The real Arcadia was a harsh and mountainous region in southern Greece. Artists, writers and philosophers over 2000 years transformed it to represent a quasi-mythical realm where a simple life of song, beauty and harmony is interwoven with decay and death.
The installation consisted of layered veils of words to construct magnificent corrugated fans and hanging scrolls. The works were layered and interwoven with text by Fanny Macleay - the naturalist daughter of Alexander Macleay, who built Elizabeth Bay House, and cultural historian Paul Carter. The words were stretched, scrambled and streaked to near illegibility.
Pip Stokes distorted, scrolled, folded and knotted the components of tracing paper, tissue paper, silk thread, antique pleated paper, transparent film, tassels, emu, parrot and other antipodean bird feathers to form Reading Arcadia.
One of her works, Twin Arcadian Fans, was made from silk, tracing paper and gold leaf, with a detail from a painting by the French artist Watteau folded mysteriously into its centre - but, said Pip Stokes, ’you have to look very hard to see it.’ Another fan, Fanny’s Hortus Pictus, took the colonial woman’s botanical art and letters and collaged them with silk thread and beeswax.
Other work on show included The Metamorphosis of Fanny Macleay - a hanging ’dress’ of twigs and pleated paper inscribed with the flowing text of her letters and bejewelled with the butterflies that so fascinated her.
Stokes, who has had 10 solo exhibitions since 1981, is fascinated with botanical forms and the way those forms have been interpreted in scientific, historical and artistic imagery since the 18th and 19th centuries.
Elizabeth Bay House was the ideal place in which to display Pip Stokes’s work’, said Acting Curator Scott Hill. The passion for the natural world that we see in Fanny Macleay’s letters, and the hopeful vision of an Arcadian world held by so many colonists, were sensitively evoked in the diverse elements and complex layers of Stokes’s creations.