A fantasy of literature and art: Stephen Chambers’s ‘The Court of Redonda’ at the Biennale Arte

A fictitious royal court, a symphony of colour and a capricious cast of characters join together to create a fantasy constructed from literature and art — this is Stephen Chambers‘s monumental presentation, The Court of Redonda, currently on view as an Official Collateral Event of the 57th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia.

CoR Ca'Dandolo RESIZED (1).jpg
Installation view, The Court of Redonda at Ca’ Dandolo. Photo by  FS@SCS.
The show which is presented by the Heong Gallery at Downing College, University of Cambridge and curated by Emma Hill takes its home at Ca’ Dandolo on the Grand Canal from now until 26th November, showcasing 101 portraits that represent a utopian society dominated by creators and known as Redonda.

Redonda is a tiny, uninhabited island in the Eastern West Indies with a fascinating literary history. In 1865, merchant trader Matthew Dowdy Shiell claimed the island and elected himself monarch. His son M.P. Shiel, a science fiction writer, insisted on keeping the kingship to strictly literary lineage and so passed his title on to the English poet John Gawsworth. Gawsworth, wanting to expand the royal court, began to bestow titles to his friends and peers, thus creating a court of writers, poets, artists and ne’er-do-wells oozing with fantastical charm.
1. Lady of the Labrinth, 2016-17 © Stephen Chambers Studio, Photography by SCS, by courtesy of the Heong Gallery at Downing College, Cambridge.jpg
Lady of the Labrinth, 2016-17 © Stephen Chambers Studio, Photography by  FS@SCS, by courtesy of the Heong Gallery at Downing College, Cambridge.  
8. Guardian of the Guano, 2016-17 © Stephen Chambers Studio, Photography by SCS, by courtesy of the Heong Gallery at Downing College, Cambridge.jpg
Guardian of the Guano, 2016-17 © Stephen Chambers Studio, Photography by  FS@SCS, by courtesy of the Heong Gallery at Downing College, Cambridge
Chambers was himself introduced to the legend of Redonda by the novelist and former King of the island, Javier Mariás. Mariás appointed among others, Pedro Almodovar, A.S. Byatt and W.G. Sebald to his court, further adding to the elan of the fantastical group. Inspired by the tale, and the concept of a world guided by those with creative minds, Chambers’s The Court of Redonda was born.
Images of the ‘court’ are counterpointed with three large canvases made before, during and after Britain voted for BREXIT. Entitled, State of the Nation, the paintings gently nudge at the disintegration of our world in their depiction of a rider fallen from his horse.
14. State of the Nation (3), 2016-17  © Stephen Chambers Studio, Photography by SCS, by courtesy of the Heong Gallery at Downing College, Cambridge copy.jpg
State of the Nation (3), 2016-17  © Stephen Chambers Studio, Photography by  FS@SCS, by courtesy of the Heong Gallery at Downing College, Cambridge
Chambers is a Royal Academician elected in 2005 and was awarded an honorary fellowship to Downing College, University of Cambridge in 2016. Following Venice, the presentation will thus make its way to Downing to be shown there.
Says exhibition curator Emma Hill: ‘It is fitting that the installation should find its place as a Collateral Event at the Biennale Arte 2017, which takes the exclamatory statement
Viva Arte Viva as its title – for this expression of the necessity and freedom of the creative imagination, for art’s ability to reflect to us the moment we are living in, for an individual artist’s statement to carry the weight of this, is at the heart of the images Chambers presents us with in the faces of his imaginary courtiers.’
Stephen Chambers: The Court of Redonda will be on view at Ca’ Dandolo, Venice until 26 November, 2017; Open Tuesday – Sunday 10am-6pm; Admission: FREE

 

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