This piece sets the tone for subsequent works. The large suspended piece will follow that felt sense that this has. I have resolved many aspects of making so when I return to the studio I will be able to immerse myself in the making rather than problem solving.
I was originally thinking of having a large number of pieces on a raised surface near the ground. I have changed my mind. This is going to be one of two pieces, placed on surfaces so that they can be looked at and listened to closely: waist height most probably. I had thought of plinths but I think that two flat surfaces, interlocking, held up with very thin metal legs might work better. I don’t want the sense of space to be blocked by solid plinths but rather have the porcelain pieces almost hovering off the ground. One recumbent like this one and the other vertical, more active. The horizontal extension of this one against the verticality of the other will form an L shape seen from above and the side. But this depends on the exhibition space.
This piece, the second in the series, was a departure from the vertical vessel. I count this as the second failure of the series. It moves on from the former work but I am still not happy with how I relate the form. I am not feeling it enough; working too much from the head; the work is too rigid. Perhaps this is because I am contemporaneously resolving some practical problems such as how to embed the sound and making the pieces so they fit the large kiln. I am pleased, though, with the material quality, its surface but not its formal quality. It does not convey the organic sense I am looking for. It has, however, crossed some boundaries and as a stand alone piece it could well work – just not as part of the installation as I envisage it at the moment, but that could change and it may still appear in the final show depending on its context and how it is displayed.
I am looking to make something that is like a body, but not a recognisable one. To have human elements without any human iconography. To engender an empathy in an alien form; to convey the animal in the human, with the human trapped in the body, latent, nascent, trembling with what it might become.
“There is a desperation in all certainty. The category of political uncertainty, philosophical uncertainty, uncertainty of images is much closer to how the world is”, says South African artist William Kentridge in this video presenting his work.
Gareth Jones, in his essay, describes the historical changes in the relationship between sculpture and sound. This dichotomous tension is straddled by Gil’s work in Sonic Plasticity proposes the use of sound as a malleable material – one that can be stretched in all dimensions, encompassing height, width, and depth, with curves, edges, and changing geometries. His Aural Fields and Resonant Bodies combine physical structures set to vibrate, creating geometric fields of sound perceivable in space with edges and form.
This is an interesting field I am currently investigating with respect to the final proposal with respect to sculptures. I am not proposing to do the same sort of thing but Gil’s work does have correspondence with how I see sound as creating a physical entity in itself.
My idea is to counterpoise the readability and sensuality of the solid pieces with the pure perception and sensuality in another modality of sound. I am concerned about the cancelling out of one another: should solid sculpture reside in silence, should sound be disembodied? These are questions I intend to explore and aim to resolve in some way. The use of digital interactive devices is something I have been working with enabling an element of audience interaction. But then again, the work in silence also speaks of itself. This is an interesting area of empirical research which needs a trial and error, or heuristic, approach.
A thread of thoughts is like a gut that extends from air to air travelling through a body grown and developed around it, nourished by the ingestion, digestion and assimilation of ideas. The alimentary canal, symbolic and figurative appears in my work as such a thread.
The constraints of the surface to volume barrier to growth are dissolved by the gut. From the genesis of complex life onwards, it is the single structure that has enabled all the physical attributes of animal life that we have come to recognise as active autonomy. Regardless of nervous networks and the evolution of the mind, without its capability to furnish the organism that we are with energy, motility and subsequent life strategies would not have been possible. When we are born, our prime priority to it nurture this function while we nurture and help develop our other faculties.
I have subconsciously worked with this idea since Chaos Contained which is now set free, as an overt symbol in my project; a vehicle for the exploration of language, evolution and myth, as though I were moving within a metaphorical underground cavern complex. It collects ideas, like organs, that adhere to this single thread as the Indian rasa come together to form the elements of artistic expression.
An amputation is not something one would want. Sculptures have suffered amputations throughout the ages, some repaired, others restored and yet others left as they were found, This Herakles, Venus de Milo, the Belvedere Torso and so on. Limbs at times distract from the sense of form, many artists have known this, others have incorporated the limbs so that it merges into the body.
I have had a problem in that I want to make large ceramic works but the kiln is only so large. I have a top loader 59 cm diameter and 69 cm high which needs to be wired in. This is not small but neither is it large enough. What to do?
I had thought of jointing the pieces much as I did with the works in Chaos Contained. But this is not in keeping with the informal, organic sense of the works I am currently engaged with. Chaos contained was about symmetrical growth from within, an outward radiation. Now the works are internally generated, handled in a completely different way.
So I looked at how I could make the pieces in parts to be put together later after firing. I came across the work of Giovanni Vetere who works with glazed ceramics. The pieces are much larger than would fit in a regular kiln. In addition they would be unstable and too fragile for firing in one piece. On closer inspection of his work I noticed that they are made in pieces using the glaze patterns to camouflage the joints.
I could try to hide the joints when installing but would there be a better way? To show the cut, a severance, a clean cut that must signify something. And it opens the way for future large works where the cut plays a part. It may even lead to being able to show a work in its pieces arranged meaningfully or at least aesthetically.
What this does for my ongoing work is to provide a formal solution to having a kiln smaller than the fluid forms I want to make: the parts can be fitted together after firing. It also solves the problem of how to insert and remove sound equipment. Conceptually, this technique offers the opportunity for representing vulnerability, fragility and reformation; perhaps also creating compositions, of parts that relate to one another and reconstituting them in different configurations.
My Research Statement started clearly but tailed off towards an uncertain ending. I had the thread, subject knowledge and so on but crucially what I was thinking was only of slight relevance to contemporary art. I had been dealing with histories of knowledge and putting together a viewpoint that although very interesting to my mind, it was not pertinent to contemporary art and did not contribute to my practice, neither methodologically nor theoretically: I just found it interesting.
I had written around two-and-a-half thousand words when the recurring feeling of dread that asks, where is all this going, became too strong to ignore. I had barely started to look at contemporary artist that might be relevant to the paper. I looked at some suggestion Gareth had given me. Most were examples that were nothing close to what I was talking about, but you only need one, and one did stand out ticking all the boxes. I found that William Latham has been working in a similar way to me for years. He has developed an evolutionary art with computers, I have done it with sculpture. I looked up some references I was familiar with to do with cell automation, a bit about AI and found these things fitted into the contexts I had thought of previously: the Cambrian explosion and the Early Bronze Age.
I am excited in that the hypothesis I am now proposing brings together art, biology, anthropology/archaeology, the digital environment, virtual worlds, philosophy and the future. The idea is not fully fleshed out yet but it is on its way and would not have been possible had I not started the way I did. The idea came a few days ago as a need to find a way of talking about very different artistic processes in the same terms. I have found that despite all the talk of breaking down barriers, merging and blurring the boundaries, art has become too disparate and dispersed. A fog of taxonomies, political stances, power plays creates in me an inability to talk about things cohesively and clearly without having to ignore the unique characteristics of each practice or making crass generalisations. This is not an attempt to judge or weigh one art form against another. On the contrary, it is a way of critically looking at each practice and identifying what makes it unique without recourse to subjectivity. I know that this is a bold claim and it may unravel as I write the paper but it is an interesting exercise. It is probably just another supporting piece of thinking. Many attempts have been made to do this since structuralist, post-structuralist and subsequent theories. I think Wittgenstein wrote something along these lines but it was based on a philosophical logic form that is not easy to understand.
And finally, it is directly relevant to me by helping to re-contextualise my practice in the contemporary environment. I think it could be one way of universally thinking or rethinking about process, categories, art, anything that involves change, which is virtually everything.
Note to self: writing this down is a way of telling myself to continue writing, researching and composing ideas.
It has finally arrived, a beautiful collection of poetry. A few weeks ago, as is my habit, I woke up during the night and settled to listen to the radio. BBC 4 Extra was playing a programme about the life and works of Rebecca Elson. A cosmologist, equally known for her poetry who died tragically young. She wrote about life with as much insight as her work as a physicist. Her latter writings deal with her imminent death in an inspiring fusion of fact and vision. I was enthralled.
Elson brought science and art together in a way seldom done. When the two branches of knowledge come together, not as appropriation, comment or illustration but to speak in a single language of experience, empirical fact and authentic metaphor, something powerful is unleashed capable of prising open this world to reveal others as nestled together, ready to be felt and understood as though they were here. Ted Hughes does something similar but from a darker interior, a biblical horror as opposed to a cosmological creation. The beauty of both poets lies in the merger of nature and culture, with an insight and ability to move from the very small to the unimaginably large, to show the connectedness of all things and that existence is something greater than us.
As I work, I think of how the final pieces will look. Porcelain is a strange material. Silky smooth when fired with a grainy feel if left unglazed. I want to give the surface a skin-like feel.
The Belvedere Torso in the Vatican collection was a seminal inspiration for Michelangelo. Signed “Apollonius son of Nestor, Athenian”. Marble acquires a softness that bellies its nature as stone. Sculpture in stone influences my choice of material. But I choose ceramic as a pliable stone which is transformed by the alchemy of heat. Porcelain is like the white marble of stones and glazing it seems to me betrays the traces of handling and so an essential characteristic of its making.
Why do I choose the Belvedere as an example of marble statuary? Because arms and legs are functional, locomotory and grasping. The body is the centre of physical being from which other things radiate. As it was with our primordial ancestors, so it is with the forms I am working on.
Glazing speaks to me of function, impermeability. The body is not impermeable but in continual transaction with the world. In early times the clay was burnished to render vessels less porous. Decoration has always been applied to ceramics, from the rhythmical marking of the beaker people, to the finest renderings. From symbolism to shear exuberance and delight, ceramics have diversified and many left function behind long ago evidenced in the heritage of form only.
I have experimented extensively with Parian clay which was developed to look and feel like marble, it is soft, vitreous and warm, but it is hellishly difficult to use and is subject to warping and cracking. It is better suited to casting large pieces. Casting at this stage is not for me, it is not sufficiently spontaneous and better left as a means of reproduction. However, I shall continue to work with it on smaller scales.
I do not want to use glaze because it covers detail and the sculpture looses the surface nuances developed during its making. However, the raw biscuit low fired material is brilliant white and unsubtle. It is also prone to get dirty and due to its porosity very difficult to clean. When fired to a higher temperature, the surface vitrifies and becomes sealed to a large extent, less porous and prone to atmospheric damage and the dirty that comes with handling and storage. However, the crystalline surface is still very white and lacks the organic surface quality I am looking for. When the porcelain is unfired and still wet, it has a flesh like look, a warm grey that responds to handling developing a beautiful sheen where it is burnished. However, this disappears on firing. I have looked for a finish that can restore to some extent that sense of sensual softness and has the following characteristics:
does not yellow over time,
does not create a thick layer,
is not glossy
and is easily restored.
Having experimented with a number of possible candidates I have found that the humble paraffin wax candle is the ideal substance. The porcelain is heated with a hot air blower and the wax rubbed on building a very thin layer that penetrates the microscopic pores on the surface and creates a colourless, translucent finish. Finally it is burnished with a cloth or brush.