Notes from the Studio - Joanna Sands / by Claire Mander

Joanna Sands in the Sculpture Shock studio, photo by AK Purkiss

Joanna Sands in the Sculpture Shock studio, photo by AK Purkiss

Who are the artists, architects, or designers you most admire and who have had the greatest impact on your thinking and your work?

Some of the biggest influences on my work when I was at college were Eva Hesse and her contemporaries, including Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris, Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Richard Serra and Robert Smithson. Out of those I have to say Carl Andre was probably the one I felt the most affinity towards in my work because his sculpture is a very physical response to material. His writing was also much easier to understand.

Another big influence was Gordon Matta Clark because of his physical relationship to pre-existing architectural space. I really admire the architect Peter Zumthor. His buildings are very beautiful and are as much about materials as their effect; his work has a very tactile quality and you can tell he has the knowledge of a maker.

 You have said of your work that it often becomes an intervention into the space it inhabits and refers to the architectural characteristics of the surrounding environment. Can you elaborate on the importance of architecture to your work?

Well, the works relate to the surrounding architectural environment in many ways: scale, dimensions, the type of building, when it was built and who it was built for. All these factors allow that building to create a sense of place and I would like to think that the works become part of that.

As an artist who works site-specifically, the unpredictability of the site and its surroundings must have characterised many past projects, for example, when you initially worked in squats. How do you deal with this aspect of site-specific work?

Yes, it has, and I think you just have to roll with it. Lots of stuff happens that wouldn’t happen in a gallery. You don’t have any security, people don’t know where you are or how to find you, and they can be reluctant to venture into these unknown spaces because they are difficult to access or scary. It’s hard to publicise. Although having said that, at the time you don’t think so much, if at all, about these aspects; you focus more on the opportunity it creates. You couldn’t have created that particular work had you not been there in that place at that time; it gives the work a vitality the gallery space denies. You have the great advantage of freedom.

 In his 1966 essay “Notes on Sculpture II”, speaking of the reduced forms of the Minimalist aesthetic, Robert Morris stated “The object itself has not become less important. It has merely become less self- important.” When thinking of the impact you hope your work will have on the viewer, would you relate this to the key beliefs of Minimalist theory that focus on real space and unmediated experience or do you anticipate a more interpretive emotional response?

In general what I hope to do with my work is to make something that relates to the space so that you are more aware of the environment you are in. It becomes an experience as it were. There is also usually a physical or formal narrative. To me that might be something very simple such as a curve which goes up and down across the room. Whether or not the work inspires a narrative in the viewer is really up to them. As Frank Stella said, “What you see is what you see”.

In regards to the Minimalist aesthetic, I am not sure there is ever such a thing as unmediated experience; I don’t believe you can take the self-expression out of art but I do like the work of people who do. I like geometric forms, the use of repetition and simplicity but I would say I am more a materialist; I like the physical properties of the materials I use, its weight, its patina, its texture, and its presence.

You frequently use wood to create you work. Does the material you use inform/form your work or is it the nature of site-specific work that informs your choice of material? Have you always worked with wood? Are you committed to using wood as a medium?

Joanna Sands in the Sculpture Shock studio, photo by AK Purkiss

Joanna Sands in the Sculpture Shock studio, photo by AK Purkiss

No, I’m not. I like using found materials, recycled materials and building materials that come in standard sizes. My use of wood has probably come out of the fact that I have always had to move quite quickly in the space so all my tools have had to be easily movable and packable. Wood is a lightweight material, you can construct with it, and as a building material it’s easily available. I also like using wood. I have nothing against using other materials, but at the moment it works for me and my practice. Obviously that may change in the future.

As part of your Sculpture Shock award you will be making a limited edition print. Is drawing part of your creative process and how will you approach the print?

Drawing is definitely an important part of my process. I tend to ‘draw’ first with models. In the back of my studio space there are hundreds of little models; sometimes at that point in the process it is easier to think through making. As I am used to thinking in three dimensions, it’s easier just to get a piece of card and start that way. These models are not maquettes and I don’t always make a maquette, it usually depends on the space and the potential cost of the materials.

Then drawing in the traditional sense comes after the three dimensional, at the point when I am trying to narrow down what I really want to achieve with the sculpture. I often draw when I want to record something because it’s quicker than writing notes. I also use photography to document my work, but I find if I do a drawing I slow down and I observe more information and details than a photograph can convey. When I come across them later in sketch books the drawings are often more meaningful than the photographs for this very reason. I also use drawing to plan my work and I was thinking of developing a version of one of these for the print.

What is the fate of your site-specific work after it is exhibited? How do you feel about the temporary nature of the work?

I sometimes recycle work and use the materials to make a new work and other times I just destroy it. It always exists in documentation, so traces of the work always remain.