Contemporary art installation inspired by indoor Tudor tennis secrets

A new contemporary art installation, by artist Hilary Jack, is set to launch on the weekend of the country’s most celebrated event for tennis lovers, Wimbledon. But visitors to Little Moreton Hall in Congleton will notice a lack of grass courts and an unfamiliar setting for the much-loved game.

The newly commissioned art work titled Gathering takes its inspiration from the discovery of a handful of Tudor tennis balls found during restoration work in the historic Long Gallery at the 16th century property. 

For the installation, Hilary Jack has collected over a thousand used tennis balls, gathered from Wimbledon and other tennis clubs all over the country. Working with film, Hilary has highlighted the topography of the Long Gallery while revealing the historic use of the space. To accompany the audio-visual installation, the Tudor tennis balls will also be on display for the first time in years.

The Long Gallery was built in the 17th century as a demonstration of wealth by the ambitious Moreton family.  Long galleries were popular in this era as spaces for sociability and exercise as well as reflecting the status of the family.  Since the 1970s, five Tudor tennis balls have been discovered behind the Tudor panelling in the gallery as conservation work and maintenance has been taken place in the room and revealed clues about how it was used. It was these unique finds from a time gone by that have inspired Gathering.  

Hilary says: “I’ve visited Little Moreton Hall many times and have always been interested in how the environment has affected the appearance and architecture of the building over time.  On a recent visit, I overheard one of the guides explaining that the discovery of some Tudor tennis balls behind wood panels had confirmed the suspicion that a form of tennis had been played in the Long Gallery. As an artist I’m interested in the politics of place and I often work with found objects, so this triggered the idea for Gathering.  I hope that when visitors encounter the artwork it will elicit a response and prompt further enquiry into the history of Little Moreton Hall and the people who lived there.”

Hilary works across media in research-based projects, often working with found objects in sculptural installations and public interventions. Hilary has worked with many heritage galleries, and historic sites on large scale commissions and exhibitions. Her research-based practice has an activist element, focussing on the politics of place while drawing out social and historic elements of a specific site.  Hilary has exhibited across the UK and Internationally. Her work is in a number of private and public collections including recent acquisitions for Manchester Art Gallery and The Government Art Collection. Hilary is currently exhibiting No Borders, at Yorkshire Sculpture Park as part of Open Air 2019. 

Catherine Newbery, Contemporary Arts Programme Manager for the North at the National Trust says: “Hilary Jack is an interesting and established artist who has visited Little Moreton Hall many times, so when we received her proposal for the Long Gallery we were all really excited to find out more.  Little Moreton Hall is a beautiful building and art works and commissions like this help us bring the people who lived here to life and help our audiences make connections to their own lives.  As we are launching the commission around the Wimbledon tennis tournament I’m looking forward to the atmosphere the art work creates.”

Gathering opens at Little Moreton Hall on 29 June, to coincide with Wimbledon, and ends on 3 November 2019.  For more information visit, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/little-moreton-hall

Little Moreton Hall is a remarkable survivor from the Tudor era.  It is a timber-framed moated manor house that sits just south of Congleton.  Free guided tours are available for visitors to learn the history of the Hall and its inhabitants, and Tudor gentlewomen bring the Hall to life with demonstrations and activities.

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