Friday 1st September - Sunday 22nd October
Preview Saturday 9 September 12-2pm
BILLINGTON'S QUANDARY & GERNAND'S TRANSGRESSION
A few weeks ago Bruce had a flurry of phone calls about a sculpture of his being installed in Durham. The first wave was to determine the precision of the fixings which were to hold the upper part to the lower part of the piece. Then, a subsequent minor panic over how the base was to be secured sufficiently and safely to the ground.
How is a sculpture placed and held? Does it require a supporting structure, a cradling? Ground, plinth, hooks, ropes may provide some sort of secure catching to define the where and how it occupies the space.
What sprang to mind was the emblematic image of a mother holding her infant. The dyadic figure representing the settled stillness in the reciprocity between the holder and held.
During an early conversation between Bob and Bruce about their new work for this show, Bruce’s initial response was “I think I’ll make plinths”. And something seemed to be emerging to do with working on sculptures where the supporting structure becomes an inevitable and explicated part of the object. The object can only present itself in relation to how it is “caught” for view. When the show is over it may be put in a box or be sited differently. How far do these permutations in how it is presented for view affect how it is perceived? Another nod to Schroedinger’s cat – what is the sculpture when it is in the closed box and loses the definition of context?
Some of the sculptures are willful distortions. They are inverted, dis-figured, contorted. Within the reciprocity between viewer and maker, they push and pull towards a puncturing of what may be expected or orderly. They offer a challenge to the regularity of conformity and invite consideration of deformation and altered perceptions.
This may be thought of as an externalized articulation of some of the inner impetus and processes involved along the way towards producing something.
Samuel Becket’s recommendation “Fail and fail again better “ describes some of that psychological and physical process - the traverse through a maze of attempts, discardings, new iterations, which lead to what emerges and is defined in the external entity.
Emerging from collaborating over this show at the Cut the chord of “consistency” in a body of work has continued to resonate.
For the viewer as well as for the artist, the issue of consistency is a many-headed hydra. The reassurance of familiarity - some recognizable harmony in the visible connection between pieces of work – a reliable world to revisit. The steadfastness of laying down layers of things which endure as a sort of palimpsest. Readily recognized – but then perhaps limited by the recognition.
Then the dissonances of the unexpected, the awkward move, the disorderly, the break away. This inevitable dynamic which, at its extremes, may be experienced as getting stuck in a stagnant repetition or coming unstuck going very far out on an unreliable limb.
A new intervention, an accident or even a conscious veering away from what might feel like a too well worn habit. It seems to be a central ingredient, a necessary linkage. But, if not consciously contrived and pursued can be elusive. Mostly, the work just carries on according to some fractured momentum.
The notion of a constancy in connection between individual works, a linear cohesion falls away.
A series of reference points get set up relating to current ideas about the particular work, and the relation to previous efforts. And then a process sets in.
The hope is that some momentum fires up and new possibilities come to the fore. I value a sense of fluidity in working and hope the sculptures in this exhibition reflect that.
Billington's Quandary Gernand's Transgression
Blazing June, and after 11am it is too hot to work. I sit in a dark, cool corner under the old bay tree, the garden beyond sizzles and crackles – this is how I remember Italy in summer; now the heat has come to Norfolk, and beyond.
I need to write some notes, a way into the work and some background for a forthcoming show at the Cut to be shared with Bruce Gernand; this is a good moment to do it. First, to explain the show's title.
Some years ago Bruce made the piece called 'Billington's Quandary', a topological work where some rather uncanny properties could be laid bare only by cutting the thing in half – a kind of Schrodinger's cat situation. (Is the cat alive? To check out the cat is to kill it – and that is the quandary). Topology, objects and surfaces at the edge of our capacity to see or read what is going on, that change while remaining themselves, was where our
interests – usually some way apart – co-incided. My response – never fully realised – were some studies which I called 'Gernand's Transgression'. Transgression in two senses; first a kind of 'Hey, lay off' to the quandary jibe, but referring also to a geological usage where transgression finds one deposit, perhaps sandstone, changing (because of altering conditions, rise and fall of sea level maybe) into a different rock; coal or limestone. A reference to 'Hearts and Minds', another piece of Bruce's where the cross sections of two cylinders change from a stylised 'heart' to 'mind' shape as they move along, and vice versa. When I came to dig these little things out one made on a plywood base has the worst case of woodworm I've seen, safely isolated now in a plastic bag – I'm still looking for the metaphor.
Perhaps these latest works of mine (I think of them as paintings) are an attempt to see how elements within a work might be separated while still remaining connected, and to explore what this separation offers. Works, collections of parts, yet still one thing; themselves. As often the poet gets there first and says it better and more concisely:
...because I never held you
I hold you fast.
These lines come from Rilke. A little later this lyric and one other were brought together with some music by Webern. Definitely not 'set to music' or accompanied but almost placed alongside,'mad e to coincide', with music from a small ensemble. This reinforces the not touching/holding fast paradox that I find so strong. One thought, enough to last a lifetime.
Recently Bruce and I had a short conversation in which the question of consistency arose. There are those artists who arrive at work which is readily identifiable as theirs and who stick with it. It used to be called a 'style'. In superficial cases it's little more than a brand or the repetition of a successful formula, a piece of artistic territory with their own flag stuck into it. With others it is a much more profound thing – Bruce cited Giacometti, I mentioned Morandi. There is something deeply attractive here, but something which cannot be consciously adopted. For most artists, and I think for both of us, the element of consistency is found further under the surface, a few levels down. If the obviously consistent artist has sometimes to face an 'emptying out' of his/her idiom, the less obviously consistent must also deal with questions of whether any new approach is also capable of carrying meaning. Whatever - the old line about making the same painting over again has a resonance and when this internal consistency falls away a kind of panicked homelessness sets in. Something best avoided.
The work of mine shown here is made in the face of some profound changes which relate strongly to these thoughts about consistency. I have an image, a much simplified model, of the working process as a triangular structure. One element is place, the circumstances of where work goes on. Then there are materials, the stuff that work is made from. Lastly there is the artist with a battery of thoughts, his own temperament, history and experience, and also a shared place in the present world. A triangle is famously stable; remove or introduce more elements and its integrity is lost.
The first change was to abandon a material I had long used – fibreglass. The physical and visual feedback from the stuff plays a major part in how work moves along. Alongside some wonderful qualities – strength, lightness, accepting of colour and paint, capable of transparency or opacity, anonymous and bland yet rich in visual possibilities – fibreglass has some unpleasant, even sinister, attributes whist it is being worked, notably noxious fumes and dangerous fibres. These dangers were demonstrated to me rather clearly and I needed to move on. It feels good now to have a cleaner, smaller, footprint and contact with more benign, friendlier materials – wood, board and paper for the most part. The second change was to change where I live and to move into a new studio.
Two sides of the creative triangle replaced and, although the new shape is not quite clear, the work that is coming out tells me something. Showing work, seeing it in another place, different light and space, alongside a brother artist's work, is always valuable and revealing – of something - and the Cut is a wonderfully receptive venue...