Art installation marks a new chapter for National Trust’s greatest book collection

Press release
The Word Superseded
Published : 01 May 2018

A five-year National Trust conservation project at one of the nation’s most important historic house libraries has inspired award-winning Theatre Company Les Enfants Terribles to explore the importance of books through contemporary art.

Les Enfants Terribles will bring sound, theatrical design and storytelling to Blickling Estate in Norfolk to examine the importance of books, and prompt debate about the threat posed to them and their place in a changing world.

The Word Defiant! is a series of installations throughout the Jacobean mansion and out to the garden Temple that will reveal stories of books that have been banned, burned, redacted, drowned, neglected and superseded, with each linked to the theme of books under threat.

The inspiration for the installations comes from the books in Blickling’s own library which is currently undergoing a comprehensive five year conservation programme to ensure its survival, after being plagued by damp and death watch beetle for some years.

Situated in Norfolk, home to the UNESCO city of literature, Blickling’s is one of the most significant country house libraries in England, with over 12,500 volumes making up the largest and oldest book collection in the conservation charity’s care.

One of the installations will feature a cascade of books flowing from the bookcases and across the Long Gallery which houses the library to draw visitors’ attention to this nationally important collection and its on-going need for conservation.

As visitors weave their way further through the mansion, they will experience more installations that tell the stories of books under threat around the globe.

This includes the story of Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice, the floating library where books are kept in bathtubs and boats to protect them from flooding. In the Chinese Dressing Room, a sound installation featuring maps and A-Zs spilling from a cupboard onto the floor, signify how digital technology has superseded examples of the printed word.

Outside, an abstract decorative scheme in the garden Temple will draw attention to the neglect of old, out of print or archived books.

There will also be further installations in the house, each telling the story of recent world events that have impacted a book’s survival.

This project is part of Trust New Art, a programme of contemporary arts at Trust places which began in 2009 in partnership with Arts Council England.

John Orna-Ornstein, Director of Curation and Experience for the National Trust, said: “Sharing our heritage is not only about telling the stories of our past but finding ways to inspire people of all ages to see the importance of preserving it for future generations. The Word Defiant! is a bold, creative and really thought-provoking way to bring Blickling’s historic library to life for visitors, while shining a light on the conservation challenges such an important collection presents.”

Artistic Director of Les Enfants Terribles Oliver Lansley said: “Telling a story is at the heart of everything we do as a company and we are excited to open The Word Defiant! in May in association with Blickling Estate and Trust New Art. The installation pieces immerse visitors in compelling contemporary stories about the place of books in the modern world. We hope they resonate with Blickling's visitors as much as they resonate with Blickling's rich literary tradition and on-going conservation work.”

One of Blickling’s Volunteer Art Ambassadors, Margaret Goose, said: “Lord Lothian, who donated Blickling to the Trust, hoped that it would be used as ‘a place from which public, or intellectual or artistic endeavours go forth...’. We feel that he would have approved of art being at the heart of what visitors experience today. I’m very excited that we’ll be shining a light on the library, so we can raise awareness and vital funds for the conservation work needed for both the internationally important books and the fabric of the Long Gallery.”

The Word Defiant! opens on 1 May, and will be open daily from 12-5pm until 28 October 2018. For further information and opening times visit the Blickling webpages.