Exhibitions mean Deadlines

It is time to stop making, experimenting with presentation and to stand by a decision.  An opportunity to take the work out of the studio is most welcome.  Putting work into a public space creates a very different dynamic to playing with curation ideas in the safety of the studio and will often lead to more ideas for display or about the very nature of the work.

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It is always helpful, if at all possible, to get a feel for the gallery space during the planning stages and to gauge the local audience.  In the case of the Linear Gallery, it is long and narrow as well as being a main thoroughfare.  What I am describing is in effect a busy corridor!  This has implications for the safe placing of work and the safety of those using the space.  There was the possibility of using an outside courtyard for display.  From earlier experiments, I know that the vessels can look lost without a strong, possibly geometric, element to work against and that arranging the elements ‘haphazardly’ soon looks uncomfortably manufactured.

As it stands, the courtyard feels unloved and abandoned and does not offer a visually contained area or a strong linear element which the vessels need. While I would like to see the waxed paper vessels in the open, this did not present the best opportunity.  The vessels are in boxes for storage and transport and this accidental arrangement highlights the irregular grid pattern and the liminal space between the elements.  I decided to present the vessels in three galvanised wire crates. 



However, on the day I was persuaded to release the vessels from the crates and to display them on a wooden shelf in the gallery.  This worked better than I had anticipated.  I was concerned that a plinth would force an inapt feeling of importance onto the work.  However, the shelf feels part of the construction of the gallery, more architectural than plinth in character.  This, together with the texture and warm colour of the wood, works well with the fragile and transient appearance of the waxed paper, intensifying the tactile and quotidian nature of the materials.  The structure provides the geometric element and the containment that the work requires.

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Because they are light, some individual vessels, particularly those close to the edges, have fallen over. I was aware and indeed happy for this to happen.  It has dispelled any element of forced orderliness and added to the overall look of the display. 

'the frisson of the togetherness' Leonor Antunes at the Whitechapel Gallery

To my shame I had not heard of Leonor Antunes, a Portuguese born artist, before visiting the exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery.  ‘the frisson of the togetherness’ is an immersive experience.  At each turn the view is different and conversations between the diverse elements alter.

'the frisson of the togetherness'

'the frisson of the togetherness'

Repeated elements are similar but never identical.  There is tension in the tautness of the rope and there is freedom in the bunches of horse harness hanging loosely.  I have made work using sisal rope and left it to find its own form rather than put it under tension, so this exhibition opened up new possibilities. 

I am looking forward to experimenting with leather in my work, a material I have not worked with before.  Here hangings of solid panels of leather and hemp rope contrast with netting constructed from finer leather thongs.  The formal nature of the grid feels softened by the material.  The video on the Whitechapel gallery website shows the artist putting a curve into the shape, but this was no longer discernible in the exhibition.    

The manner in which each element of the work is constructed is part of the overall appeal.  The presence of craftsmen and artisans at one with their materials and tools is felt throughout the show.  References to craft traditions are a feature of Antunes’ practice and I look forward to exploring how these together with historical context influence her work.

“I am interested in the dialogue that a specific craftsmanship establishes within a certain perspective of modernity – particularly how architects/designers engaged with the vernacular - revealing not a nostalgia for a world before modernism, but rather a legacy regarding a belief in the artwork as representing an ongoing engagement in a process”

Leonor Antunes http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/about/press/leonor-antunes-the-frisson-of-the-togetherness/

As well as showing an interest in artisanal traditions of the past, Antunes unambiguously pays homage to makers and designers, many of them women, who may have slipped into the shadows.  Their names may be used in the titles and their designs incorporated into sculptures.  ‘the frisson of the togetherness’ incorporates a floor of cork and linoleum based on a design by British sculptor, Mary Martin (1907-1969).

Discrepancies with M.M.,  2017  Cork and linoleum

Discrepancies with M.M., 2017

Cork and linoleum

The assurance with which Antunes weaves references to the history of the gallery and modern British art is stimulating and I left the gallery inspired by a complex and subtle exhibition and motivated to get into the studio.

'the frisson of the togetherness', Whitechapel Gallery 3 October 2017 - 8 April 2018


En Plein Air

MA Fine Art students spent a day in Alice Holt Forest run by the Forestry Commission.  Students were encouraged to bring some materials to work with and the aim of the day was to respond to the site and to think of the forest as a space in which to work, a studio outside the studio.    Alice Holt Forest feels very different to the woods I usually walk in.  The organised car park, the well-defined and surfaced tracks, designed to accommodate large numbers of visitors, feel alien and a little disturbing. 

The relief at being outdoors though is the same.  Despite the cold, it is a thrill to choose a spot and get to work.  I begin with making rubbings of tree trunks, one a yew and one a larch (I think).  The bark feels and looks very different but the differences are less marked on the rubbings. The large pieces of paper are awkward to handle in situ but the grandeur of the woods deserves no less. The resulting marks may translate into a screen print to be used at some later point.

Next up is the ball of yarn:  walking around a small group of young trees, connecting them with the yarn.  Is this wrapping?  Or connecting?  Wrapping, in the way I think of it, has connotations of celebration or adornment, as a mark of respect or wonder.  I delight in trees and take pleasure from being close to them.  In this case though, I am making connections, in space and through time, in the way of making visible something abstract. 

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“The thing, however, is not just one thread but a certain gathering together of the threads of life.” 

Ingold T Bringing Things to Life 2010:10


On the way back to the car park, we see Cosmos, a carved wooden sphere, measuring two metres in diameter, installed in a carefully chosen site in the forest in 2014.  The work was commissioned by The Jerwood Open Forest from joint winners Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt).  On arrival, we had seen the video showing how the work was produced, taking data collected over a year in Alice Holt Forest as the starting point, demonstrating the links between science and art.  It is a clear illustration of how data can be translated into an abstract sculpture, how a work of art can be made in collaboration with industry by outsourcing production.

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Cosmos looks both at home and alien in its setting.  The material is in harmony with its setting in a small clearing, acquiring a gentle patina of moss, and yet the form clearly signals its human origin.

“These sculptural forms become unreadable within the context of science, yet become a physical form we can see, touch, experience and readable in a new way. Here, humanising the data offers a new perspective of the natural world it is documenting.”


There is something liberating in the physical activity and the somatic experience of using the forest as a temporary studio.  I plan to do more work en plein air.