Notes from the Studio by Claire Mander

Cover of Exh. cat., Serial/Portable Classic: The Greek Canon and Its Mutation, Fondazione Prada, Milan, 2015

Cover of Exh. cat., Serial/Portable Classic: The Greek Canon and Its Mutation, Fondazione Prada, Milan, 2015

An air of seriousness and enquiring quietness encompass the studio.  It is filled with materials: plastic sheets, a smoke machine, water, boards of frigolite, large paper cut outs of body shapes.

Hanna, sitting by the table with a book in her hand, looks at me with a secretive smile - as a magician about to reveal something extraordinary. The book she is perusing is about classicism, or more precisely, Greek sculpture.

A gestural cut out

A gestural cut out

"Did you know that Chiswick House once received a bequest of one of these sculptural bodies?", she says pointing at a very perfectly shaped Greek sculpture in the book, noticeably with missing arms.  She explains that copy after copy of the original sculptures were made by the Greeks and then the Romans, each society reflecting the ideals of its era in the human forms. Hanna speaks about her interest in Classicism and how she wants to know more about  this 'everywhere-underlying' element in western culture.

"We all think we know something about classicism", she says, "but in fact we know very little. Many of these sculptures, including the ones in Chiswick House, have lost limbs because of refurbishments, moving, wars, or other unfortunate accidents.”

What are the missing limbs? Their gestures and meanings of the missing limbs intrigue Hanna... and me.

She explains that she is not intending to make yet another copy of the sculptures that were housed at Chiswick House. But she will with use materials that can float, be transparent, and move, reflect what was once there ... like with a whisper from the past the artist or, as I feel tempted to call her, 'magician' gets to work...

Respectfully and with the serious approach of a Nordic Artist she will let us wander around the Ionic Temple at Chiswick House and its beauteous grounds, letting the whispers of the past meet the present, and bring us into yet new wonders and questions of the wonderfully ghostly magical uncertainties of the future and its forever changing ideals.

 Let us all be quiet, so that we can hear our thoughts and give space to these enchanting whispers.

By Nina Wisnia

Hanna Haaslahti Interviewed by Claire Mander - Part 2 by Claire Mander

Ionic Temple, Chiswick House

Ionic Temple, Chiswick House

Collage of Gestures

Collage of Gestures

Hanna Haaslahti in the studio, photo by Anne Purkiss

Hanna Haaslahti in the studio, photo by Anne Purkiss

CM: How did you approach your Sculpture Shock residency and making the work?

HH: Not in front of a computer screen.  Chiswick House and English Heritage have been very supportive and I have spent many days at the Temple, in the archives and in the grounds. The history of the Ionic Temple is fascinating and many layered.  As with all historical research, as many things are hidden as are revealed. Just as the obelisk that stands in front of it, the Temple itself is a monument and monuments are selective in their statements about past deeds. 

Certain aspects of the Temple caught my imagination: the empty niches in the interior; the armless sculptures in the grounds and the idea of building a bridge between the past and present – of invigorating a space which is not open to the public. 

The two empty niches in the Temple once contained copies of classical sculptures now in the main house. Replicas of these stand in the gardens outside the Temple area. They have lost their arms and hands – their gestures – and without them the sculptures have lost their means of communication.  I wanted to study gestures of classical sculpture to link past and present by incorporating them into the installation. The concept of ‘heroic nudity’ invented during Archaic period resonates strongly with contemporary anxieties surrounding beauty and the toning of muscles.  These same gestures reappear again and again in sculpture over the millennia and now they float in their contemporary incarnation on the surface of the mirror pond. Certain visual effects just keep repeating themselves throughout history.  
Much of the apparent richness of the interiors of Chiswick House is due to its carefully gilded surfaces. This interested me as I primarily work with light which creates a similar type of surface effect.  Gilding, though, is a way of making materials look more desirable and expensive – creating this rift between the surface and the essence.  I decided to invert this treatment and re-cover the solid materials of the Temple with a contemporary non-precious, artificial looking material.  So much of the contemporary world is made up of cheap fake things mimicking old precious things – like cheap vinyl oak-looking floors or fake marble tiles which I wanted to make the viewer think about.  I wanted to create an installation which highlights the disjunct between the solidity of this grand building and the instability of the contemporary world. 

CM: How do you hope your Sculpture Shock intervention for the Ionic Temple at Chiswick House will be read by its audience and what impact do you hope it will have? 

HH:  The audience is the key link between the building and my work and between past and present. The interactive light work will ensure that visitors are in the spotlight, if only for a moment. They will be the fulcrum of the work – actually generating and moving the light.  The audience is not passive – they will not just stand and watch – their function is to challenge the border between installation, viewer and site.  I hope their perceptions will be altered and they will be animated by the space as much as they animate it themselves.

CM: How has Sculpture Shock assisted you in the development of you practice and what are your artistic ambitions? 

HH:  This program really opened a new perspective in my artistic practice. I had labeled myself as a media artist and now I have a broader sense of what I do.  Why do we have to have these divisions anyway?  As an artist I want to be able to always do whatever is necessary.

By Claire Mander

Hanna Haaslahti Interviewed by Claire Mander Part 1 by Claire Mander

CM: Who are the artists, thinkers, theorists from any field of endeavour that you most admire and which have had the greatest impact on your thinking and your work? 

HH:  Many people influence my work and thinking as research is an important part of my working process.  At the moment, Timothy Morton, an English philosopher who writes about object-oriented ontology (OOO) is of particular interest. The idea that objects comprise both surface and essence – the surface/appearance being easily comprehensible while the essence can never be seen or known is somehow magical and endlessly sought after.  
Discovering gestalt psychology was a revelation for me. It explains how brain processes our perceptions of the world by filling in missing gaps and creating whole forms, before our cognitive mind has a chance to intervene. Our minds are constantly produced by our brains.   I am also fascinated by studies around the psychology of the group and phenomena surrounding the ‘herd mentality’.  
Malevich is an artist whose work and manifestos, are for me an iconic turning point in thought and image.  The utopian architectural constructions of Haus Rucker-Co made in the 1970s at a time of increased fear of environmental issues incorporated plastics into their pneumatic air structures interest me for their use of material and for the way they wanted to provide creative solutions to environmental and social issues.  Today we do not have room for utopias – we are the generation that has to clean up the trash from the past and move on.  I also admire Bjőrk for her energy and her imagination. 

CM: You have created work which responds to historically important places in the past for example Sincere Lies, 2013 at Sinebrychoff Museum of Old Art in Helsinki.  What aspects of the historic appeal to you?

HH:  Certain ideas are associated with certain historical periods – there has always been a manipulation or control of what we know, what is passed down, what is revered and what is not discussed and in this sense history is a perceptual formula. I am interested in the ‘back streets of history’, not the official line.  Our age, the digital age, is characterised by a flow (or flood) of information stated quickly and simply – which does not describe a true or fair view of the complexity of an event. I am interested in presenting the possibilities of alternative narratives – not necessarily based on research or re-presenting facts – new information does not help – after all information is not communication. I am talking about different ways of perceiving the world.  The images you see every day in the media make you blind and powerless, but sometimes you catch a glimpse of something revealing. Take the image of the new Chief Executive of BMW who dramatically fainted at the conference – an image which went viral.  The pose is almost religious, the fall so out of place, it revealed human fragility so carefully hidden inside the machineries of power.  

CM: Tell me about the importance of digital technology and the possibilities it opens up in the visual world?

HH: Digital technology introduced instability as the unexpected side-effect of high-tech society.  Objects are no longer solid and enduring, buildings are made to last a decade rather than millennia, events seemingly take place here, on the other side of the world and on various platforms simultaneously as do images of ourselves.  Instantaneous, ephemeral, speeded up digital world – we are not sure how to understand this new dimension of immateriality.   Concepts of physical presence and absence have dissolved – now we are present all the time in different ways in different media – images of ourselves are on social media, sent back and forth, selfies everywhere.   Our paranoia about surveillance cameras seems to have disappeared and now we suffer from FOMO; we throw ourselves into the proliferation of images and now we live with our own digital images constantly.  Next year I am embarking on an art+science research project in Aalto University, Helsinki called ‘Life as an image’ to explore new technologies around image making and 3D sensing and their social reverberations.  The relationship between human perception and computer vision – how computers see the world - is fascinating.  3D sensing technology adds another element to the RGB of image creation - the D of Depth – also called point cloud - which dispenses with traditional perspectival systems of vision.  3D sensing moves around the object and builds up an image from all angles.  Liberating image making from the chains of perspective is exciting and contains many possibilities. 
I am positive about digital technology - we cannot turn back the clock and it is here to stay so there is no point being negative about it or yearning for analogue technology.  But we can and should try to take control of it.  We are in a honeymoon period of intense love with our social screens, creating a generation of young iPhone zombies as we say in Finland but I am hopeful that technology might lead ultimately to a new understanding of time, presence and materiality. 

by Claire Mander

Oase no 7, Fridericaianum, documenta 5, Kassel 1972. Photo: Hein Engelskirchen

Oase no 7, Fridericaianum, documenta 5, Kassel 1972. Photo: Hein Engelskirchen

'Gaps, glitches and speed bumps' by William Mackrell - Dave Beech by Claire Mander

William Mackrell,  Gaps, glitches and speed bumps , Thursday 10 September - Sunday 13 September 2015, photo by AK Purkiss

William Mackrell, Gaps, glitches and speed bumps, Thursday 10 September - Sunday 13 September 2015, photo by AK Purkiss

"we understand space as the sphere of the possibility of the existence of multiplicity in the sense of contemporaneous plurality; as the sphere in which distinct trajectories coexist; as the sphere therefore of coexisting heterogeneity." - Doreen Massey

Performance is often described in terms of the body, spectatorship, duration, the spoken word, narrative. In art institutions it is included among what has come to be known as time-based practices or live arts. Amelia Jones, for instance, notes that performance has been “privileged precisely through its ephemerality and immediacy”. The current anxiety about the documentation and reenactment of performance confirms the perception that performance is impermanent in a strong sense. Everybody knows that performances occur in spaces but typically the performance is seen as something separate that is brought to the space and disappears from the space once it is over. In this way, performance has been theorized as primarily temporal rather than primarily spatial.

William Mackrell’s work combines sculpture with performance (including print and photography too) in a way that not only adds a temporal dimension to the sculptural sphere of objects, but adds a spatial element to it, as well. Not the kind of spatiality that animates installation art (a sort of extrapolation of the ‘spaces’ within paintings and sculptures) nor the bounded concept of space that attaches site-specific art to physical spaces. Mackrell’s work traverses the spatial dynamics of geography. I am not thinking of the traditional conception of geography as the study of territory or the poststructural misconception of space as the “domestication of time”, to use Ernesto Laclau’s words. Mackrell’s works respond to place and space through an embodied reflection.

Deux Chevaux (2011-2015) consists of a Citroën 2CV harnessed to two horses and driven, or ridden, through various specific places. Given its original purpose to supply motorized transport to farmers still using horses and carts in 1930s France, Mackrell’s montaging of these two modes of transport into one functional vehicle is an historical conundrum. If conceptually it is a temporal folding of history upon itself, it has a strong geographical significance in its realization. A great deal of Marckrell’s time was taken up in negotiating with the local authorities to obtain written permission to take the horse drawn car along specific routes at specific times.

His walking piece, Going to the Gallery (2013), is a spatial study. Writing the words ‘going to the gallery’ on a roll of paper as he makes his way on foot from the studio to the gallery, Mackrell links two places not only through his action but through his mantra. While still outside the studio he writes ‘going to the gallery’, as if the two spaces were already, through his intention, bridged and bonded. As well as the movement of the artist from one place to another, a roll of paper, now absent from the studio is left in the gallery. This work thus transposes the experience of space into what might have once been called a piece of text art, which appears in the gallery as a little heap, not unlike Robert Morris’ iconic piles of felt, of displaced material.

At least since the early eighteenth century a man who walked from his studio to a gallery would be a bearer of spatial displacement. Daniel Defoe celebrated this in his panegyric to trade: “The cloth for the man’s coat comes from Yorkshire;… the waistcoat … from Norwich. The breeches are … from Devizes, Wilts … His yarn stockings are from Westmorland. His hat is a felt from Leicester. His leather gloves come from Somerset, his shoes from Northampton”. Today, David Harvey asks where your breakfast comes from (sugar, coffee, milk, cups, etc), saying that these products link you with millions of workers around the globe. He calls these ‘spatial linkages’. Mackrell’s works create spatial linkages that make visible the invisible threads that connect places together.

Gaps, glitches and speed bumps commissioned by RBS for the Ambulatory category of Sculpture Shock 2015 makes its way, eventually, to the gallery but it takes place largely on public transport. Sat upstairs on the bus, Mackrell draws lines that are scattered by the swaying, stopping and swerving that jolts all the passengers. He draws on a print of sheet music in which the rows of lines have been bent into a circle. At the same time, four singers chart the journey with improvised sounds, stopping abruptly whenever the bus reaches a stop or a red light. Fellow travellers turn to listen and look, pointing and whispering, giggling and smiling.

“The real import of spatiality”, critical geographer Doreen Massey says, is “the possibility of multiple narratives”, or what she calls “coevalness”. Gaps, glitches and speed bumps is Mackrell’s most coeval work to date. The bus has a fixed route and is timetabled according to a semi-rigorous schedule, but the people who jump on and jump off have their own destinations and their own narratives. Buses are public not in the Habermasian sense of places where opinions are exchanged and public opinion is formed collectively, but in the sense of a zone in which people come together temporarily and share space, like a park, a zoo or a shopping mall. Like the scenes portrayed by Manet, then, the bus is a conspicuous reminder of the city as a place of coeval existence. Mackrell’s intervention in the bus, by adding just one or two new narratives to the scene, highlights the fact that there were multiple narratives here all along.

Mackrell did not hire a private bus to realize his drawings and improvised singing. It would have been reasonable to do so but if he had then the work would have remained spatial but would have been far less coeval. The route that the private bus took would have been determined solely by the artist and the fellow passengers would have been there to witness the work. By joining a public bus on its regular journey, carrying passengers to their individual destinations, Mackrell’s work inserts itself into the space that others occupy for their own purposes, mid-stream so to speak. The work belongs in the same space, in the same intersection of journeys and narratives, that any passenger would encounter walking down a busy street, catching a train or stepping onto the bus.

Taxi drivers famously enjoy the full benefits of coevalness but taxi passengers do not. If we do not typically experience the coevalness of bus journeys in full, this is because our journeys are shaped by the polite avoidance of fellow passengers. In fact, coevalness is generally not something that we experience directly. It is a background feature that structures contemporary life. Like the spatial linkages that pins your breakfast to the world without you necessarily having any idea about what these linkages actually are, coevalness is structural not phenomenological. Mackrell makes coevalness phenomenological by assigning the movement and noise of passengers to the score of the work.

James Clifford roots the practice of traveling in the Greek term theoria: “Theory is a practice of travel and observation, ... a product of displacement. To theorize, one leaves home.” Aesthetics is the result of a similar process, applied to objects and subjects alike. The modern institutions of art - including the public museum, the emergence of an art public and the publishing of art criticism - were unprecedented but can be understood best as based on the modern experience of Greek and Roman artefacts displaced from their original contexts. Art and aesthetics are born when crafted objects left home, or, more precisely, were seized by foreigners. Art is in a perpetual state of leaving home. What Gaps, glitches and speed bumps demonstrates is that the displacement of the aesthetic from the museum does not return it to a pre-aesthetic function or utility, but percolates the aesthetic through small pockets of the everyday.

By Dave Beech


William Mackrell Interviewed - Part 2 by Claire Mander

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by A K Purkiss

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by A K Purkiss

ZK: As chance encounters and happenings appear to be such an important part of your practice, what kind of preparation and planning goes into each of your pieces?

WM: Preparing involves rehearsing the context of a site or situation. With the upcoming public performance being worked towards for September, Gaps, glitches and speed bumps, the singers will have nothing to follow or fall back on, responding instinctively to how their bodies mould with the fluctuating movement of each journey. As my work often tilts speculatively between the possible and the unlikely, chance tends to enter into the work and carries the piece beyond its original intentions. It is this extension of the work by the unexpected that can break the work out of a singular construct or pre-intended point of view. Being able to adapt quickly to change and work out solutions is to keep moving, keep something alive, that’s inherent to everyday living.

Last June when Deux Chevaux was performed in London, in order for the work to fulfil its funding agreements it became utterly engrossed in licences, permissions and negotiations to a point that cocooned the activity of the work from its own precarious being. In some ways it was an interesting learning curve as I didn’t realise in advance the extent of the administrational work, which would amount to some 800 emails and 100-200 pages of police and local authorities documents carried on the day of the performance, particularly for something which in terms of its action appeared quite straight forward and common place just over one hundred years ago. By the end of the Deux Chevaux performance, the paperwork had so dominated my experience of the work I included all the documents in the final exhibition, Steam Horses at The Ryder as a swarm of paper stuffed onto a pin board.

For Gaps, glitches and speed bumps, I have tried to keep the administrative element to a minimum, with the intention to keep the performance as loose and fluid as possible within the everyday scenario of the city’s public travel network. The focus will be entirely absorbed in the very second when the bus is jolting along and the affect this will have on the singers’ vocal responses and line drawings made on each journey.

ZK: What is the importance of the audience experience to you and how do you hope your work will impact on those who witness your performances?

WM: Considering your audience is necessary, as the live element of the work hinges on how you invite or position the audience within a live dialogue. Whether the work will be liked or not is something I cannot decide, but how they might reach the project, begin to enter into it, has to be thought about and for Gaps, glitches and speed bumps being the most precarious and unannounced live work I’ve attempted, I have to consider a range of responses I might receive from the Public.

The key thing is really that the audience can step into the work quite quickly from a visual or sensory perspective. I am not looking to push a particular ideology or message onto the work, or onto the audience. It’s about letting the audience come to the work and then letting them run with the idea. I like there to be elements you can grasp that are just about everyday experiences, how the work highlights their own space, their journeys, and the motions they go through within this familiar but transitional space.

ZK: You recently performed a series of works titled ‘In an Instant' at FOLD gallery which involved you leaving a series of marks on the walls with black lipstick. What is the relationship between the marks, or on other occasion’s objects, you leave behind after your performances? Are they simply a form of documentation of the action that has taken place or do you see them as independent works in their own right?

WM: This is a very interesting point to me right now, as I am trying to find new ways to work through the relationship of live action, documentation and aftermath. When I first started making works that did leave physical marks I just thought about them as traces and residue, but now I think you have to consider them more carefully than that, before they end up being a slightly nostalgic left over object which will label the work in a certain way. I am also trying to consider works to be more of a thought than a concept. It’s also great when a work doesn’t equal itself or complete itself too much.

I feel that in the more recent work I am keeping the residue active beyond a finite mark and I like that even after the event at FOLD, the marks continue to hold a new tension or possible re-action.

Or with Deux Chevaux again when presented at The Ryder, the reigns draped down over the car bonnet onto the floor after the horses have departed signal the potential of the work to become something new or about to happen, the sculpture I think retained this propositional form I’m after. 

As to documentation, I am always recording and gathering sound, notes, and photos of everything I do. Even when I practice an action in the studio I like to consider how it looks from the Other’s perspective, the angles, the speed and balance of the piece. Most of this ends up being a private record for further research. For me documentation isn’t so important for recording something that’s happened but has more significance in enabling something new to take place.

ZK: Your recent piece Soprano for route no.141 included a live musical element as will your forthcoming Sculpture Shock intervention. What is it that appeals to you about using sound and in particular the unaccompanied voice in your work? What do you feel it helps you convey to your audience that actions alone cannot?

WM: With sound like time, it is the fragile and vulnerable qualities that attract me, its immediacy is an exciting prospect that leaves no trail of it’s self, but embodies the presence of memory by inhabiting a space for a moment. Like the smell of a club or music venue the morning after or a gallery the morning after a great opening, sound has this incredibly sensory power you can do so much with. In many ways I also find music more open, more democratic than ‘art’ in the Fine Art sense. So Gaps, glitches and speed bumps will attempt to work off music’s relationship to line drawing.

ZK: How has Sculpture Shock assisted you in the development of your practice and what are your future artistic ambitions?

WM: The assistance and support has come at a crucial time. This year has been quite busy with 2 solos, 5 group shows, and recently being selected for the Jerwood drawing prize. The residency has added a lot to the momentum to my work. The constant activity in and around the studio has been great, conversations, studio visits, photography of studio process, it has felt good to be part of this busy programme.

With the spiralling costs of studio rent and living expenses in London, to know this is supported through the Sculpture Shock award for three months has been a big chance to pursue new work and work towards a large final project in September. It will be hard to get me out of here, I love the studio space, whether the day is going well or not, it feels good every time to be in here.

By Zana Kingwill

William Mackrell Interviewed - Part 1 by Claire Mander

William Mackrell, 1000 Candles, 2010. Image: Courtesy of the Artist

William Mackrell, 1000 Candles, 2010. Image: Courtesy of the Artist

ZK: What made you decide to become a sculptor and when did your interest in performance develop? 

WM: The fluidity of working from a sculptural perspective has always appealed to me. Much of my work doesn’t follow a particular medium, its Sculpture’s looseness that embraces my shifting process and the varying materials both made and readymade that I work with. Though sculpture is probably the closest category I identify with, I actually started out studying Painting for my BA when I was at Chelsea College of art, but even over the course I could see my approach to working was moving quickly into the realms of installation and sculpture. Yet the work now still retains a strong relationship to my background in painting and also very much drawing. It’s the immediacy of mark making, putting down an initial gesture or a thought that stays central to my work.

I fell into Performance quite accidently and only really began to recognise my work as performative or as actions in around 2009 / 2010.  Around that time I made a work called 1000 Candles, which was a response to a pocket torch I had in my studio that claimed to have 1000 candles power. I attempted to assemble 1000 candles in my studio and light them all. This turned out to be very difficult, I couldn’t reach, it got very hot, and then of course as soon as you got near the end, one would go out and you’d be faced with the decision whether to stop lighting or continue. When I first made that piece I had only ever thought about it as being a photograph that documented this task, but when I got a video camera next and started filming the work, it really stopped me to think about its physicality, the duration and power of the sound. I realised this work was full with the potential of performance. So in a way I guess the performance aspect of my work was introduced through video and more precisely the moment of sensing the work from the other, seeing it on screen, this altered viewpoint helped me to feel the piece as a live work that move beyond a static image. In fact that’s what I really like about performance, that it started freeing the work to be ‘it is what it is’ rather than trying to be ‘Art’.

But, to confuse things further, I had actually been making performances long before then, but hadn’t thought of them as anything more than a shot at finding a solution to a problem. In 2006 I was invited along with thirty artists to a tiny island, Susak in the Adriatic to see what might happen in a completely unfamiliar and isolated location. It was an idyllic place to be, but with all these artists it soon turned into an intense and claustrophobic atmosphere, a lot of people fell out. Everyday it became more like a Big Brother scenario, so I tried to escape for an afternoon by borrowing a table, umbrella and chairs from one of the two bars on the island and carried them into the sea in the hope to begin a conversation offshore. Soon locals and others from the project joined with more chairs and then the guy working in the bar waded out and asked if we’d like some drinks? That was probably the first performance to happen unintentionally, but in retrospect it holds a lot of value to me now for how I approach collective and participatory projects.

 ZK: Who are the artists and theorists you most admire and who have had the greatest impact on your thinking and your work?

WM: When I was at Chelsea, my tutor Angela de la Cruz was hugely influential in breaking down my work. She really helped guide me to find my way with my language. We are still in regular contact and Angela remains as direct as ever about new work. I admire her as a good friend and the most uncompromising artist I know.

Of course other figures I hugely admire are; Joseph Beuys, his appetite for art as teaching, the blackboard pieces are great and then his shamanistic activities have always added this twist to his mystic personality. Bas Jan Ader and filmmaker Andreas Tarkovsky are also strong influences for me. Their works delve deep into the poetic, political and absurdities of humanity. Also Paul McCarthy, particularly his early video works, which really bring out the madness of being an artist in the studio, some of those works resonate so politically about their time and again the folly of man. 

The two theorists I have been looking at a lot recently, both particularly useful to the ambulatory residency, Henri Lefebvre and Paul Virilio. Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysisbrings together the overlooked connectivity of rhythm, time, and movement in the everyday. This book has been in continuous use in the last few months, and Virilio’s, The Aesthetics of Disappearance unravels the delicate juncture between dreaming and being awake in the dizzying and relentless speed of 24-7 culture.  For me both texts are really interesting precursors to today’s rapid age of the Internet and how time feel’s lived through a flow of images on screens, forming a kind of constant time of perpetual wakefulness.

ZK: When did your interest in the site specific develop and how/where did this happen? Can you talk a little about what you would define as a site-specific work as and how performance, which doesn’t always have a fixed location, fits into this?

WM: It certainly starts from the body being central to or itself site specific. The intervention that culminates from this residency in early September called, Gaps, glitches and speed bumps will be an interrelated piece between the internal and external effect of the mechanics of bus travel on the body. Looking at airflow and the way air moves through your lungs on the bus, how your diaphragm is affected by the reverberations and vibrations it creates, and then how your body is almost thrown into a spherical direction by the bus in transit.

It’s a hybrid of body and site that makes Gaps, glitches and speed bumps site specific. It is also about the rhythm of the city as a site of flow and the disruption to this flow by the traffic lights, negotiating other vehicles and then there are the constant automated announcements by the reassuring but assertive female voice on the overhead loudspeaker that form marker points on the journey. The whole thing is about how time is always moving and in a way addresses the fact that the site specific itself is more often than not a temporary experience.

I guess my interest in the site specific started around the same time as my interest in performance developed, around 2010. The site specific has always just really been there, I don’t really know how to work without it, because I feel like it’s intrinsic to producing work. Whatever I am producing it is always in reaction to a particular time and space and the set of circumstances that goes with this.

Notes from the Studio by Claire Mander

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by A K Purkiss

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by A K Purkiss

Why are certain subjects harder to describe in words than others?

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by A K Purkiss

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by A K Purkiss

Why is it that it has taken me weeks to try to find the right words to describe William Mackrell’s art practice for the Sculpture Shock Abulatory award.

A white sheet full of expectations.

While it’s fresh and clear in my brain-the words just make me stumble.

So here I am stumbling, struggling with too much effort, trying to grasp the right: Language.

Language can hinder us, make us be misunderstood, embarrassed.

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by A K Purkiss

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by A K Purkiss

Despite its constructive beauty, the written or spoken language can appear superficial and false. The bridge between thoughts and words is a conscious mental practise that shuns honest expressions. I often think that the core of our intentional message remains in some sort of obscurity behind the spoken and written word.

"drawing is the more primitive important language to the human race than the written word and should be taught to every child in the same way as the written word..." John Ruskin

William often uses drawing in his work. Its his text, his language.

It is honest clear and exciting. Its often used as an imprint of a certain recorded time.

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by A K Purkiss

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by A K Purkiss

William is not just using the hand and the pen as drawing tools, he uses his whole body.

William recently performed 'tongue drawings' to express his thoughts in the studio.

He lets the experience, the act he performs, resonate through his body and leave marks on the paper. This is his text, his language.

And even if he would occasionally use words, the words themselves becomes a drawn line of action in space.

As the audience, we can all feel the messages William conveys by looking at him. And we will understand the marks. There is no embarrassment or misunderstanding. William's drawings unfold a depth in ourselves - a common collective comprehension of our human bodies, senses, and functions.

As much as I try and would like to explain the complex thoughts that come up in my mind in words after visiting William, I believe we have to experience the performance ourselves to read its full meaning.

William's Ambulatory piece of work for Sculpture shock will take place in a bus. He will draw the experience of an every day bus journey, his body movements following the movements of the bus, creating a drawing with pen on paper.

Along with him, singers will with their own vocal medium draw their own lines in space.

So lets take a seat, and enjoy an everyday journey on a bus with William who will bring us to the higher levels of our human capacities.

Two pieces of advice before the trip:

1. Don’t buckle up. There are no seat or security belts to fasten in the bus (Williams work will never be secured!)

2. And do NOT leave any personal belongings on the bus. (Let us not leave the bus and forget our experiences. Let us remember, learn from them as a new personal belonging that is ready to use and be explored)

By Nina Wisnia 

William Mackrell in Context - Deciphering Duration by Claire Mander

Allan Kaprow, Fluids, photographed by Dennis Hopper in Beverly Hills, October 1963

Allan Kaprow, Fluids, photographed by Dennis Hopper in Beverly Hills, October 1963

Art can explore the concept of time and humanities’ relationship with time in a variety of ways, artists having often chosen to engage with ideas of time through the nature of the medium itself. 

As performance art happens in real time a connection with the audience or participants is made as they are fully immersed in the experience of the piece. The fact that, in pieces such as Allan Kaprow’s Happenings, the art existed in a temporal rather than physical sense served to elevate the experience as it itself became the art, as opposed to a physical product produced by the artist. Kaprow developed his performance art as a medium explicitly engaged with time, describing his intentions to move away from ‘making pictures as figurative metaphors for extensions in time and space’, making the relationship between art and time more direct. 

In Tehching Hsieh’s piece ‘One Year Performance 1980-1981’, also known as ‘Time Clock Piece’, a literal relationship was made between art and time, as the piece entailed the artist punching a time clock every hour, all day and night for a year. Hsieh’s passing of time with such a repetitive action without tangible product meant that the meaning of time was lost to a certain extent. The piece invited consideration of the meaning of ‘wasting time’, as an action associated with productivity, punching a time clock, prevented outside productivity in the artist, through its strict demands. 

‘One Year Performance 1980-1981’ was one of six durational art pieces performed by Hseih, five of which took place over a year. The choice of a year was explained by the artist in Mousse Magazine, as he stated that ‘One year is the basic unit of how we count time….It is about being human, how we explain time, how we measure our existence.’ This sheds light on both the piece’s consideration of human quantification of time, and how it has made a physical marker of the division of time.

Time based art is often created in mediums other than performance art, however, as it regularly takes the form of media art.  Video art often involves the idea of time, as the nature of the medium allows techniques such as looping to be used, allowing pieces to be potentially infinite, possibly to provoke a reduction in the perceived importance of time on the viewer. 

Fischli and Weiss’ piece for the 1995 Venice Biennale, for example, invited a consideration of time and its value as they presented 96 hours of footage of car journeys that had taken place in Zurich. In describing their intentions in the work Fischli said that the piece allowed the viewer to place value on different aspects of the work, by choosing a particular monitor and moment to pay attention to, and deciding how long to remain looking. The artist stated in an interview with Frieze Magazine that “They have to ask themselves the same question as we do: what shall I waste my time on? And by giving them this time I enhance the value of these things”. 

William Mackrell’s piece ‘Going to the gallery’ (2013) engaged with time as it made a physical representation of time and the artist’s experience travelling from his studio to the gallery, as he continuously wrote ‘going to the gallery’ on a roll of paper, the used material accumulating and bearing a physical marker of the journey as it became dirty or torn. This piece thus translated time and experience into a physical medium, displaying another way to develop the relationship between art and time. For his forthcoming Sculpture Shock AMBULATORY intervension Mackrell will continue this theme as he plans to reflect the live journy of a Routmaster bus through automated drawing and sound. In this way the physical journy, and therfore time, will once again be reflected in different forms, as well as becoming a shared exsperience for the passengers. 

By Octavia Young 

Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song by Lynn Dennison - Dave Beech by Claire Mander

Lynn Dennison,  Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song , Sculpture Shock Subterranean May 2015, The Brunel Shaft, photo by AK Purkiss

Lynn Dennison, Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song, Sculpture Shock Subterranean May 2015, The Brunel Shaft, photo by AK Purkiss

Nature is shrinking, but the signs of nature and the natural are multiplying, replacing and supplanting real "nature" Henri Levebvre

The transition from agriculture to industry, from rural living to urbanization, brings a chronic shrinkage of nature, and, at the same time, a proliferation of images of nature. Advertising sells cars, deodorant, detergents, air travel and financial services by associating products with spectacular mountainscapes, natural springs, animated swarms of petals, montages of sea, dessert, sky and forest, and lush green fields. The TV schedule is peppered with documentaries of everything from deep sea creatures to storm chasing, printed textiles are almost synonymous with pictures of flowers, and nature is treasured in the backgrounds to millions of selfies, postcards, jigsaw puzzles, greetings cards, and website stock images. 

Lynn Dennison’s new work for Sculpture Shock, Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song, divides up the surface of the Rotherhithe Shaft, an impressive underground monument to Brunel’s engineering prowess, with large video projections of the river looking like a calm sea. Nature is restored to the industrial setting, here, but it is not only nature that has been reduced to an image: at the Brunel museum heavy industry itself survives only as a sign. Buildings, bridges and tunnels continue to be constructed on an ever increasing scale, of course, but the classic opposition between industry and nature, captured by Adorno and Horkheimer’s concept of the ‘dialectic of Enlightenment’, has been replaced with ecological crisis and ecodesign. If Dennison’s work is a eulogy to nature, a paean to the river under threat, then it is equally a eulogy to its old adversary, the industrial. 

The transition to industrialization is mirrored in a fetishism of nature: the sentimental love of nature in modernity is an effect of the industrial revolution and an expression of it, insofar as it results from the rift between city and county, progress and tradition, work and leisure, that capitalism unbuckled. Romantic artists such as Friedrich, Constable and Wordsworth, on the cusp of industrialism, modernised culture by drawing on the semiotics of nature. Realism opposed elite cultural codes of meaning by asserting that ‘the forms of Nature speak directly’. At the end of the eighteenth century, coinciding therefore with the period of the bourgeois revolution, nature appeared as the uncoded code of emotion and feeling. Not only could a painting of leafless bushes  in the snow signify death in an apparently immediate, unlearned way; the experience of nature itself, in hillwalking, hiking and mountain climbing, for instance, became one of the central modes with which the bourgeoisie learned to feel deeply. 

Nature was the centrepiece of the modern concept of aesthetic experience. Whereas the classical theory of beauty had modelled itself on the bodies of beauties and secondarily on artworks that replicated their proportions, the revolutionary bourgeoisie turned to nature as the basis both of its theory of judgements of taste and its theory of the sublime. Nature is the utopia specific to industrialisation. This is why, like Dennison’s videos, nature was projected into the very heart of modernity by radical romantics, both as a corrective to its instrumental, calculative and exploitative industry, and as a confirmation of its democratic, subjective and expressive freedom. One of the first things that William Morris says about industry in a future Socialist society, in his essay 'A Factory As It Might Be’, is that the factory should be surrounded by vast, beautiful gardens. Each room, we might add, should look out to the river or have the river run through it.  

Landscape painting has traditionally inserted simulated windows into domestic rooms so that the interior can be blessed with views unavailable though the actual windows. Dennison’s digital installation is scaled-up, like the spectacle of an aquarium in which visitors stand face-to-face with sea creatures. Facing the wall, looking at the river, the viewer is momentarily a figure in a Caspar David Friedrich painting, turning her back to the world in order to face nature and thereby to feel. One of the most profound legacies of romanticism is the belief that this encounter is the paradigm of feeling, or at least of refined aestheticised feeling. It is the experience of nature modelled on the experience of Greek statues ripped from their original architectural, cultural and religious setting. The modern love of nature is the result of a cut, which is both a spatial dislocation from nature and a framing of nature dislocated. Putting nature in a dirty industrial setting, albeit one as refined in its own terms as the Rotherhithe shaft, is to experience that cut as an embrace.

In the era of regeneration, Brunel's shaft seems as endangered as the Thames. The shaft itself will remain in place but its setting is likely to be gentrified, as no areas of London appear immune from this monetising and cultivating process. The industrial is to be nothing but a tourist attraction and its architectural relics are bound to be repurposed for the leisure of the incoming tide. Dennison’s lapping water of the Thames will be followed up, it might be assumed, with a flood of fashionable events. Modernization eats itself, naturally, and at the moment between one crisis and other it is only proper that we should contemplate, reflect and try to feel something. Regret, perhaps, or hope, might be acceptable responses, but then so is anger, fear, love, resignation or delight. Aesthetic experience, heightened by the yoking of industry and nature, is a realm of freedom only if we can feel pleasure in the vicinity of threat. The sublime was an aesthetic experience invented by the bourgeoisie in its revolutionary phase in order, primarily, to address the pleasure felt by those protected from the deadly effects of nature or the unnatural deaths of others. 

Dennison’s work is not sublime. Can nature be sublime in the era of ecological disaster? Nature is no longer conceived primarily as simultaneously the source of life and harbouring the forces inimical to human life; nature today is conceived primarily as a victim. The closest we come to a contemporary sublime is the image of total ecological collapse that brings all human life to an end in a narrative in which technology reaches a limit in its destructive exploitation of the world. Nevertheless, Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song, despite the title being taken from a line in TS Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’, is not a modernist grievance against modernity. Nature, here, is not a ruined, barren place. The river is soft, relentlessly soothing or even happy. Dennison has created an oasis. 

Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song is utopian in Henri Lefebvre’s sense, which he ascribes to parks and gardens: ‘they refer to a twofold utopia: absolute nature and pure facticity’. He explains, ‘they suggest an absolute and inaccessible nature - grottos, wind, altitude, the sea, islands - as well as facticity - the trimmed and tortured tree that serves as pure ornament’. Absolute nature is made possible by pure facticity: only when nature is cut off from use and other meanings (food, farming, real estate) and is therefore conceived as pure facticity (water, field, hill) can it be fully enjoyed aesthetically, that is as nature in the abstract. Utopia, therefore, is the experience of dislocation, like Greek statues which appear freer and more beautiful when they are carried off from the Parthenon to the museum. Nowadays the cut of utopia doesn’t require chisels and a fleet of ships, only a video camera. Utopia has been let loose: nowhere is everywhere, and it still calls on us to make the world anew. 

By Dave Beech

Lynn Dennison Interviewed - Part 2 by Claire Mander

Lynn Dennison in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by AK Purkiss

Lynn Dennison in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by AK Purkiss

ZK: In your Finalist Slam talk in January you stated that your work is particularly informed by Michel Foucault’s theory of Heterotopias as discussed in his 1967 lecture Of Other Spaces (Des espaces autres). Focusing on sites which “have the curious property of being in relation with all other sites, but in such a way as to suspect, neutralize or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect” in Of Other Spaces Foucault describes a heterotopia as ‘a sort of simultaneously mythic and real contestation of the space in which we live’. Can you elaborate on the importance of this theory to your work and how it has shaped your practice?

 LD: Although the different ideas of spaces in Foucaults hypothesis is broad and seems as if it could include many places, I am drawn to his sixth principle; the idea of one space where several others converge, and where the juxtaposition of several supposedly incompatible sites meet in a single real place. It’s this idea of bringing together different worlds that don’t normally co-exist in a single environment and arranging them so it appears as if it could be possible that I really focus on in my work. I like the idea of creating a space which is simultaneously real and unreal. By making installations constructed in man made environments in which I am juxtaposing images of rural spaces, I am hoping to bring into question our relationship with the surrounding world.

ZK: Are there any other philosophical or aesthetic principles you are attracted to such as Robert Smithson’s theory of the non-site?   

LD: Well the idea of nature and culture converging has also been suggested by Bruno Latour, who maintains that modernity creates two separate poles; nature/science and culture/society. In ‘We have never been modern’, (Nous n’avons jamais été modernes) published in 1991 he suggests that, as hybrids such as global warming and deforestation increase, it is no longer possible to keep the idea of nature and culture separate and we need to rethink these distinctions and recognize the relationship between nature and culture. He stated that, ‘The unthinkable non place becomes the point in the Constitution where the work of mediation emerges. It is far from empty: quasi-objects, quasi-subjects, proliferate in it.’ 

You mentioned Robert Smithson, and yes I think there are parallels, especially with his non-site works because like him I am bringing one site into another. There is a certain degree of ambiguity as to where the new site has come from, although it’s suggested it’s never fully disclosed. The journeys he undertook were central to his practice as an artist, and his non-site sculptures often included maps and aerial photos of a particular location, as well as the geological artifacts displaced from those sites. I also consider walking to be a very important part of my process and I use my recordings of this process in my work. We both share an interest in the sublime and the picturesque, and his ideas about Olmsteds Central Park and the layering of history and human intervention in the site is something I have also explored in a recent collaboration in a work about Greenham Common.

ZK: Our relationship with nature, experience of the landscape, and its potential to be a violent and destructive force is at the heart of your practice. What do you hope to inspire in your audience by using this subject matter and what experience do you hope it will provoke?  

LD: My preoccupation with nature’s power to be destructive, and our inability to contain it, stems from my interest in the sublime really and trying to recreate this experience. I am hoping that by bringing landscape into unexpected places, the viewer will look again at their surroundings. There are so many glossy representations of nature that don’t seem to have much to do with the real thing. The idea that nature is just beautiful to look at to me is disregarding its potential for destruction. Even through our efforts to control nature by designating areas of natural beauty and choosing other areas to build over, we are still unable to control, or even predict, the weather. Storms, floods and earthquakes wreak havoc, often with little warning. It is not only this fear of our world becoming a hostile environment that I explore in my work, but also an anxiety that may be closer to home, the struggle to reconcile ourselves with the natural world around us. Kathleen Jamie asks in her book ‘Sightlines’, ‘….what is it that we’re just not seeing?’, suggesting that somehow in our dealings with nature there is a disconnect. By questioning our responses to landscape and creating situations which challenge expectations of the surrounding world, I am trying to discover a connection.

ZK: Water is a repeated theme in your work. Why does it hold such resonance for you?  

LD: I suppose it is the sublime element of a vast and dangerous sea or mass of water that resonates for me, but I am also interested in the romantic ideas surrounding the idea of water and the sea in particular. The idea of a world under the sea has long held a fascination for me, I grew up spending a lot of time by the sea and spent many days in and around the water fantasizing about these things. It still fascinates me that there are underwater towns and cities such as Dunwich in Suffolk. The power of the water to cover our world in that way is both fascinating and frightening. 

I use water as a metaphor for memory and the passing of time, as if things are buried beneath it, but I also use it as a surprise element–cascading down a set of stairs or filling up a building. 

ZK: How has Sculpture Shock assisted you in the development of your practice and what are your future artistic ambitions?

LD: I don’t know what will happen in the future, but I can definitely say how Sculpture Shock has helped me because it has been a fantastic experience. You have given me this commission to make a work in a space which is totally different to any other venue I have worked in before. There have been challenges, but every new building that I work in presents a new set of challenges, and it has been really interesting for me to work out how to use the space. it is a much bigger space than I have worked in before and it’s been a huge learning curve to work in a space that size. It’s also been great to have this studio to work in, a space to try things out and focus completely on the installation.

Lynn Dennison Interviewed - Part 1 by Claire Mander

ZK: What made you decide to become a sculptor? When did your interest in the site specific develop and how/where did this happen?

LD: Well I actually started my career as a painter after having completed a Fine Art BA at the Slade School of Art. After about eight or nine years working as a painter I started to introduce three-dimensional shapes into my work. Gradually these three-dimensional pieces took over from the two-dimensional pieces, and in the end the paintings became studies for the sculptures, and sculpture became my main focus.

My interest in the site specific really developed from my desire to introduce the moving image into my sculptures. I had been using photography with my sculptures for a while and I thought it would be interesting to introduce moving images. As I had no idea how to work with moving images and film at all I went back to university and did a Masters at Central Saint Martins and that’s when it really started. I had started off in a white cube gallery environment which I placed objects in and then projected onto, which I felt created more of a theatrical scene that the viewer stood outside of and looked at, and during the course of my masters I started to think about how I could make this experience into something more immersive that the viewer could be surrounded by completely. The forms I was projecting onto became less about something I was making myself and became more of an interaction with the space I was projecting into. In fact the first piece of site specific work I did was during my Masters course for our interim show at the V22 in Bermondsey.

ZK: Who are the artists and photographers you most admire and who have had the greatest impact on your thinking and your work?

LD: I always find that question a tricky one, immediately when someone asks me what my influences are my mind goes blank but let me try and pick out a few; Diana Thater has had an impact on me not only due to the imagery she uses to explore the relationship between humans and the natural world and the difference between untouched and manipulated nature, but also in the way she uses the space that she is exhibiting in, covering windows and light sources with coloured gels so that the viewer is aware of the space they are in. The existing architecture is important to her, it is not just a venue to exhibit her work. I think that dualism has been very influential to my work. John Stezaker whose collages and films have both influenced me talks about his fascination with an idea of a liminal or in between space, which is also something that I am exploring in my work. I like the idea of ‘the slender margin between the real and the unreal’. Another artist for whom it is important that the ‘edge’ is visible is James Casebere who creates models of environments and then photographs them to appear to be real spaces, until a closer look reveals them to be fabrications. I think one of the first things that got me interested in immersive spaces was the research project that took place at the Tate Modern between 2003 – 2010 called the ‘Sublime Object’, in particular Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project created as part of that project and also Miroslaw Balka’s work How it is commissioned for the Tate Unilever Series. Both these artists were creating immersive environments which changed the viewer’s perception of their surroundings, which is something I attempt to do with my own work.

Some photographers who have influenced my work are Noemie Goudal, who works with large photographs, usually of landscape, which she places in urban settings which are often abandoned and decaying, and Jitka Hanzlova who often explores the relationship between nature and culture; her photographs of Essen show the city being infiltrated by nature.

ZK: What is the importance of the site itself to your work and how do you incorporate the existing architectural feature into your installations?

LD: The work wouldn’t exist without the site, and I often let the site dictate what the work will be. The history and geography as well as the colours, shapes, and architectural details of a place are all part of the work. It is a collaboration really between what I am bringing to the site with my projections and what is already there. One can’t work without the other.

ZK: John G. Hanhart senior curator of film and media arts at the Smithsonian Art Museum has stated that ‘video art has a distinctive interdisciplinary quality’. Would you agree with this, and how do other artistic disciplines such as the written word or sound art play into your practice? In particular could you talk about your use of collages?

LD: Yes I would definitely agree with that statement. There seems to be a lot of space for other disciplines to interact with film and media arts. I have worked with sound artists on several occasions and also been influenced by the spoken word in the creation of my installations. I sometimes use ideas from literature in my work. For example in Virginia Woolf’s 1927 novel To the Lighthousethere is a passage in which she describes the water metaphorically seeping into the house and covering all the furniture which influenced my work Shipping News.

The collages I use to work out what I want to do in a space. I think because I had come from a painting and a sculpting background, both of which are very hands on, when I suddenly found myself editing video clips on a computer I really missed the more tactile elements of the creating process. My painting had often contained elements of collages so it was almost a natural progression that when it came to working out what I wanted to do on a three dimensional plane I did so with two dimensional collages. Although I now get the same satisfaction from editing I also love creating the collages for their own sake.

By Zana Kingwill