Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal water garden, in North Yorkshire.

These Passing Things – new series of installations by artist Steve Messam at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal

Throughout summer, a dramatic collection of contemporary art installations will be on view to visitors in the grade 1 listed, historic Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal water garden, in North Yorkshire.

Throughout summer, a dramatic collection of contemporary art installations will be on view to visitors in the grade 1 listed, historic Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal water garden, in North Yorkshire.

Created by artist Steve Messam, whose work prompts another way of looking at landscape and historic buildings, These Passing Things will present an astonishing visual transformation of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal’s folly buildings and water gardens.

Inspired by historical designs for a funerary pyramid reimagined by artist Steve Messam into a colourful, large scale series of installations.

These Passing Things is temporary, bursting upon the landscape with visual exuberance and offering visitors to this unique and extraordinary National Trust site an unforgettable experience that should not be missed when it opens on 10 July.

Originally intended for installation in summer 2020, These Passing Things is supported by Arts Council England [1] and is the latest art commission by Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, aiming to transform the gardens and folly buildings, and contributing to its creative and lively Georgian spirit in a contemporary way.

In total, three different pieces will transform existing historic buildings and landscape:

  • Drifted – 12 Floating pyramids in the canal – with inspiration taken from a lost pyramid folly.
  • Bridged – a scarlet contemporary bridge sitting across the river Skell, close to the site of a lost iron bridge from the 18th century.
  • Spiked – An inflatable artwork which will appear to burst through the columns of the Temple of Piety. This is an occasional piece on display for opening weekend on 10 July and then returning on 21 August

Steve Messam’s work is inspired by designs for a 16-metre-high funerary pyramid in the water garden. Archive records show this was commissioned by William Aislabie in the 18th century, after his father’s death. Despite scale drawings and detailed costings for the piece, no further mentions of it were ever made and no record or evidence exists of this mysterious pyramid ever being built.


The original designers of the Studley Royal water garden, the Aislabie family, created many follies to surprise and delight their 18th century guests. Since 2015 The National Trust at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal have been celebrating these fashionable and whimsical structures and the Georgian water garden they sit within, through its former folly! exhibition series.

Justin Scully, general manager at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, said:

Studley Royal water garden is a designed landscape; a living work of art. By working with artists, responding to this legacy, we’re helping to bring the water garden to life for our visitors today. We hope that These Passing Things will get our visitors thinking and start a conversation about the connection between the past and the present, whilst offering people a relevant, fresh experience of the Georgian garden.

These colourful and distinctive installations bring to life the spirit of the garden as the original designers intended. And, as their name suggestions, they are temporary installations, and will disappear from the landscape, just as many original follies did.

Steve Messam is well known for his dramatic interventions responding to landscape and to the built environment, and whose recent works include Hush – installed in the remote landscape of the North Pennines. His works are always temporary and site specific, re-imagining the everyday, interrupting historical landscapes and vacant architecture to help people perceive the familiar environment in a new way.

Steve Messam said:

I guess the overall thing is identifying with the whole concept of follies – architectural oddities of no specific function other than their visual aesthetic. While over time we may invest them with meaning or stories, at their core they’re just there – large-scale artworks in the landscape, and as an artist that’s what I’ve been interested in for the past 20 years. I’m also interested in the role that follies play in creating focal points in constructed views of the landscape.

Through its Trust New Art programme, which is supported by Arts Council England and the Arts Council of Wales, the National Trust aims to connect more people to its places through contemporary arts. The art might take visitors to unexplored areas, reveal hidden stories or help them see places in different ways. Speaking about These Passing Things and its launch following a difficult year for the arts.

John Orna-Ornstein, director of culture and engagement at the National Trust said:

Many of the places the National Trust looks after have creativity and art embedded in their history. We are continuing this important creative legacy today.  Following the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, now more than ever we’re proud to be supporting artists, and the installation at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal really will demonstrate a connection between the past and present through Steve Messam’s work.

These Passing Things is on display at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal from 10 July. Tickets for the site should be booked online and safety measures are in place, including social distancing and limited visitor numbers, in accordance with government guidelines. More details can be found at

From Monday, 12 July, online pre-booking will no longer be required.

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