Edmund de Waal
on living in an old country I–II, 2019
Porcelain, steel, gold, alabaster, aluminum, and plexiglass
© Edmund de Waal. Courtesy the artist and The Frick Collection. Photo: Christopher Burke
In this extraordinary fantasy of the English country house—the Dining Room here at the Frick—we're surrounded by images of English aristocracy. We imagine that if we open the windows here we'd be looking across some deer park deep into the English countryside. And it is a fantasy. It's about trying to make a space which talks about lineage, which talks about the countryside, and of course it's dominated by this incredible pair of Gainsborough portraits. And what I've done is to make two installations which I've called "on living in an old country". This is the only space within the whole of this exhibition where I'm not using vessels. If you look carefully into them, you'll see that they’re substantial white vitrines that float on these deep plinths of plexiglass, which allow you to look down onto the marble tops of the two pier tables.
And then, on top of the plexiglass is floating a piece of very, very thin marble, and on top of that is steel. I've made steel receptacles, some of which are empty and some which hold broken fragments of porcelain interspersed with gold. So in this very poised room when you look down into these steel containers you will see that I've written lots and lots of scraps of poetry, bits and pieces, marginalia, fragments, and then broken them all up, so these boxes hold fragments of language.
And I've called these two installations "on living in an old country". It's my response to Englishness. It's my response to this beautiful room, but it's also, as I think I say somewhere, when I think about being English, I want to break things. So here I've broken things and keep the fragments together. It's about being troubled by Englishness.