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Friday 21 August 2020

In conversation with Jonathan Roson

Jonathan Roson is the artist behind our next exhibition, Octagon 300. It will be celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Grade 1 Listed Octagon Room that is part of the Orleans House Gallery site. Here we find out a little bit more about Jonathan and the project.

Immersive exhibition 'Sensorium' at VERV London. March 2020

Can you tell me a little bit about your art practice?

My own practise focuses mainly on creating sculptures and site-specific installations from natural materials like wood, stone and organic matter. My current body of work consists of sculptural objects made from timber some of which are stained black. I choose to work with natural materials because of its history and its innate qualities (splits, cracks, knots & grain). These qualities inspire an empathetic dialogue with the material, and thus guide the development of my sculptures.

I was born in Sydney, Australia and have a background in Horticultural Science and bush regeneration. This has informed my artistic practise over the years. You can see Jonathan’s website to find out more about his past projects here.

What is Alice in Hackneyland?

In 2019 my partner Yuliya (who is also a creative member) and I founded Alice In Hackneyland. Our inspiration came from observing our three-year-old daughter’s play and development, while taking her to all the wonderful museums and art galleries in London from an early age. We were fascinated by her visual, tactile and spatial relationship with art and the world she engages with.

In addition to my own art practise we wanted to create artworks that are fun, playful and have an educational aspect for children of all ages.

Alice In Hackneyland evolved to become a collective of artists, researchers, writers and designers based in Hackney.  Our collaborative practice seeks to create immersive art experiences and events, playing with perception, illusions and the importance of fun. We present installations using both traditional and unconventional approaches with a goal to make art accessible for all.

Images of past Alice in Hackneyland projects:

'Alice in Hackneyland wall mural' in collaboration with CraftnDraft, Hackney Road. December 2019
Immersive exhibition 'Sensorium' at VERV London. March 2020
'The Fluorescent Tea Party' at Hackney WickED. 2019
Artist working on 'The Fluorescent Banquet' at Omega Hub, Hackney Wick. 2020

What is the inspiration behind the Octagon 300 project?

The Octagon Room at Orleans House represents one of the most important examples of Baroque period art and architecture in Britain. Baroque period’s main characteristics are its playfulness, dynamism, exuberance and overall being “over the top”. Alice in Hackneyland’s approach to art making shares much of these qualities. The opportunity to celebrate the Octagon Room’s anniversary inspired us to create installations to commemorate this highly histrionic, visual and playful era in art history.

What can we expect to see?

Two highly visual installations and an engaging exhibition that, when seen you are lost for words. The installation will have a significant interactive component despite Covid-19.

Have you discovered anything unusual about the Octagon Room during your research?

We were fascinated to learn about all the royals that have been wine, dined and entertained at the house. Queen Caroline (wife of George II) dined in the Octagon Room in 1729 and Louis Phillippe, Duc d’Orleans resided here from 1815-17, before becoming King of the French in 1830.  In 1844 he took Queen Victoria to visit Orleans House as part of the first French Royal visit in 500 years.  She later returned in 1869 to offer her condolences to Louis’s son Henri, Duc d’Aumale, who lived at Orleans House from 1852, when his wife passed away.

We were also surprised to learn about a connection between Nellie Ionides’ family and East London.  Nellie bequeathed the Orleans House Gallery site to the Borough and her grandfather, Marcus Samuel the elder, lived in Spitalfields with his wife and eleven children. It was from here that he started to buy shells from sailors as they came ashore to make trinket boxes.  This was the start of a family business in trade and oil. You can read more about Nellie here.

But the most interesting for me personally was to learn about the Australian cricket team that stayed in Orleans House in 1878 during a game with England in which they drew.

Alice in Hackneyland artists: Jonathan is not the only artist working on this show.  He works with a larger team of Alice in Hackneyland collaborators, these include;

Patterson Falls, a visual artist exploring new realms in experimental photography, design and mixed media. He co-created Play with Baroque and The Fluorescent Banquet.

Michelle Meola, a muralist, eco artist and environmental activist. She played a key role in the design and creation of the Fluorescent Banquet.

Robin Garms, a creative and a designer who is a collector of curiosities of London and its inhabitants throughout history.  Robin has been instrumental in designing in visual content for the exhibition.

Nina Mankin is a mixed-media artist whose work delves into the magic and uncanny realm of fairy tales, psychology and dreams. She assisted with the creation of the Fluorescent Banquet and other aspects of the exhibition.

Yuliya Keselman contributes to research, writing, marketing, and overseeing the management of projects. She co-curated the exhibition and assisted in design and production of the installations.