Research – Stacked Sculptures

Project 3 of the course involves building three dimensional structures by stacking. Malevich, in ‘Architectonics’,  and Schnier with ‘Cubical Variations Within a Rectangular Column’ seem to drawn directly on architecture and cubism whilst Brancusi with his Endless Column series and Startup’s ‘Falling Figure’ draw on organic forms evoking the human body.

A quick review of sculpture in books and on the internet shows just how prevalent stacking is as a way, not only of creating volume, but also of making a point. Shapes can be piled up to create new shapes, for instance, William Turnbull‘s  ‘Llama’, 1961 and ‘Oedipus’ 1962. Here he has used related but different shapes in different stone to create heavy, grounded structures with mass and volume. They are calm, complete, and satisfying.

sketchbook stacked-2

On the other hand, many contemporary sculptors stack everyday objects, sometimes because of their availability but also because of the resonances of their use or consumption in society. Mikoslaw Balka’s ‘Hanging Soap Woman’ 2000, stacks used pieces of soap, hung rather than stood up because of the nature of the material. Each slither of soap points to the past physical presence of a person, but Balka is recorded (Mozynska, 2013) as commenting  that they also evoke people through the association with the creation of soap from human fat by the Nazi’s in the Polish concentration camps. Here the simple act of stacking an everyday object is imbued with dense meaning.

Sketches of a selection of stacked sculptures discussed below.

Sketches of a selection of stacked sculptures discussed.

Subodh Gupta’s Line of Control piles up stainless steel utensils into a towering metal mushroom cloud and speaks of international political tensions, but here selection of the material is less based on its significance in the context and more, presumably to do with its material qualities of hardness and shinyness, and, perhaps, also availability.

It seems that artists will stack anything. David Batchelor stacked plastic toys and kitchenalia in his 2007 series ‘Parapillars’ which is a exuberant celebration of modern cheap materials and vivid colours. Marizio Cattelan has stacked stuffed animals into a kind of totem pole referencing a Grimm fairy tale. These works have an engaging playfulness to them but without doubt, my favourite playful use of stacked everyday materials is ‘Massachusetts Chandelier’ by Pipilotti Rist. She has used a single everyday object repeated in many forms to create an ethereal floating translucent form.

knickers! (1 of 1)

More reminiscent of Brancusi, who she acknowledges as an inspiration, Mary Ellen Croteau stacks bottle tops creating her own endless columns using a material which is abundant since common and not readily recycled. Colour seems to be the most important motivator in her sculptures and paintings using this medium.

In addition to looking at books on Sculpture, I have researched works using the internet, especially the Guggenheim and Tate collections and have created a Pinterest board of relevant works which I can return to over and again for inspiration and ideas.

 I take a number of points away from this research for my first stacked forms:

  • simple materials can be used very effectively
  • stacks can be made of a few, simple, larger shapes or very many smaller shapes
  • vertical stacks can stand from the floor or be suspended
  • the material itself can imbue the work with extra meaning
  • a work can be playful or colourful or neither


Moszynska, A. (2013) Sculpture Now. London, Thames and Hutton


About starrybird

I am mature student studying art with The Open College of the Arts. My passion is printmaking.
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