About the artist
Born in Ghent in Belgium, Sarah Van Marcke is an artist who works with photography, video, sculpture and performance. Using everyday materials, she creates simple installations that balance sadness, beauty and humour.
Her practice is inspired by researching and understanding the stories of places, especially the history of urban settings and architecture. She spends time researching a particular place, including its use, inhabitants, architects and surroundings, and often blurs facts with fiction.
Van Marcke explores the idea of manipulation of environments, power structures between humans and animals, our urge for control, and the strategies we develop to try and protect ourselves from the changing and unexpected nature of existence. Her work examines the methods and strategies that provide control over life and biotopes – small environmental areas providing living spaces for plants and animals, such as stones, bushes, flowerpots, gardens and mud. More recent projects have investigated how plants and animals adapt to the habitats that humans impose on them. The artist is fascinated by the distorted relationship we have with nature and more specifically the position that plants and animals are given in our daily life.
Her projects also often include the research of a protagonist – a leading character or person that usually has a special way of controlling a particular idea.
About the residency
During her residency at The Art House, Van Marcke will research the Wakefield district of Walton. She will investigate the eccentric and controversial 19th century naturalist and explorer, Charles Waterton who built a nine-foot-high wall around three miles of his estate at Walton Hall to turn it into the world’s first nature reserve.
Waterton was an early activist against environmental pollution, and was the first ever person to start, and win, a lawsuit in defence of a nature reserve being seriously endangered by a polluting factory. He fought a long-running court case against the owners of a soap works which had been set up near his estate in 1839, and which leaked out poisonous chemicals that severely damaged trees and polluted the lake.
Waterton was also a keen bird watcher who encouraged them to nest on his estate. He invented the idea of the nesting box, a common bird box now found in most gardens and parks.
Van Marcke’s approach to all the protagonists she investigates is always very considered and critical. Waterton is a controversial character who spent years as a manager of sugar plantations and enslaved people in Guyana, South America.
Her research will explore the many aspects of Waterton’s life and make essential and timely comments on his many failures too. In 2019 Wakefield Museums and Castles began a research project to learn more about Waterton’s involvement with the practice of slavery.
The artist aims to work closely with them to help contribute towards researching and interpreting Wakefield’s links to slavery and its legacy.
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