YSP Blog

Life in the Park, a blog from in and around the 500 acres of Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Find out what's happening in the Park on a regular basis with our blog, Life in the Park. Tell us what you see in the Park by emailing news and pictures to lydia.turnbull@ysp.co.uk
Still Looking at YSP
Still Looking at YSP
Still Looking at YSP
Still Looking at YSP

Still Looking: Mindfulness and Art

Still Looking came from an observation that visitors to Yorkshire Sculpture Park, in common with most galleries and museums, spend very little time engaging with the artwork – research from the National Gallery revealed the average to be under two minutes for any artwork.

Research shows that a 30-minute visit to a gallery can measurably reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol in saliva. We also know that slowing down, taking time and noticing what is going on around us and within us has beneficial effects. So what would happen if that short visit was enjoyed at a slower, more mindful pace? Could we intervene in people’s usual habits and introduce ways to slow down?

Still Looking is one of the solutions we have developed. It is a regular monthly event for any members of the public to come and experience mindfulness and art in the outdoors and in the galleries.

The question we are interested in is: ‘can we use mindfulness practices to move from being a passive observer to a more active engagement with the artwork?’

The two-hour session involves some guided meditation and some suggestions about how to mindfully engage with art. People look at the artworks they are drawn to, and are supported to move into a state of active looking or listening. We encourage people to encounter the artwork as a direct experience. There is no need for knowledge or experience, you don’t have to ‘get it’ you only have to notice what is going on for you.

This process has led to some heartfelt responses from people:
‘I will think more about why I need to come here and how to get the most out of it. I didn’t realise before today why I liked coming. I didn’t know how to do it on purpose, it just sometimes worked on it’s own and sometimes didn’t. I was probably here but not here, that’s why it didn’t work.’

‘An extraordinary experience that should be offered to all!’

‘I don’t understand art… particularly sculpture. I read the info, I look at it, I don’t really get it. What we did today was different – I really did feel I was engaging with it’

‘A new way of looking – you don’t need to know who the artist is, what you think it’s about – you can just get lost in it.’

‘We all feel inadequate as to how informed a response is but this exercise suggests that authenticity of response is experienced when prepared by mindfulness.’

‘A time to relax, contemplate and absorb. To feel what the artist is trying to say and what it says to you. The course re-aligns why we come here to YSP. To slow down.’ 

Rachel Massey, Arts and Wellbeing Coordinator

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Barbara Hepworth, The Family of Man, 1970
Barbara Hepworth, The Family of Man, 1970

Restoring Barbara Hepworth’s Family of Man by Sculpture Conservator, Laura Davies

As a sculpture conservator I care for and maintain works on show at YSP. This involves a great amount of cleaning, waxing and sometimes fixing, but my recent work on Hepworth’s Family of Man went quite a bit further.

These nine bronze sculptures were restored from weathered grey tones to rich areas of dark brown, contrasting with intense blue/green. The aim of the conservation work was to re-capture the artist’s original intention by restoring the colour of the bronzes to how they appeared when they were first made in 1970.

Barbara Hepworth’s Family of Man has been resident on the hillside at YSP for nearly forty years. Only one other set of these sculptures exist worldwide, so they are unique and important works, which are treasured by the Park and its visitors. Over time, exposure to the Yorkshire elements changes their appearance dramatically.

Hepworth valued her works being displayed outdoors and was keen for them to develop a weathered look, thus becoming a natural part of the landscape. But she also employed many different visual tactics to ensure a juxtaposition of surface textures, finishes and colours to provide contrast and meaning to the forms. To capture and respect these aspects of the artist’s original intentions, their future care involves a careful balancing act of preservation and restoration considerations.

The conservation work at YSP began with deep cleaning of the sculptures on site to remove wax layers applied annually to protect the bronzes. The sculptures had become very blackened and were a dull, uniform colour all over. Through research, I learned that these works should have distinct areas of brown colouration with vivid green insets.

The sculptures were moved to allow repair of the landscape surrounding them. Then the colour of the bronze surfaces could then be replenished using patination techniques and an original green recipe from the Hepworth archive. The colouration was applied in thin layers, over a week, by a team of four conservators. The exterior of the sculptures are now, once again, dark brown with some areas of green and gold. These sections are hard and strong as if to convey outward human strength, in contrast with the internal concave sections which are textured and soft matt in finish, suggesting our internal vulnerability.

The sculptures have been given a renewed appearance in keeping with the artist’s intent. With respect and good care these sculptures should continue to enchant visitors for many more years. 
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