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London’s new immersive art exhibition invites you to step back in time

Photo by Sophia Schorr-Kon

Looking for a holiday experience with a difference? Well this December, art collective Traces has taken over Fenton House, a 17th century National Trust property in London’s Hampstead, for the holiday season.

The historic merchant’s house has been fitted with artefacts made by 80 contemporary artists and designers, each of which helps to tell the story of the Gee family, the silk and linen merchants who lived in the property in 1730.

Photos by Sophia Schorr-Kon

Photos by Sophia Schorr-Kon

After months of historical research and archive study, Traces’ team of collaborators have installed the site-responsive artworks, installations and experiences inside the property, all to be navigated by candle light.

Upon arrival, visitors begin in the kitchen: there, they are given a flameless candlestick, a quill pen and a wax-sealed letter that lists the exhibits. Then, they are free to explore the house, padding up winding staircases to rooms including a study, dressing chamber and dining room, and exploring multi-sensory installations including food-scented napkins, a table laid for dinner, authentically-baked sweetmeats, half-played board games and freshly written, deeply-felt letters.

Photos by Sophia Schorr-Kon

Photos by Sophia Schorr-Kon

Photos by Sophia Schorr-Kon

There are no explanations on hand; instead, viewers are encouraged to eat the sweets, read the letters, look through wardrobes, admire intricate embroidery and, piece by piece, put together the story of the Gees’ lives, and the tragedies that they lived through.

Photo by Sophia Schorr-Kon

Photo by Sophia Schorr-Kon

If you’ve ever thought to yourself “who lived here?” while wandering around a historic property, this is the show for you – especially as you can get (gently) involved with the exhibits. And it’s a selling exhibition too, with just about all the pieces available to buy. A shop is fitted in one of the rooms so that you can walk away with a bar of beautifully-scented vegan soap or your own perfect silver pig thread-holder, as spotted in the embroidery room.

Running until the 23rd December, Lives, Loves and Loss: Traces at Fenton House is a poetic, detailed and candle-lit alternative to the frenzy of Christmas shopping. Tickets cost £10 for adults and £5 for children.

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