ForM

Bangor Castle Walled Garden is invaded by an army of unusual sculptures in this hands-on exhibition

Showcasing 32 works by 22 artists, ForM is a sculpture exhibition with a difference. Organised in conjunction with North Down Borough Council, it utilises the Bangor Castle Walled Garden as an outdoor exhibition space, and around every corner there is a surprise.

Inspired by the tranquil surroundings, curators Sharon Regan, Jo Hatty and Lee Boyd have obviously enjoyed their task, interacting with the park – using its many nooks and crannies – in a playful and innovative fashion.

There is a real sense of magic about this exhibition. As a first time visitor to Bangor Castle (perhaps more commonly known as the Town Hall), I'm increasingly intrigued as to just what I will find hiding behind the giant stone walls that encircle the 1.5 acre site.

'As a child I would always wonder what was behind those walls,' says Cultural Services Marketing Manager for North Down Borough Council, Miriam Crozier, as she arrives to let me in to view the exhibition.

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'It always felt like a real life The Secret Garden. Unfortunately it turned out that the garden, designed by the Ward family in the 1840s, became used as something of a dumping ground in recent times. Thankfully, North Down Borough Council restored it to its original beauty, and it has now been open to the public since 2009.'

Upon entering the site, even the most cold-hearted among us would find it difficult not to raise a smile. Firstly, the grounds are breathtaking. Boasting four distinct areas – the flower garden, the swamp garden, the herb and topiary garden and the kitchen garden – is certainly does resemble the setting of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved children’s novel.

Glancing around, many larger sculptures are readily visible, such as Lauren Scott’s ‘Lady Hare’, created solely from textiles in a ‘vegetarian approach to taxidermy’, and Patrick Calhoun’s ‘Behemoth’, an enlarged metal head seemingly rising from below the ground and reflecting the surroundings.

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A great deal of fun can be had discovering the smorgasbord of smaller pieces hidden amongst the fauna. No matter where I turn, there is something new to see, be it Chi How Tsang’s colourful ceramic Gundam-style robots arranged in a shrub bed, or Ellen Cunningham’s Celtic fairy rings (which, I am told, are dutifully guarded by a duo of garden-dwelling birds).

Even on a mid-week afternoon, the garden is a real hive of activity, with young couples picnicking on the grass and families enjoying a scenic day out. Luckily for mums and dads, the art is as enjoyable for children as it is for grown-ups. It is extremely heartening to see youngsters excitedly discovering playful pieces such as keen gardener Jackie Ball’s comic ‘Toad’ hiding in the swamp garden.

Elsewhere, Jo Hatty has a series of miniature rabbit sculptures on wheels – an instant draw for tiny hands to play with. Rather than a look-but-don’t-touch policy, the organisers of FoRM actively encourage children to enjoy the art hands-on, epitomising the sense of wonder and fun that prevails throughout the exhibition.

One of the key attractions of FoRM is the day-to-day presence of exhibiting artists on-site, there to answer questions as well as to facilitate a series of free talks and workshops. One such contributor is co-curator and sculptor Lee Boyd, who readily offers to walk me around the garden, pointing out any pieces I may have missed (there are many) and offering insights into the work. Understandably, he is delighted with the exhibition.

As well as contemporary works, pieces influenced by Victoriana ensure a vital link is maintained with the garden’s past, as do the heritage fruit and vegetables grown on site.

Although steeped in rich history, ForM is an ever-evolving exhibition, organic in the truest sense. Open seven days a week, the Bangor Castle Walled Garden is already a must-see attraction, with FoRM adding an extra incentive to visit until July 7, when the exhibition finishes.

ForM