Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Sculptural Vocabulary 1: Caught in the Mesh

'Particle Psychology': steel mesh, leather, ash, wood, ceramic

I went to Pound Arts in Corsham to document an installation piece of mine titled 'Particle Psychology'. Conveniently I had visited Devizes Archaeological Museum on the way and it prompted me to think about what I wanted to explore in this post. I am thinking about how sculpture can involve creating and using material vocabularies which sometimes develop over a long period of time. What gives a particular combination and use of materials resonance? 
In the museum I was drawn in by the small but significant artefacts such as the earliest known piece of glass found in Britain, the neolithic tattooing equipment and the beautiful miniature axe pendants, which I would happily wear if I could.
When making a sculpture you may be led by many factors other than the use value or structural properties of the materials. Your choice may  be influenced by the associative potential of a material and its ability to conjure a particular era or context. By combining materials from contexts that are not usually associated, crafted and sculpted objects can lead us on new paths of association, providing something new in relation to the bank of objects we have already seen. 
That is what I found myself thinking about when I made the piece. I was thinking how we mostly imagine invisible particles through the methods that are used to measure or protect from them - such as masks and filters. Or in the case of pollution through the effect over time that a substance has on the stone fronts of buildings. The steel mesh that I used to make the mask-like objects caught my attention because metal is included in what we think of as the 'neolithic' vocabulary of materials, alongside ceramics, rock and bone. However, the way the metal has been processed into tiny, tight, regular gridded mesh also speaks of industrial processing. I think I selected the material for that particular combination of affinity and dislocation. 
It also has an amazing shimmery quality and is attractive to the eye but unpleasant to imagine covering the face. Sensory resonance can occur through heightened or combined forms of tactility, or the imagined tactility of the materials. Tactility and surface texture can also be closely related to notions of attraction and repulsion that we attach to materials; their qualities of roughness, smoothness, slipperiness or dryness. 
In my next Sculptural Vocabulary post I'll reflect on notions of material hierarchy and value and how they impact on my thinking and practice as a sculptor.
'Particle Psychology': steel mesh, leather, ash, wood, ceramic

'Particle Psychology': steel mesh, leather, ash, wood, ceramic

'Particle Psychology': steel mesh, leather, ash, wood, ceramic

'Particle Psychology': steel mesh, leather, ash, wood, ceramic

Friday, 22 May 2020

Particle Psychology & Carbon Skies

Particle Psychology, installation shot

I thought I would take the chance to reflect a bit on the piece I made for the exhibition 'Incendiary', which would have opened at Pound Arts in Corsham in March, but was closed on the evening of install.

Titled Particle Psychology, the piece came out of research I did into early examples of hearths and burnt waste on neolithic sites, and current exploration in to particulate pollution. I was interested in taking the long view of our history of exposure to carbon and other particulates in the air. This research also coincided with the atrocious bush fires that were happening in Australia. Experiencing this from afar through the media, the most pervasive images were of the orange and deep yellow skies. The changing colour of the sky engendered a primeval reaction to this environmental event. Although it felt counter-intuitive to me that the carbon particles created by the fires should make the  sky yellow rather than grey or black, what seemed to be intuitive is that when the sky changes colour, this signals a warning of wide-scale change and threat.

Particle Psychology, installation shot

Tim Smedley's book 'Clearing the Air' makes some of the complicated science behind particulates and air pollution more accessible. He also considers the exposure neolithic people had to carbon particles from hearth fires and drying kilns in confined interior spaces, and the fact that this can be detected in the lungs of neolithic human remains.  I found an article in National Geographic about an amazing set of carved limestone masks from the neolithic period, unearthed in Israel, which is the site of the earliest suspected prehistoric hearth (defined as a place used repeatedly for fire, rather than as a one-off event). I thought it would be interesting to use the mask, obviously an important cultural form to neolithic humans, as a way to reference the carbon culture of this time period.

With distant and nearby focal points in mind, I wanted to use a sculptural vocabulary combining both 'ancient' and 'synthetic' materials. In my next post I will explore how this vocabulary came together and reflect on how it could develop in future.

Particle Psychology, installation shot

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Work in Progress for 'Navigations' Exhibition

Here are a few shots of work in progress for the Navigations show...

Making the velvet devore banner - using hand-applied paste that eats away the viscose fibres.

One of the casts from the Ellesmere yard patterns, very quickly developing a layer of rust.

Making 9-braid plaits from bulrushes, which I then sewed together to make rush matting, which was one of the materials used to line canal beds in ancient times.

Shapes cut in steel sheet, based on a template at Ellesmere canal yard for a fire box that went inside a Fly Boat. The fire box would have held the ashes of the stove.

 The banner, before dyeing.

Slip-cast ceramic hand, which will poke through the bulrush matting, a nod towards the tale of Hans Brinker who stopped a hole in a water dyke with his finger.

It's hard to picture at the moment but there is a plan to bring all these things together in the final installation at Oriel Davies.

The second cast iron shape, above, is a bit of a mystery. I haven't been able to find anyone who knows what it was for. That is partly the attraction, as it suggests a lot of things, such as holding something in  place, or hydraulic channels. The original part has been cast twice and joined together to create an irregular hexagonal frame.

Testing out the effect of the polychromatic paint on the steel shapes.

Thursday, 8 June 2017


Whilst dropping off some of the Ellesmere yard patterns to be cast at the foundry in Stroud, I took the opportunity to look around the yard and inside the buildings at some castings in progress. It turned out to be a bit of a treasure trove, if you like this sort of thing!

 Old casting boxes - the top half is the 'cope' and the bottom half the 'drag'...

 Pouring bucket for an aluminium cast.

 Aluminium moulds after pouring.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Powysland Exhibition

The Monty Canal banner, made in collaboration with stitchers and textile artists from Llanymynech and the surrounding areas, is now on show at Powysland Museum in Welshpool, up until the Christmas break.

With Liz, Joan and Diana, who, amongst others, contributed their stitch and textile art to the banner, I made an initial trip to admire it. We agreed that its trade union style suits the idea of rallying together towards the canal's restoration.

It is being exhibited alongside wonderful canal-inspired linocut prints by the artist Eric Gaskell. I highly recommend a visit. 

For opening times of the museum please follow this link...

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Banner To The Future

The banner reaches completion - we have achieved the successful integration of all the component parts!

The backing is now stitched on. All that is now required is for a few curtain weights to be stitched on to the back, and to find some kind of canal-related hanging device, such as a barge pole, from which it can hang during the exhibition. The names of all the stitchers who took part and the date will also be added to the back, for posterity.

Liz's canal bridge...

Joan's lock...

Mary's narrow boat inspired painted roses...

Diana's cogs...

Gillian's fish...

Claire's bulrushes...

The velvet lettering...

The central motif of Montgomery canal gearing...
The banner will be exhibited from 16th December 2016 until Christmas at Powysland Museum, Welshpool, alongside an exhibition of prints by Eric Gaskell. Please do come along and see it.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Taking Patterns in Hand

On my last visit to Ellesmere yard I spent some time looking at the patterns more closely. I like the fact that they are physical plans for a whole range of parts. A kit for the solid structures and moving parts required to move water around and keep it under control. 

The pattern shop is a repository of potential forms, kept out of use so that their cast counterparts can be replicated after years of service out in the world. They are made of wood, a material that is light (compared to metal), and can be carved and turned. The process of making the patterns, defining these exact dimensions, is so very different to that of making the parts themselves, pouring hot metal in to an impression in sand...

I started to experiment with placing the wooden patterns in still-life groupings, using the workshop adjacent to the pattern storeroom. The light coming through the slanted roof windows, hitting the dusty, painted wood, was beautiful. The workshop walls and floor seemed of a piece with the patterns, covered with scratches and dust but also beguiling. 

It was interesting taking them out of the storeroom into the light, giving them some space, but keeping their residue of long accumulated dust, only moving them a few steps away from where they are stored. 

But how to organise and arrange them? In the storeroom they are in a basic order: smaller parts resting in piles on shelves, larger volumes grouped in the centre and long, tall shapes leaning against the wall.

I tried a few haphazard and instinctual groupings, picking up shapes that intrigued me. I then took a selection of cylinders, variations on a theme. These had a more direct relationship to traditional still-life as they resembled bottles, domestic containers.

It felt like I'd made a start, begun a conversation, but there is more to explore, so I plan to go back again in May.