“Custodians” is an evolving installation, inspired by the history that the Forestry Commission is charged with preserving, and the future they plan to protect beyond their own lifetimes. The history protected in Dalby Forest lies everywhere beneath our feet, seldom even noticed but protected nonetheless within this working forest. Alongside past and present, the Forestry Commission is also charged with creating a future, in much longer terms than many of us expect to plan for, which brought to mind the proverb “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit”. This work looks to celebrate the work of the temporary custodians of this place.
Life-sized porcelain rabbits are placed in an otherwise unseen man-made rabbit warren, of sufficient historical importance to be listed as a scheduled monument, and yet lost to most visitors as part of the forest floor. These other-worldly white rabbits gaze upwards at viewers, their eyes silvery and reflecting the light shining down on them, highlighting the history of this land. This art work identifies the site in the present. The future of the site will be marked with sapling yew trees planted around its perimeter, an evolving feature with its own folklore connotations of death and rebirth, which will only come into fruition years after the sculptures have gone.
The history of the site
A warren is an area of land set aside for the breeding and management of rabbits or hares in order to provide a constant supply of fresh meat and skins. The tradition of warren construction and use dates from the 12th century, following the introduction of rabbits into England from the continent. The warrens would usually consist of breeding areas, ditches for drainage and traps or “types” which could contain the animals unharmed and allow for selective culling. Early warrens were mostly associated with the higher levels of society; however, by the 16th and 17th centuries they were a common feature on most manors and estates throughout the country. Warrens continued in use until fairly recent times, finally declining in the face of 19th and 20th century changes in agricultural practice, and the onset of myxomatosis.
Most traces of post-medieval warrening have been swept away by later land-use changes. Today those remains in Dalby and the adjacent forests are virtually all that are known to survive in north eastern England, including one example first recorded in 1776 and thought to have been in use until the end of the 19th century
Layla Khoo is a mixed media artist, specialising in ceramics and creating site specific public installations. Recent works include “Chronicle of Curiosities” at Whitby Museum and “Change in Attitudes” at National Trust, Nunnington Hall.
You can visit Layla's website here.