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Land art at Chaumont chateau

Land art at Chaumont chateau

Promontoire sur la loire. Photo: Richard Hanson

The parkland which hosts the annual garden festival is also home to extraordinary outdoor sculpture, says Jackie Bennett

Best known for its annual contemporary garden festival, the Domaine of Chaumont-sur-Loire in France is also building a reputation as a place to see international ‘land art’ and outdoor sculpture.

Each year a handful of carefully selected artists are invited to react to the historical parkland around the 16th-century château. This year exciting new works will be created by Andy Goldsworthy, Giuseppe Penone and El Anatsui (the winner of the 2015 Venice Biennale Lion d’Or) to join those already on site.

Here we highlight some of the artists’ work that has been installed over the past eight years. The works are usually permanent or semi-permanent and stay in situ until the end of their natural life. 

La constellation du fleuve. Photo: Richard Hanson


Designer: Christian Lapie

Lapie started his career as a painter, but a trip to the Amazonian forest was the starting point for a new direction: creating monumental sculptures. From his home in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France – an area scarred by the battles of the First World War – he works with rough and charred wood to create elemental pieces that challenge our individual and collective memory. The sculptures, created especially for the park at Chaumont in 2015, are devoid of features, neither human nor tree. The trunks were chosen deliberately for their straightness and coated in a dark material called gangue – a type of waste rock and minerals left after ore extraction. The artist believes that neither their blackness nor their size should be unsettling – it should be peaceful to live in the company of trees. 

Promontoire sur la loire. Photo: Richard Hanson


Designer: Tadashi Kawamata

One of several works in the grounds by the Japanese artist, this wooden walkway is intended to make visitors reach out to the landscape in a new way. Installed in 2011, visitors are taken to the edge of their comfort zone, and in so doing, experience a liberation of the senses that brings them back to the promontory again and again. Tadashi Kawamata was born on the island of Hokkaido in 1953 and taught at the Tokyo Fine Arts University. At Chaumont, he works in his favourite material, wood, and has made two other structures involving tree huts and raised walkways that entice people through the trees. Walkways, are, he believes, not only a way of physically linking things together, but also offer a link between past and present, and between people. 

L’arbre chevalier. Photo: Richard Hanson


Designer: Antti Laitinen

Finnish-born performance artist Laitinen took to the land in the early 2000s by setting himself a series of extreme challenges: living with no food, water or clothes in a Finnish forest; digging a path through the snow to the sea; and sailing a flimsy bark float on the Baltic. Every challenge was recorded on film and was intended to bring the artist closer to a real contemplation of nature. Responding to the invite from Chaumont in 2015, he chose to clothe an existing plane tree in armour – like a knight of old protecting himself from attack by the enemy. The tree is covered with steel sheets held in place by pop rivets. 

Carbon pool. Photo: Richard Hanson


Designer: Chris Drury

In 2014, in the new Goualoup field recently acquired by the Domaine of Chaumont, British environmental artist Chris Drury created a huge log spiral that suggests it could pull the unwary underground. “The site was chosen because of the clump of pines, which present a living circle of trees,” Drury has written. “What was sensed was an idea of entropy – the trees dying, falling, being sucked in a vortex down into the earth. Rather than burning carbon and putting it into the atmosphere, it is stored in the earth and is reborn as new living trees.” Drury has made other circular works in slate (such as the Rhine Mosel Slate Whirlpool in Germany) but here he used local pine and poplar logs sourced from fallen timber just 2km away. The whole work measures 18m in diameter. 

Installation. Photo: Richard Hanson


Designer: Patrick Dougherty Dougherty grew up in North Carolina and became fascinated with primitive building techniques using tree saplings. Combining his carpentry skills with his interest in the outdoors, he bends and braids sticks together to make huge artworks – basketry on a grand scale. He begins by inserting sticks in the ground to make a framework and goes on to layer these with more and more material. Here he has used willow but also works in other materials that are plentiful, such as maple in the USA. He has made some 250 works throughout his 30-year career and describes his style as akin to drawing, “using sticks as you would use pencil lines”. He wants his work to seem familiar to people, “like a bird’s nest you might have seen”, while at the same time offering a range of options for exploration, walking between and around them. 

Toi[t] à terre. Photo: Richard Hanson


Designer: Rainer Gross

The German artist Rainer Gross conjures up shapes that are both graphic and organic. For this work he was inspired by the spiral turrets on the towers of the chateaux of the Loire and it was one of the first installations to have been commissioned for the grounds in 2008. The work is deliberately modest and fragile, using long, thin, machine-made slats of wood. Gross began as a stone sculptor but since the 1990s he has been working on site-specific sculptures, using hundreds of strips of blackened wood, held together with screws. The work plays with ideas of volume and space and has a close dialogue with the location – under a cedar tree on the edge of the park – with the Loire river visible through its opening. 

L’arbre aux echelles (The tree with ladders). Photo: Richard Hanson


Designer: François Méchain

Born in Varaize, Méchain is both a sculptor and photographer. This work refers to the novel by Italo Calvino, The Baron in the Trees, whose hero takes refuge from the stresses and strains of everyday life in trees. The metal ladders of various lengths are hung from different branches of the same tree (a plane tree) to metaphorically invite the viewer to imagine themselves up higher and further away – to look at the world from a different point of view and perhaps break free of the chains of ordinary existence. The ladders are rigid enough to stay in position, yet sway gently in the wind. 

The archipelago. Photo: Richard Hanson


Designer: Shodo Suzuki

The Archipelago of the great landscape architect Shodo Suzuki was first created for the International Garden Festival in 1993 and has been recreated in the Goualoup field as a permanent garden – the first time his work has been made outside of Japan. Suzuki combines the traditional philosophy of his homeland with cutting-edge techniques. The islands of black polished stone are symbolically broken into two or three elements, and surrounded not by white gravel, as in the Zen temples, but by water. The circle suggests ‘Satori’, the spiritual state of the bonze (the Zen Buddhist priest or monk), and a desire for peace.

The 25th International Garden Festival is now open and will run until 2 November 2016. Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire, 41150 Chaumont-sur-Loire, France. 

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