books you see were rescued from being pulped and their useful life extended to the end of October.

Don't forget to visit the Reflection Room on your way out of the house
A scroll of paper with visitor comments on The Word Defiant!
Don't forget to visit the Reflection Room on your way out of the house

The Reflection Room

We’ve designed some fun and interactive exercises to capture your feedback. The way the house looks today is very different from how it is usually presented; you'll have the chance to say how you feel. Has it made you think about how precious books are to you? Are you surprised that even today the written word is being censored and burnt?

The Word Neglected | The Temple

Be sure not to miss the Temple at the top of the garden which you can see from the Long Gallery.

Books are lost and forgotten for many reasons, from changing popular taste to publishers going out of business. A growing movement aims to catalogue and curate neglected titles and volumes believed to be the last copy in existence. Brad Bigelow is one such custodian of forgotten texts whose blog The Neglected Books Page features thousands of books worthy of reading which have fallen out of print and out of sight.

The Word Neglected out in the garden Temple
Books appearing out of sand with a pink window in behind
The Word Neglected out in the garden Temple
A book eaten by death watch beetle

Linking Blickling's book collection with The Word Defiant!

Librarian John Gandy gives us examples of how The Word Defiant! installations relate to Blickling's own book collection, and why they desperately need conserving.


The making of The Word Defiant!

Find out more about the concepts behind the immersive art installation, where Les Enfants Terribles' ideas came from and how they turned into a ground-breaking exhibition for the National Trust.