Stowe, National Trust. Exhibition book.
DEMONS LAND is a shape-shifting, mixed media project- including film, text, sculptures, paintings, theatre, music and dance- that explores the dreams, crimes and legacies of colonialism. DEMONS LAND challenges established ways of thinking: about the past; about the possibilities of collaborative practice; about the relationship between the arts, education, and urgent political questions.
In our project, the poem is a land, and the land is a poem. But whose land, and whose poem?
The original poem was written in Ireland in the most violent years of the Elizabethan conquest. Spenser was one of the new English, taking the lands of the Irish, resolved to reform their religion and subdue their culture. The imaginative premise of our project is that subsequent global history has been a tale of this poem coming differently, imperfectly to life. The poem becomes the text of the unfinished modern world.
DEMONS LAND asks: what might it mean for a poem to come true?
The project’s first major installation was an unprecedented collaboration with the National Trust in 2017, in which the celebrated temples and gardens of Stowe – an iconic site of Britain’s ambivalent history – became host to our story.
Lord Cobham’s intention for Stowe was directly inspired by THE FAERIE QUEENE. With its temples, hermitage, grotto, and woods, Stowe offers an arresting translation of Spenser’s vision. It is a place of visionary dreams and political resistance; a place where temptation might be at once expressed and overcome. The gardens and building were to be a poem come true. But Stowe also embodies the darker side of wealth, beauty, and empire. Extravagant waste, luxury, and inequality, built in part upon the spoils of war and the slave trade; an ideology of remorseless overseas expansion, in which assumptions of cultural superiority entailed religious persecution and the repudiation of indigenous rights.