Kettle's Yard, contemporary art and CCT

This weekend, Kettle's Yard reopens in Cambridge after a two-year renovation project. The fascinating house museum is the former home of Jim Ede (1895–1990), a collector of British modern art and one-time curator at the Tate. Everything inside the house itself is left exactly as he specified; visiting the place is like stepping back in time and into somebody's home. But now, there is also more space for special exhibitions, learning, and relaxing in a new extension.

Kettle's Yard happens to be a neighbour of ours. Perched on top of the hill beside the house is St Peter's church, a small but stunning building that has roots back to the 11th century. As part of the launch, St Peter's is hosting a new piece of contemporary art by Rana Begum, made especially for the site. Andrew Nairne, the director of Kettle's Yard, tells us more:

Tell us a bit about Kettle’s Yard and the renovation project

The new Kettle's Yard includes many new spaces: two beautiful, purpose-built galleries; a bigger shop and for the first time, a café; a research space and archive; and the Clore Learning Studio, where we can host art activities for all ages.

Kettle's Yard with St Peter's Church, Cambridge, in the background
© Andrew Dunn (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Public License)

You’re opening with a major exhibition. What’s the theme and how did you decide on it?

The opening exhibition is called ‘Actions. The image of the world can be different’. The title comes from a letter by Naum Gabo (an artist in our collection), written during the Second World War to art critic Herbert Read. In the letter, Gabo expresses his belief that artists play a vital role in society by creating images and objects which enable us to see the world differently and imagine alternative futures. I came across the letter a few years ago when I was looking at a book about Gabo in the House at Kettle's Yard. When we were planning the opening exhibition I remembered the letter and its message that art can change our view of the world. Jim Ede, the founder of Kettle's Yard, shared this belief, so it seemed the perfect theme for the opening exhibition

When did you realise you wanted to show art in St Peter’s church?

We’ve exhibited works in St Peter’s church before and it always seems to get a great reception and a lot of interest (see Issam Kourbaj's project there in 2014. St Peter's has a strong relationship to Kettle's Yard; from just outside and inside the building you can often see the church and a stone to Jim Ede is in the floor of the church.

How did you decide whose work would look good in the building?

Knowing Rana Begum’s work, we invited her to respond to the space: she often creates site-specific pieces and St Peter's seemed a great fit. Begum's work invites contemplation and quiet, something very apt for a church.

Are you all happy with the results?

Even if I do say this myself, we couldn’t be happier. You never know when you ask an artist to create a new work quite how the result will turn out but I think it’s very special and works brilliantly in the church.

Were there any unexpected challenges or problems?

Rana Begum and her team had a very cold few days installing the art work (it's been a particularly cold January in Cambridge!) and there were certainly some moments where it seemed it could take a lot longer to put up than anticipated. We also had an anxious few weeks waiting for the baskets to arrive from Bangladesh. They were made by a family business in Jamalpur District, north-west of Dhaka and each basket takes two to three hours to make. We needed 2,000 of them for the project, so it was a lot of work to get them to Cambridge in time.

'No. 764 Baskets' by Rana Begum, in St Peter's Church, Cambridge.
No. 764 Baskets by Rana Begum, in St Peter's Church, Cambridge. Photo: Ben Lister/PA. Courtesy the artist and the Samdani Art Foundation.

Would you do it again?

Absolutely, and we hope to use the church for future artist projects.

How do visitors react to seeing contemporary art in an old religious building?

All the visitors so far have particularly enjoyed this work. The juxtaposition of this new piece with the architecture of the small Norman church and the font which is 'inside' the work seems to be something visitors really respond to.

Do you ever visit the church outside of exhibitions?

Yes, it’s right next door and the light at different times of the day and year is beautiful. During our annual Castle Hill Open Day (this year in July) it is a hub of activity – with opportunities to find out about the history of the church.

What’s your favourite church in Cambridge?

St Peter’s! But I also have a soft spot for the nearby church of All Saints also looked after by the CCT, with its extraordinary painted ceiling, decorated in the Arts & Crafts style by F.R. Leach & Sons, for whom David Parr of the recently discovered David Parr House worked.

What’s next for Kettle’s Yard and St Peter’s?

Rana Begum’s piece is up until 29 April. The Castle Hill Open Day will be on a Saturday in late July and we are currently exploring other opportunities for future artists’ projects in St Peter’s Church. At Kettle’s Yard, up next is a solo exhibition of work by sculptor Antony Gormley, 22 May–27 August 2018.

Lead image: Ben Lister/PA. Courtesy the artist and the Samdani Art Foundation.

> Find out more about Kettle's Yard here.

>  Find events happening in Cambridge and beyond here.