Squares with Two Circles

Arising from our first theory/practice session last Tuesday I’ve identified the artist Barbara Hepworth as a key reference to my project, in particular a bronze work of hers called ‘Squares with two circles’ which I saw a couple of years ago at the Kroller Muller sculpture park in Holland.

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Image: https://krollermuller.nl/en/barbara-hepworth-squares-with-two-circles

I remember I was drawn to this sculpture enough that I sketched it – the simple geometric forms at a slightly jaunty angle and its pleasing sense of balance gave it a kind of purity of form. The fact the lines aren’t parallel gives it an organic quality that helps it fit in with the natural environment. On each side only one of the circles funnels out which gives the two circles different qualities of depth and the way the patina on the surface is lighter in the upper half makes it appear to be dissolving into the sky at one end and firmly grounded on the other. The original form was made in 1963 although copies were made later which explains why there is also one in the Yorkshire sculpture park.

I’m interested in Hepworth’s forms in regard to my current project because of the way they act as framing devices for their environment, the holes referencing windows. Her emphasis is on form and texture rather than colour. I’m interested in the ways the forms I make create different tones of dark and light by the shadows they cast, so how colour is created by the artist in collaboration with the environment.

In the sculpture park the work is displayed outside the Rietveld Pavilion, a building in which you are at once outside and inside. This is an interesting space because of the way it blurs boundaries, the architecture more a huge sculpture you can walk through really. Many more of Hepworth’s artworks are displayed here which is appropriate since her work explores inside forms with carefully constructed positive and negative space.

I found information about this work on the Tate website and it discusses the holes in the form: ‘The integration with the landscape – one of Hepworth’s abiding concerns – is made actual by these openings, through what she termed the viewer’s ‘sense of participating in the form’ (Bowness 1971, p.12).’
I want to explore this idea that the audience can ‘take part’ in the form. It’s almost as if the interaction between you and the artwork becomes a performance, because you are not just seeing the artwork but using it as a device to look through, to perceive the world differently through, like a telescope or pair of glasses.
Placement therefore becomes important because what the sculpture ‘reveals’ through the frame will depend on where you stand in relation to it. It was important to Hepworth that the sculptures were displayed in the landscape as she explains: ‘I always imagine the sort of setting I would like to see them in, because I firmly believe that sculpture and forms generally grow in magnitude out in the open with space and distance and hills’ (Warren Forma, 5 British Sculptors (Work and Talk), New York, 1964, p.15)
I believe she may be speaking about the powerful way the changing of natural light and weathering of the material (through the day and seasons) can bring a sculpture to life in a way placing it in a room in an art gallery can’t.

Hepworth quotes from: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hepworth-squares-with-two-circles-t00702

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Artist Research: Bryan Newman

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‘Teapots’ stoneware, early 1970s from book: Studio Pottery in Britain 1900-2005
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‘Bobbin tree’ with ash glaze in the V&A
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‘Bobbin tree’ drawings showing different viewpoints
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Stoneware assembled from thrown sections, mid-1960s
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Thrown and reconstructed Bryan Newman sculpture in the V&A

I keep stumbling across and finding myself in awe of work by potter Bryan Newman. A graduate of Harrow School of Art, Newman became well-known in the 1960s for his sculptural pots of townscapes and bridges, but I’m more interested in his making process than his illustrative, popular work. I’m fascinated by the way he has perfected assembling pieces that have been thrown on the wheel into whimsical sculptures. I first remember coming across his work in the V&A when we visited in our first week at CSAD last year but didn’t realise at the time how much the piece I saw there would have an impact on me. When looking for inspiration for my centrepiece  the sculpture above was a catalyst for my idea development.
There’s something almost mathematical about the way his constructs are made up of mainly circles, cylinders, perimeters, circumferences, funnels and curves. They link in with the article I found in the archive about the ’roundness of things’ and have got me thinking about the symbolism of circles and what they represent. Working on the potter’s wheel you can’t escape that circular spinning motion and even working with clay itself is an endlessly repeating cycle of making, drying, firing, making etc. In my essay before summer I wrote about the philosophy of balance and it’s relation to Japanese ceramics in particular. What more fitting symbol of balance is there than the circle of yin and yang?

I really enjoyed the process of constructing with thrown forms for the L4 centrepiece project and inspired by Newman’s work I want to continue to develop this during the coming year. The quick production of thrown forms and the slow, patient and careful process of joining them together afterwards means two very different sets of pace of working are involved.

An Ideal Home: Creating Context

I identified last week that the spaces I wanted to consider in more depth were the tiny windows in the buildings at St Fagans. These are frames that reveal, to a limited extent inside and outside space. As I want to explore the throwing process further I decided to explore the inside of thrown forms. Carrying on from throwing tall, narrow jug forms the first week back, I threw some similar shapes but pushed them to the point where I nearly lost control of the clay’s direction so it bulges. These are thrown in White St Thomas – the photographs below showing the expressive folding landscapes on the inside.

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Nick and I have decided to work collaboratively on this project since we’re interested in exploring similar ideas around optical illusion (e.g. tones of shadow and light created by the form itself and throwing lines), changing perception of objects by subverting the ordinary vessel (such as displaying them horizontally on a wall or from above) and challenging how we engage with an artwork. The aim is to make ceramic objects that encourage people to think about their physical placement in relation to the artwork. By creating frames and tunnels for the audience to look through or into, they will have to move around in a kind of ‘dance’ with the object, getting closer to peer inside and explore this interior space from different angles. In a tutorial with Natasha on Tuesday she suggested thinking of the concept of mindfulness and the pace with which we engage with objects. How can a ceramic artwork make the viewer more mindful? Perhaps having the eye follow the spiral of the throwing wheel into the artwork, like an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole, they can be made to slow down the pace at which they’re gazing over the artwork’s surface.

Below are some rough sketches of my initial ideas, thinking about how a collection of these thrown forms can be brought together in a larger sculpture that can be looked through or into…

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Three’s a Crowd

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Since I don’t have regular access to a wheel over the holiday, I’ve gone back to the technique that got me hooked on working with clay in the first place – coil building. Being surrounded at home with sculptures from my final college project has inspired these body-like organic forms. Strangely though, the catalyst for making them came after watching the colourful Bollywood romance film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Perhaps the fluid, energetic movements of the dancers was some spark of inspiration. While making I listened to the film’s soundtrack on repeat for hours. I’d like to think that contributed the way the sculptures look almost like dancers in motion, full of tension, with bulging muscles and sinews as if living things are trying to push out of them.

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I didn’t really have a plan in mind, only to get back into making and experiment with the new Potclays premium craft crank I picked up at ICF. It’s great to work with, full of grog so you can build up and up in no time with hardly any trouble. I was considering painting the surfaces but it dries to a pale fleshy colour which is what I wanted.

Over the summer our task is to look for different types of collections and I’ve been thinking: How many of something do you need before it can be called a collection? I’d say three us a safe number, I’d be happy to call these a collection of sculptures. A group of three has a magical significance and conjures up fairy-tale stories: Goldilocks and the three bears, the three witches in Macbeth, three blind mice, but it may also have religious significance e.g. the three wise men or the holy trinity. Despite the cross, I didn’t intend for the work to have any religious significance. Symbols and the way they are loaded with meaning interest me. In Eastern philosophy the swastika is a symbol of good luck and prosperity but in the west we can’t help but associate it with the Nazi party. All it is is a collection of lines but it’s potent with underlying meaning.

I left these forms out in the garden to see how the rain would distort them. I like this visual contrast of the controlled with the randomness of where the water has disintegrated the form.

Siri Aurdal and ‘The Elusive Artist’

I just bought Eline Mugaas’s book about Norwegian artist Siri Aurdal whose huge undulating fiberglass coated sculptures had a big impact on me at the Venice Giardini. After seeing a small photo of Aurdal’s work in a book, Mugaas got in contact with her to find out more. Aurdal’s monumental work was radical in 1960s Norway, crossing the boundaries between sculpture and architecture, but recently she seems to have become just another female artist forgotten in the pages of history.

The book is the resulting images Mugaas collected from Siri’s studio – choc full of photographs, concept sketches, found imagery, collages, design mock ups, work in progress and sketchbook pages and is a real insight into how the artist’s mind works. Wavelike, sinusoidal shapes have become her signature motif inspired by her interest in mathematics and desire for the pieces to become interactive forms to be climbed on, walked through and graffitied over by the audience. I find something fascinating in the cross between organic and geometric form, the raw, polyester pipes a direct link to Norway’s oil industry in the 60s. Her decision to invite artists from the Oslo art scene to graffiti over her work at the opening of her Omgivelser (‘surroundings’) exhibition at that time can be seen as a politically engaged reaction to the seismic social and political changes that took place in 1968. 

There’s very little written information about the artist herself but this mysteriousness just adds to the intrigue. Things, and people too, are always a bit more interesting when you don’t know their whole story. I suppose that’s why I’m so interested in the great unexplained mysteries from the past, from Jack the Ripper to The Dyatlov Pass Incident. When my grandparents were having a clear-out a few years ago the one book I asked to keep was ‘The Reader’s Digest of Strange Stories and Amazing Facts’ – a jumbled collection of sensational unsolved mysteries, myths, legends, hoaxes, superstitions an other curiosities.

That magical kind of halo effect things have when they’re more an idea in your mind that a solid, real thing, is very compelling. I remember being fascinated years ago when reading Lemony Snicket’s ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ because I couldn’t find any information about who the author really was, Lemony Snicket being a pen name. For the same reason J B Accolay’s Violin concerto No.1 in A minor will forever be one of my favourite pieces of classical music because nobody knows who he really was or even if a composer by that name really existed. Furthermore, I suppose that’s why Kerry Jameson’s dark work holds a certain kind of magic and intrigue because I can find so little information about her online and in books. Is there value to holding back information about your personal self and being an elusive artist? How does this change how we view the artwork?

 

Venice Biennale Day 2: The Giardini

Sunday was Giardini day and this time the artwork that got my heart racing was in the Norwegian pavilion – a massive sculpture made from fibreglass reinforced polyester pipes by Siri Aurdal (b.1937). The wave-like form called ‘Onda Volante’ (sea waves) looked like a giant version of my final centrepiece, the evenly spaced ridges on the plastic even referenced throwing lines. Walking around and underneath the cut tube sections I felt like I did walking around the aeroplanes at RAF Cosford museum, the curved plastic forms riveted together like wings of a giant aircraft. I felt the enclosed space didn’t do justice to it though, it was as if the form was trying to ‘flow’ outside, with tentacles pushing up against the ceiling. I’d love to see it placed in the Yorkshire sculpture park with wide expanses of space all around. Reading up about Aurdal after returning home I’ve discovered she came to fame in Norway in the 60s with large scale interactive sculptures that people could play and climb on, inspired by modular, mathematical forms. My interest in interactive artwork has been re-ignited!

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Siri Aurdal: Onda Volante

Another treasure was found in the Finland pavilion, where Heledd and I must have spent over an hour mesmerised, watching the very funny ‘The Aalto Natives’ by Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen. The installation is part film, part two talking puppets called Geb and Atum, who explore elements of Finnish society, history and national identity. The videos swap between different styles: CGI, hand drawn stop-animation and Muppet style puppets and according to the leaflet ‘explore themes such as nationalism, xenophobia, bureaucracy, and intolerance by way of absurdist satire’. Half the time it felt like a missing episode of the Might Boosh, the other half like a montage of the ABCs of death. I’m still confused as to why the Neanderthal guy had a Liverpudlian accent.

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‘The Aalto Natives’ Image: Art Fix Daily

I loved Milena Dragicevic’s colour compositions at the Serbian pavilion. Her abstract paintings ‘Erections for Transatlantica’ drew in the eye from afar with bold colour. The strange, sculptural  images are mixtures of her own intuitive drawings with forms taken from outside sources. I thought some referenced Islamic architecture, others forms of microbes and bacteria.

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Milena Dragicevic: Erections for Transatlantica

 

Venice Biennale Day 1: The Arsenale

It’s not every day you find one of your friends has secured a place invigilating the welsh pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale, so when I was invited by the fabulous goblin queen herself Heledd Evans (check her out!) to spend a weekend in Venice I jumped at the chance.

Arriving Friday evening, my first impression of Venice was the city at night, which I discovered is when it becomes truly magical. The tourists retreat to their hotels on Lido and the other islands, leaving the dim streets of the centre empty but for the odd watchful cat. The expensive boutiques and tacky tourist shops with their Murano glass, lace and sparkly masks close up for the night. Alleyways and courtyards, lit up by warm lamplights, take on an otherworldly quality of light, the closest I can think of is the chiaroscuro of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks or Magritte’s ‘The Dominion of light’. The air is warm and smells richly of flowers, vaguely of incense and spice. Music seems to surround you but you can never seem to pinpoint where it’s coming from – a saxophone solo beckons in the darkness, a pounding bass thuds across the bay from a cruising party boat.

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Wandering Venice at night – Chiaroscuro

Since Heledd was working, I spent most of Saturday alone, making my way around the Arsenale in the morning. At the entrance is the Viva Arte Viva exhibition. In the Pavilion of the Earth, Michael Blazy, a Parisian artist, has arranged a stack of magazines printed with bright photos of travel destinations like those from a tourist brochure. From somewhere high up drips water, gradually eroding the paper, revealing contour lines of colour like the topography on a map. This image of erosion reminds me of the deteriorating of the building facades around Venice where plaster is peeling to reveal a palimpsest of bricks underneath. I read this time based installation as a kind of ticking clock comment on climate change as well as the effect of increasing tourism on the environment of Venice and other tourist destinations.

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Michel Blazy – Acqua Alta
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Edith Dekyndt – One thousand and one nights

Further along, in the romantically named Pavilion of Time and Infinity I found Belgian artist Edith Dekyndt’s ‘One thousand and one nights’. Behind a shimmering curtain of silver leaf lies a rectangular carpet of dust, illuminated in the dark by a spotlight. The lamp turns over time and a gallery attendant sweeps the dust back up under the light, lifting dust clouds into the air. The effect is mesmerising.

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Roberto Cuoghi – Imitazione di Cristo

The pavilion that had the most memorable and powerful impact on me though was undoubtedly the Italian one. The exhibition here called ‘Il mondo magico’ included a very unsettling and yet utterly captivating installation called ‘Imitation of Christ’ by Roberto Cuoghi. Entering into the factory-like setting you’re confronted with a stage on which a mould of a crucified body lies, with all manner of machinery surrounding it. You feel as if you’ve just entered into Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory.
Beyond this, there’s a kind of Eden project biosphere tunnel flanked at the entrance by two shrivelled body forms cast in a silica-like organic material. A sign warns you of the presence of mould spores inside – hinting at what lies beyond. In the dim space, you enter the plastic tunnel lit from the inside with harsh white fluorescent lighting. At intervals there branch off small rounded pods, domes which can be entered by parting the industrial PVC curtains.

You wouldn’t really want to go inside. Each pod is filled with a couple of peculiarly shaped operating tables, on top of which, on beds of black foam lie a couple of cast bodies, shrivelled, shrunken and withered, their surfaces crusted in mould or oozing with slime. The whole thing feels like walking into a dystopian computer game like Fallout, the bodies could be those of the feral ghoul zombies that haunt the radiation polluted wasteland. It’s very disturbing but at the same time you can’t help yourself taking a peek into the next dome, and the next, in the same way many people can’t help turning to have a look when they pass and accident on the road.
Exiting the giant igloo at the far end you come to a wall where dis-formed cast body parts are arranged into crucified Christs but with limbs missing and displaced. The juxtaposition of futuristic space domes and scientific equipment with the religious undertones of the body in the position of crucifixion is an unsettling fusion of past tradition and science fiction. According to the guide booklet Cuoghi is ‘inspired by the Imitation of Christ, an ascetic medieval text that he reinterprets from the standpoint o what he calls a “new technological materialism”. ‘ The tunnel may symbolise the tomb where Christ was buried, and the mould might represent the Resurrection in that it’s a new life form that only blooms and thrives following the death of others.

I’ve been thinking about what it is these artworks have in common. What is it that really interests me? There’s definitely an element of collaboration with outside ‘non-human’ forces – the ability of the dripping water to erode, the randomness of the shapes of the dust clouds and the lack of control over how the mould on the ‘corpses’ grows. There’s also a time based element, these artworks change and develop over time rather than staying static. Might I explore this in my own work, thinking about the constant weathering of rocks and forming of clay that goes on around us all the time? Phoebe Cummings’s work springs to mind.

I spent Saturday afternoon getting lost in the back alleys of Venice, happily stumbling across the design pavilion at the Palazzo Michiel by chance.

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Lighting at Venice Design

 

Image credits:
https://www.theveniceinsider.com
https://news.artnet.com