IN a time of cheap, disposable fashion hypermarkets, the humble haberdashery has become something of a specialist store. Unless you’re a keen knitter or DIY clothing designer, it’s not a shop you’ll have cause to visit very often.
But it wasn’t always this way. In the 17th Century, haberdashers sold not just fabric and thread but things for the home, furniture, toys and “all the things people were desperate to get”.
“These were powerful men,” explains artist Richard Layzell, whose installation and residency at Forty Hall opens to the public this week, and adds “they were the equivalent of dot com millionaires today.
“There were a few, very wealthy haberdashers in London – indeed this house was built on haberdasher money.”
Once home to the leading haberdasher of his age Sir Nicholas Rainton, Richard has responded to the newly refurbished hall and estate with a number of installations, a film and performance programme, collectively titled The Magpie.
“I imagined that I was this sort of contemporary character who was a maverick haberdasher – where would I go?” says Richard, “With its thrilling global reach and exotic product names such as Benno, Blanda and Duktig – it’s obvious... Ikea.”
From items found in Ikea, Edmonton’s bargain corner, Richard has created a haberdasher’s cabinet in the hall’s courtyard, complete with vibrant rolls of fabric and drawers full of ‘bright sparkly things’.
Another aspect of Richard’s work at the hall is an installation exploring chopsticks and cutlery. In the Long Gallery, on a large round table surrounded by sculpted starched table cloths, chopsticks and stands appear to jump from the table-top, leaping off at different angles.
“They’re quite eccentric and they fly off the table,” says Richard, “the concept links up with the fact that most fabrics would have come from the east and from China in the 17th Century. They would have been considered incredibly exotic, just the colours would have been so desirable.”
This eastern influence continues in the short film and performance part of Richard’s residency. After a number of trips to China, the artist took part in banner waving, one of many activities Chinese people enjoy in parks. He hopes to bring a similar spirit of fresh air fun to Enfield, with activities planned for the coming weeks.
“In China it’s amazing, you’ll be in a park in central Bejing and there’s banner waving, jiving in one corner, people doing diablos, people fishing, another group doing martial arts.
“It’s just part of the culture there, I feel we could really learn from that and use our parks much more dynamically.”
As well as its connections to haberdashery, Forty Hall has for a long time been home to a resident bird population which inspired a film by Richard to be shown for the duration of the exhibition.
“It began by looking at the roof of Forty Hall,” says Richard, “It’s exceptional, and you look a bit longer and see it’s completely occupied by birds, they’ve taken over. The crows nests, the pigeons rest on the gutters, pied wagtails hang out on the corners.
“They just look completely at home. I feel my role is encouraging people to feel at home here as well.”
The Magpie by Richard Layzell is at Forty Hall until April 28. There will be an artist’s talk on February 21 at 6.30pm. On March 1, the artist is hosting a night walk around the grounds. Details: www.fortyhallestate.co.uk