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.


Notes from the Studio – Nika Neelova 'an Anonymous Philosopher’s View' by Claire Mander

the Artist’s View

Nika Neelova in the Sculpture Shock studio, photo by AK Purkiss

Nika Neelova in the Sculpture Shock studio, photo by AK Purkiss

Melencolia I of 1514 is an engraving by the German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer. It is an allegorical composition which has been the subject of numerous interpretations. It depicts the Dürer’s Magic Square and the truncated rhombohedron, which became known as the Dürer’s Solid.  There have been various articles disputing the precise shape of this polyhedron. Although Dürer does not specify how his solid is constructed, it has been noted that it appears to consist of a distorted cube which is first stretched to give rhombic faces with angles, and then truncated on top and bottom to yield bounding triangular faces whose vertices lie on the circumsphere of the azimuthal cube vertices.

Polyhedra have been part of the fabric of mathematics for two thousand years. Anything which is bounded by flat surfaces and which has well defined corners has a polyhedral form. It has a significant presence in architecture as well as in nature, in the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms. They have been used widely in philosophical or scientific explanations of the world around us. As well as being part of the practical discipline of geometry, polyhedra have acquired symbolic value as artistic motifs appearing as an evolution of the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition, in studies of linear perspective, in ornament and disguised in architecture and headwear. In nature a striking example of polyhedral structure are crystals. Bounded by flat planes, their obvious geometric features contrast strongly with the more irregular qualities frequently found in natural forms. In the 19th century, the study of polyhedra and crystals led to the geometric analysis of symmetry.

In his analysis of cinematic moments, Gilles Deleuze describes the movement of temporality in a crystallized formation,

‘what constitutes the crystal-image is the most fundamental operation of time: since the past is constituted not after the present that it was but at the same time, time has to split itself in two at each moment as present and past.. Time splits in two dissymmetrical jets, one of which makes the present pass on, while the other preserves all the past. Time consists of this split and it is time that we see in the crystal... we see in the crystal the perpetual foundation of time.’

The Borgesian aesthetic contains numerous allusions to the spatialisation of time, its nonlinear and bifurcating nature. Borges regards the movements of time as flowing from the future into the past and thus as a ceaseless production of the past. In his short story Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, he imagines a civilization that has developed a novel relationship to metaphysics, ‘For them the world is not a concurrence of objects in space, but a heterogenous series of independent acts.’ In this civilization producing, discovering and exhuming are one and the same, so the archaeologists of Tlon can just as easily invent the objects they exhibit as unearth them.

Similarly, the object-crystals displayed in the installation question their own origin, whether they have been created just now or in fact originated elsewhere a very long time ago, like unearthed pieces from an unfamiliar landscape or rock formation. The installation alludes to an excavation site, a descent into archaeological time toward eroded fragmented stones pointing to another system of beliefs. All the fragments are parts of each other and are completing each other, though the entity itself is never presented. A system of equations colliding with the forces of entropy and decay leading to the deconstruction of a devised system.


Artistic, Sacred, Metaphysical Space: North Taurids. Following the Meteor Shower – Claire Mander

Nika Neelova,  North Taurids. Following the Meteor Shower,  Holy Trinity Sloane Square, 2013, photo by AK Purkiss

Nika Neelova, North Taurids. Following the Meteor Shower, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, 2013, photo by AK Purkiss

When faced with the challenging environment of the magnificence of Holy Trinity Sloane Square, she was filled with awe at the multitude of architectural detail, the overwhelming scale of the space and its sacred function.  Described by former Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman as the ‘Cathedral of the Arts and Crafts Movement’, its architect, John Dando Sedding, believed that a church should be ‘wrought and painted over with everything that has life and beauty—in frank and fearless naturalism…’, an aim which he achieved not least in the monumental stained glass windows by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris.

Nika Neelova,  North Taurids. Following the Meteor Shower,  Holy Trinity Sloane Square, 2013, photo by AK Purkiss

Nika Neelova, North Taurids. Following the Meteor Shower, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, 2013, photo by AK Purkiss

Neelova had a challenge before her:  how to create a work that responds and encapsulates a place so laden with artistic, sacred, metaphysical and spatial enormity.  Her eye quickly moved from individual architectural elements and rested on the geometric patterns repeated throughout the church.  Her research took this further and she quickly understood that all space can be explained through geometry which strives to reduce space’s immensity to a human scale, within the boundaries of human understanding.  Everywhere there was evidence of the ‘sacred geometry’, the belief that God created the universe according to a geometric plan, which is the foundation of much sacred art and architecture since ancient times.  Plato reasoned that the entire universe could be understood through the interpretation of the five Platonic solids, which are polyhedral forms (namely solids in three dimensions with flat faces and straight edges), on which Neelova based her work.  While this exploration took her into an increasingly abstract world of thought, she discovered the overwhelming presence of polyhedra in nature, in particular in the complex and compelling forms of crystals. Nature and mathematics became one.

Nika Neelova,  North Taurids. Following the Meteor Shower,  Holy Trinity Sloane Square, 2013, photo by AK Purkiss

Nika Neelova, North Taurids. Following the Meteor Shower, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, 2013, photo by AK Purkiss

Neelova then applied her research to the physical act of creation.  She folded a wooden table top to form two hollow polyhedral vessels.  These two wooden structures were used as casts into which she poured concrete, wax, marble dust to create fragments of the whole. Every one of the shapes could be fused together to recreate the two original polyhedra: all the fragments are part of each other, completing each other.

The origins and materials of the object-crystals in the installation are intentionally ambiguous. Resonant of the site of an archaeological dig, the fragments link the past to the present both in terms of material and systems of belief. She is presenting fragments of a cogent representation of the universe resulting in a quiet, contemplative work which does not battle with its environment but becomes part of it.