I first heard of Rope House in 2011, proposed by artist and performance curator Rosie Jackson. In essence she wanted funding to build a double-story life-size house that created a performance space for Secret Garden Party Festival. Knowing that, although an excellent idea, Rosie was not in an experienced position to build such a structure at this late stage and I turned the proposal down. However, the concept and idea stuck very much in my mind. I liked the idea of the performance being fully and wholly integrated with an art installation; the two working as a homogenous whole, curated and realised side by side.
The year-long gestation period obviously bore fruit as the 'Rope House: Revised' application landed on the doorstep (thankfully early) in 2012. Rosie had teamed up with a pair of talented and diligent architects, namely Matt and Rhys from Graticule Architecture www.graticule-architecture.co.uk. The pairing was genius; they needed each other to make it work.
In simple terms, Rosie needed competent and qualified builders to construct for her and Matt and Rhys needed a concept and purpose to bounce off and to direct the design of the space. But these are poor and insufficient explanations as to why the dream team ensemble made such a successful project. Quite perfectly, they 'got' each other. Moreover, that divide that can exist between Mr Creative and Mr Practical; that watershed that sours ambitions and rolls eyes in frustration simply did not exist.
I love proposals that blow my mind and make me think there is physically no way this can be done. I love meeting the artist to try and work out if they are next level genius or just completely, certifiably insane. They wanted to build a house from a single length of rope. Usually, ambitious and quite frankly mad concepts fall by the wayside as it dawns on people that neither the physics nor the budget exists to comply with their dream build. What I loved about the RopeHouse trio was their unfaltering insistence that this could be done. Far from being a bunch of nutters, these were three deeply clever and ambitious people with a positive and relaxed attitude towards the project - always a good sign.
As you can see, the house is in fact made from one single piece of rope. It is beautiful in its form and astute in its design. The texture of the rope coupled with its enveloping and suffocating form hid and yet revealed the aluminum skeleton beneath it. People ran towards it to touch, feel, taste it like a contemporary ginger bread house, to see if what they could see was actually real. Once inside you were together, irrevocably together, with whoever you occupied the space with. Smiles were swapped as hands ran round the inside of the space, accompanied by mutterings of amazement and impressed whistles.
We had an idea early on to place a strong white light inside the house at night so it was lit from within. Naturally (and who wouldn't have) we followed this with the addition of a smoke machine. At night the house glowed and smoked atop its grassy throne with beams of light escaping the ever-sagging rope. One of my favourite stories of the festival is the report that a bored steward (who was obviously not paying attention in the briefing) looked across the site to see the smoking form. Feeling his 'moment to shine' had finally come, he ran towards it screaming "FIRE, FIRE" and madly tried to evacuate the house, mid performance, with all the gusto of a fire fighter saving babes from an inferno. All the while, actors and audience alike were equally madly shouting "IT'S A SMOKE MACHINE" and pointing wildly at the smoke machine in the corner. Apparently, much hilarity ensued and he stayed for the remainder of the performance!
Rosie's ever whirling and occupied mind was, in many ways, the epicenter of this project. She is clearly a curatorial force when it comes to performance and her attention to detail, to atmosphere and to immersive-ness was truly inspiring. I urge you to read her blog as the project travels a year in her mind:
You never quite know how people will react to pieces you select, you never quite know what will happen and how they will turn out - it's that ever present gamble in funding proposals rather than finished pieces. There are two things to note with Rope House. Firstly, and this is a testament to the professionalism of the trio, Rope House was exactly (and more than) what they proposed it would be. It was a 'success,' a piece I look back at with pride and a sense of validation that contemporary installations absolutely do have a place in arenas such as a festival. Secondly, in the Crane TV video accompanying this post, Rosie talks of her role as "setting the scene" and "putting the ingredients in place". What I found interesting about Rope House was that the curated and actor driven performance became only a part of the performance. When the space was supposedly redundant, the manner in which people utilised the space and communicated within it became performance itself. It was a brilliant place to 'be'. Being in the space made you interact with it. It was, quite simply, an inspired piece of architecture.
http://www.crane.tv/video/v/211157094459-765afc00/Rope-House Film courtesy of Crane TV