“Getting On” – An automaton by Robert Race – A Baring Foundation Late Style Commission
In 2014 the Baring Foundation invited applications from arts organisations to commission artists who were over 70 years of age to make an original new work of art on the theme of Age.
New Brewery Arts in Cirencester with the Orders of St John Care Trust proposed commissioning Robert Race – a leading maker of Automata whose works have been exhibited all over the world. His work was unveiled on Saturday 4th July at Millbrook Lodge care home in Gloucestershire –bringing an exceptional new work of art into the world.
Robert began by running 5 workshops at Millbrook Lodge, in collaboration with New Brewery Arts and the care provider staff. Sir Nicholas Mander (who performed the great unveiling with Millbrook Resident Jean Reed) described Robert’s role in these workshops:
“Robert resided, enabler, eyes twinkling, dressed like a conjurer in an origami cap, producing magical boats shaped like paper hats. Accompanying narrative, recited poems by Robert Louis Stevenson and Rabindranath Tagore: Day by day I float my paper boats one by one down the running stream. “
So, on Saturday we finally saw his creation – an ingenious, complex, beautiful, funny, playful, and above all poetic ….kinetic sculpture, toy, machine.
Working from many different poetic and visual reference points on the theme of age and playing with reference points from other toys and toymakers, this device invites you to explore and enjoy this work for hours – enjoy the repetitive movements, handles to turn knobs to press, drawers to open, secret parts to discover – a magic box of craftsmanship and wit. I can already imagine that this will become an important part of a visit to a loved one in a care home – children and adults alike can enjoy exploring this piece on many different levels. It is playful but not patronising or childish; it is multi-layered and sophisticated but not obscure.
Does it fit into the vision behind the Baring Foundation’s Late Style commission series? I very much think so. With over 40 years’ experience as a professional toymaker, Robert demonstrates his mastery of his field. As an artist in his 70s, it led Robert to a personal contemplation of Age – what is Late Style?– a deepening of skill and experience or a dropping off? He enjoyed this platform to open up that theme to others through his distinct and somewhat rare craft and artistry. In creating a piece designed to be enjoyed in care homes where the themes and practicalities of age are an ever present reality – he has provide a rare treasure for the homes and other spaces it will be exhibited.
The Automaton can be seen at Gloucester Cathedral from 5 September to 9 October and at New Brewery Arts from 10 – 31 October when it joins other works by Robert Race. And it will be at the Dementia Congress in Telford on 3 – 5 November. A short film about the making of Getting On is at https://youtu.be/H0510XYl7DE.
Kate Organ, Arts Adviser, Baring Foundation