Speke of the Future

Artwork from the 'Speke of the Future' exhbition by Alice May Williams

Following a two month residency at Speke Hall, Alice May Williams presents a new commission that draws on the hall’s Arts and Crafts heritage. Taking William Morris’s ‘News from Nowhere’ as a starting point, Williams imagines the potential futures of Speke Hall and the National Trust in the year 2200.

Speke of the Future runs from 23 September – 27 November 2016, and will launch what is to be an ongoing programme of activities by contemporary artists at Speke.

“By bringing contemporary art installations into historic buildings such as Speke Hall, we hope to add a new and exciting layer to our visitors’ experience” says Hannah Pierce, the Trust’s Contemporary Art Programme Manager. “It also enables young, dynamic artists to create new work in spaces which wouldn’t normally be accessible, which can inspire and challenge their creative process. We are delighted to welcome Alice May Williams in her role as Artist in Residence to Speke as part of the Bluecoat’s off-site programme. Alice was selected from over 90 UK-wide applicants by a panel which included guest selector Marie-Anne McQuay, Head of Programme at Bluecoat.”

The installations map out a fictional future of the house by illuminating the patterns of the past, not only those visible to us, such as the William Morris wallpapers and tales of Adelaide Watt, but lesser known characters such as the Whatmores, caretakers of the house in the 1930s.  Williams writes the future inhabitants as tribes occupying different sections of Speke, themselves each living out their own version of an ideal society inspired by the historical characters who frequented the house such as Adelaide Watt, Whistler, Rosetti and Florrie Goodwin the dairymaid.

The idea arose at the proposal stage when invited to think about a response to the pre-Raphaelite interiors of Speke Hall, and was driven by a fascination with the book 'News from Nowhere' by William Morris, setting out a vision for a perfect future 200 years ahead.  News from Nowhere is not only very much a product of its time (the late 19th century) but is itself largely a reiteration of a longed for lost pastoral history.  Williams likewise sees time as a cyclical process, where the shifts of society of the future mirror those lived in the past, but recognises the plurality of idealised societies, allowing these 'utopias' to exist side by side.  The future for Speke as imagined by Williams is once more a refuge for groups whose ways of living are outside the norms of the mainstream, and also hints at a larger role for the National Trust as the saviour of more and more of our country's past and future!

Installations based on artefacts of the future will be spread around the ground floor of the house and the home farm area. Including the Morning Room as frequented by Adelaide Watt, the Great Hall, the Morris decorated Estate Office or 'gun' room where Ms Watt's companion Miss Lee-Steere once kept her gun, the scullery where a young Tom Whatmore used to fix his bike, and the Oak Parlour, home to the stained glass Watt family crest, which is the only visual reference to the house's historical links to slavery and the sugar plantations in Jamaica.

Alice May Williams says "I loved my time at Speke Hall, and whilst I initially planned to simply write a story about Speke Hall in the future, I was so inspired by the visually rich environment that I rediscovered my love of drawing and collage, which was very liberating.  I am looking forward to developing these drawings further into Morris style repeat pattern fabrics, and to see these mixing with the decor at Speke is for me, a huge honour.  I also imagined that I would write something quite spooky based on my nerves about sleeping alone in a Tudor house, but I was infected by the fun side of the history and the people who work here now, and so I hope that visitors will find the humour in the story set 200 years in the future at Speke, which I think is a fairly light hearted look at both the idea of an 'ideal society' and also a reflection on the world we are living in now. Unlike William Morris, I do not believe I have written a serious utopian fiction, on the contrary I think we need to use humour in order to look forward imaginatively and with hope, understanding that there is no one 'perfect society', everybody has their own dream, and so this is idea of plurality is built into the text, and in the exhibition, I want people to add their ideas for the future too, both for Speke, the National Trust, Liverpool and beyond!