Spatial Objects in Durham Castle


Currently on display in Durham Castle’s Tunstall Gallery is Dan Holdsworth’s Spatial Objects; an exhibition of intriguing art objects inspired by and interwoven with geological data. Lizzie and I spoke to Dan recently about this collection of art objects and how they came to be, which proved to be insightful and eye-opening.

For over 20 years, British artist Dan Holdsworth has been “blending art, science, and nature to produce works which challenge our perceptions and reinvent the notion of landscape”. After studying photography at the London College of Printing, he has exhibited internationally including solo exhibitions in UK venues such as BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, and Barbican Art Gallery, London. His work is held in collections including the Tate Collection, Saatchi Collection, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Dan told us he was “initially approached” five years ago with the view of exhibiting new work in the chapel of Durham Castle, and eventually half a decade later, his work is now on display. Although not in the chapel, Dan jokingly said that the Tunstall Gallery is the “only place where there isn’t building work going on”. Dan also shared that he was originally going to show wall mounted spatial object sculptures but due to the heritage and history of the space this couldn’t have been facilitated. Sharing the gallery space with display cases illustrating the social history of the castle from years gone by, Dan’s works truly feel like they belong in the space, as if part of the permanent fabric of the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site Norman stronghold.

Brightly coloured, geometric flag-like wall hangings

Spatial Objects (2015/2023) after which the exhibition is titled are brightly coloured, geometric flag like wall hangings; strikingly set against the solid sandstone walls, they pull the viewer in for a closer examination. On first glance, it’s not obvious what the green, red, and blue pieces are conveying or composed of, only after reading the accompanying handout do you find out they are microscopically zoomed in mapping data from the US Geological Survey of Crater Lake, a protected National Park in the western United States.

In conversation, Dan talked at length about his fascination with the “substructural language that underpins 3D material” and the “strange hidden visual language of 3D models” materialised into the form of art objects.

Each of the banners are composed of individual pixels, blown up to a scale by which they become “a fragment of a fragment” possessed of a monumental physicality, as if a pre-existing architectural scape has emerged from within the data.

A medium between the tangible and the intangible

The other component of the exhibition, Park City XYZ (2020), is undoubtedly more data-oriented than Spatial Objects and takes the form of two encyclopaedia-scaled books. They display precisely one thousand pages of raw data involved in defining the geography of Park City, Utah, existing as geologically-data-informed art objects. Data was “never designed to be outputted as just numbers” and exists invisibly designed for analytical software. Therefore, materialising this code in physical form acts as a medium between the tangible and the intangible.

In response to asking Dan how he’d explain the exhibition to a general viewer, he said “on entering the gallery it was important for them [Spatial Objects] to be seen as integral and fitting for the architecture and history of the space. To sit in a continuity, to stand out with their own integrity as art objects and to contrast but to not be out of place, or displaced, rather to acknowledge a new layer of history within the castle”.

The flag-like existence of the Spatial Objects undoubtedly feels appropriate in the setting given their associated connotations with territory and power. They almost feel too like the banners associated with the local fabric of the North-East’s mining heritage.

Composed of individual pixels, blown up to a scale by which they become possessed of a monumental physicality

The idea of working with data to produce art objects first came to Dan in 2011. Although he admitted to being interested in the idea of textuality in photography for a long time beforehand, the manipulation of geological data to produce art objects is the stimulus from which this exhibition arose; as Dan said himself, it is “important to do it”.

Spatial Objects is on display in the Tunstall Gallery of Durham Castle until 8 December 2023 meaning there are only a few weeks left to see it if you haven’t yet. There is also a conversation event happening on 13 November with Dan with free tickets available to reserve on Eventbrite. Check out @visual_culture_du on Instagram for more information.

Thanks go to University College SCR and Durham Castle Museum as the supporters of this exhibition; without their funding it would not have happened. Thank you also to Dan Holdsworth for your time talking to us.

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