The second project on the Sculpture 1 course calls for an open space construction and I spent sometime considering just what that might mean. Such a structure could be considered to have three aspects, an interior space occupied by the structure, and exterior space within which it exists and a boundary between the two, so, for instance, if Stonehenge were considered, there is a clear internal space and an external space, and, as it happens, there is a boundary, across which people aren’t allowed. Many sculptures, whilst open in structure, are not accessible and have to be viewed from beyond a boundary. Few are as permeable to the viewer as Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’. I like the idea of giving this boundary serious consideration and presence in the work. But what might be enclosed? Something or things which might be forbidden or unobtainable, perhaps unseen but desired. This lead me to think of ancient temples, for instance, with inner sanctuaries containing unseen mysteries, or desires, half buried, unacknowledged, lurking in the subconscious. In my sketchbook, I began by thinking of an object suspended in space, bounded by a structure from which it could be suspended and through which it could be seen.
This idea morphed into thinking about suspended objects seen against a back plate or through holes pierced through planar sheets of wood, but I kept coming back to the idea of an object of desire or worship. I considered the idea of a guarded boundary or a boundary which directed or focused on the object such as a processional way. I fixed on the use of wire to create a boundary or cage because of its availability and because I could readily shape it and join it. Hunting around the garage, I found a bag of flooring nails which reminded me of standing stones or palisade stakes and had a pleasing roughness, almost handmade feel to them. I carried on playing about in my sketchbook with how I might create a stable but open structure with them. Whilst travelling I continued in my ipad, which I found really helpful for sketching ideas on the go.
The idea I liked best involved just suspending a cloud of nails in space, by nylon threads, with an object in the centre, in the manner of Cornelia Parker’s works. I could drill each flat nail near its centre of gravity and suspend it. It would be technically tricky, and hard work, but my husband’s workshop is equipped to do this and I am learning how to use the tools. I abandoned the idea though, because the nails dictate the scale (small) and they would have to be suspended inside something which I felt would negate the idea of them suspended in open space. I resolved to explore attaching the nails, perhaps with solder or fine wire, to an open wire construction with an object suspended inside.
I also gave thought to the object to be enclosed. It should contrast with the metal, perhaps be soft or rounded, fabric, plastic, stone or organic. The object could be completely featureless, a mystery, in the manner of the monolith in 2001, A Space Odyssey, or a textile suggesting material acquisitiveness, a desire for designer goods. Sarah Lucas’ NUDs series was particularly inspiring in which she has stuffed stockings softly to create shapes strongly suggestive of the female figure without direct representation. An object created along those lines might suggest sexual lust.
We are lucky enough to have WRAP locally, Watford Recycled Arts Project, where for a small annual fee, you can access a warehouse of surplus or recycled materials for arts projects, and I used it to look for suitable materials and further ideas. I returned with a selection of shiny and metallic fabrics, plastic foils, foam packaging, plastic Christmas decorations and flesh coloured jersey.
The local timber yard made me free of their waste skip and I found a lovely thick, if split, chunk of wood which shouted plinth.
Construction was started using iron wire. This was tightly coiled and needed straightening and my husband showed me how to do this using a draw bench made of three nails set in a bit of wood and held in a vice. Lots of space and serious eye protection was needed.
Twisting the wire into loops, I tried tying on a nail with thin stainless steel wire to see how this might work.
The iron wire was intractable and made rather crude shapes, whereas the stainless steel wire and nails made much more interesting shapes, so I resolved to use the lighter wire but much more of it in order to create a stable structure. With the base board as a guide, a kitchen bowl was used to support the wire initially as I twisted it to create an open framework. Long tails were left on the wire to be twisted around the nails and secure them, since the stainless wire would be very difficult to solder.
Gradually the framework was build up, adding nails pointing outwards, if possible, and echoing the twists of wire used to fix them though out the structure to add interest and add extra dimensionality to the form. The nails were selected to vary in size and shape as much as the supply allowed.
The base board was sanded and painted white. Black was considered but experimenting with placing the wire frame on black card showed that the nails disappeared against that background whereas white showed up their shapes and also the interesting shadows created.
Attention then turned to the internal object and I decided to explore several different ideas. Firstly, I used aerosol expanding polystyrene foam to create a light, bulbous form. This turned out to be a rather sickly green with strange shiny surfaces broken by bubbly outflows. I rather liked its organic but rather alien look. The foam didn’t expand as expected because it was right at the end of the can. I can see that this would be an interesting material to experiment with.
Next I used a plastic bauble and lurex material to create a ‘fashion’ object. The fabric was glued to the bauble with pva in several layers to build up a construction which looked both glittery and tawdry but which had structure.
The flesh coloured materials were joined and sewn into tubes on a sewing machine, and then stuffed with toy filling left over from a Christmas project.
The tubes were then twisted and knotted to try to create an organic shape. The peach looked unnatural and, since I had more tubing than needed I decided to use just the more subtle flesh colours.
I am not a great sewer and would have liked to produce much less visible seams. The tubes were hand stitched into place loosely and a few internal stitches added to create bulges and dimples to make it more anatomical.
A column of black packing foam and a piece of wood were selected as monolith-like objects.
Each object was installed in turn in the structure, suspended on nylon filament if necessary, and assessed. Black and white sheets of card were used to create contrasty backgrounds as appropriate. the work was lit by strong directional light to bring out the shadows
I don’t think the fabric object works particularly well; the shape contrasts with the wire and nails but the metallic fabric is not a sufficient contrast and the symbolism is less than obvious.
I rather like the chunk of wood with a hole through it. The strong, organic grain is a good contrast with the metal and its very simple shape works well against the ravel of wire. However, it needs to be elevated to something more mysterious than just a piece of wood by applying a finish of some sort in perhaps black or a primary colour, though this will necessarily take away the organic element.
The black cylinder of foam was pleasingly matt, barely reflecting any of the bright light and casting a strongly shaped shadow. From above the back, circular shape sits well in the white, square base.
The foam does have a slight seam on one side and I am not sure if I can eradicate this. The cylinder is pleasingly blank, evoking some kind of temple stylus or altar. I could cut a piece if doweling and paint it with very matte black blackboard paint.
The foam object appears rather gruesomely anthropomorphic when installed. The slightly iridescent green colour adds to a feeling of repulsion. I considered painting it a flesh colour but I don’t think that this would add anything. It represents some unspoken, forbidden desire surprisingly effectively, much more so than the Sarah Lucas inspired fabric tubes. The softness of the fabric is a good contrast with the structure, but the shape is too big for the space and it doesn’t evoke flash sufficiently.
I went back to the piece of wood, painted it in gesso and then in acrylic. I thought that the hole could be imbued with significance by painting it a strong colour which would only be seen from some angles, creating an additional internal mystery. The block was sanded with a power sander to soften the edges and produce a block which looked eroded by time and weather. It was painted with Paynes Grey acrylic paint with the grain circling the hole allowed to show through.
I wanted to approach this sculpture with real intention and imbue my work with meaning.
Wire is used to create a permeable boundary between the observer and an interior space which symbolises a forbidden zone. Nails point outwards, acting as guardians of the space. Materials were chosen to contrast in mass and texture with a solid block of wood used to ground the piece and delicate, shiny stainless steel wire chosen because it could be twisted and curled and stand out against the black, rusty nails. The block was painted white to allow the intricate shadows cast by the structure to be seen.
The ‘forbidden object’ is the focal point of the structure which can be viewed either as a physical space such as a religious site or even a military compound, or as an embodiment of a psychological state. The object was the subject of much experimentation both in terms of form and materials. Objects were produced which either stood or were suspended in the space and which symbolised religion, consumerism or flesh, some more successful in their symbolism than others.
I think the impact of the piece is compromised by its small scale which was dictated by the nails. The ‘shell’ is too regular and would have been improved by filling a less regular shape with a ravel of wire and nails, but then I would not have been able to experiment with placing different internal objects.
The wooden monolith and the expanded foam ‘body’ are the most successful central pieces. Of the two, I think the greenish body realises my original concept of a forbidden desire most effectively although the solid shape of the monolith, in contrast with the twisted wire, is more obviously sculptural. I don’t think this open space sculpture is as successful as the low relief work.