By Brontë Schiltz
Touch Wood, a new exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park by Jonathan Baldock, combines colour, texture scent and sound in a subversive exploration of local history.
The phrase “touch wood” derives from ancient pagan animist ideals – the belief that all natural objects possess a soul. As legend does, touching a tree would invoke its spirit, providing protection from harmful forces.
In sculptor Jonathan Baldock’s usage, it also evokes the fifteenth century misericords and wooden carvings of Wakefield Cathedral that inspired his new exhibition at nearby Yorkshire Sculpture Park. These misericords – concealed shelves that offered a discreet means to rest during long sermons in the medieval church – provided the inspiration Baldock needed.
“If you were building these religious spaces, with how monotonous much of it must have been, the opportunity to create these beings must have been a bit of an amazing outlet, and also had an amount of freedom of expression about it,” he says.
“But also, it’s a connection to the working people – the everyday people – of the time. History is really written by those in power, the wealthy, and so, actually, it’s very hard to find that connection to normal people. The majority were not really written into history.”
The misericords also depicted folkloric figures that one might not expect to see in a Christian space, such as the Green Man and the Sphinx. “Some were quite rude and vulgar, as well, which I love,” Baldock laughs. “It’s a connection to the humour of the everyday person – two fingers up to the piety and the constraints that you would imagine of the time.”