Demons land: a poem come true

What if a life, if history itself, were modelled upon a poem? A multi-media art installation in which a great poem - Edmund Spenser's 'Faerie Queene' - is brought eerily to life. Its film, soundscapes, paintings and sculptures offer a dark allegory of colonialism, past and present, exploring art's complicity in the dreams and crimes of empire. 'Demons land' is the underbelly of our heritage.

A flesh puppet from the Demons land exhibition, depicting the character of Red.

Demons land: a poem come true

What might it mean for a poem to come true? If a life, if history itself, were modelled upon a poem? Perhaps all our hopes and dreams would be granted. Or perhaps our darkest fears would find uncanny realisation.

The National Trust at Stowe is about to embark on an exciting new journey into the world of Edmund Spenser’s epic poem, Faerie Queene, alongside partners from Oxford University. ‘Demons land: a poem come true’ is a multi-media art installation created by Professor of English at Brasenose College, Simon Palfrey, along with his handpicked team, in which Spenser’s poem comes tragically to life. The gripping installation uses film, soundscapes, sculpture and paintings to narrate the expansion of the original tale through the eyes of Ola, a fictional curator, who discovers centuries-old fragments of text written by her ancestor ‘The Collector’.

The character of Red from 'Demons land'.
A painting of Red, from the 'Demon's land' exhibition

Why Stowe?

The story of ‘Demons land’ unravels throughout the journey around the eighteenth-century landscape gardens at Stowe. When asked why he chose Stowe as a setting for his new exhibition, Palfrey replied, ‘Lord Cobham’s [eighteenth century] vision for Stowe looks back to Spenser’s Faerie Queene for inspiration.’

Penned in the sixteenth century, Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene tells the stories of several knights, each representing a particular virtue, on their quests for the Faerie Queene, Gloriana. 

The routes through the gardens are entangled with hidden meanings that hark back to the story of the Faerie Queene: the paths of ‘Vice, Virtue and Liberty’ reflect the utopian idealisms and stark reality expressed in the narrative poem. When newly constructed, Vice, in particular, directly interacted with Spenser’s tale. The Temple of Venus, on this path, historically contained fantastic paintings which illustrated parts of the Faerie Queene poem, now sadly lost to time.

The exhibition

‘Demons land: a poem come true’ explores the complicity of art – poetry, myth, painting, storytelling, architecture, even gardening – in the dreams and crimes of empire. The exhibition is a collaboration between Simon Palfrey (writer), Tom de Freston (artist), Mark Jones (filmmaker), Luke Lewis (composer), Jetho Cooke (composer/sound designer), Stephanie Greer (actress) and a team of staff and volunteers from the National Trust at Stowe. The installation is being funded by both TORCH and the AHRC.

This enticing new endeavour will open at Stowe on 8 May and runs until 16 July, in New Inn and three of the temples in the gardens. Normal admission applies. To find out more information about the exhibition, see http://torch.ox.ac.uk/simon-palfrey-demons-land-poem-come-true