Notes from the Studio

Notes from the Studio - Hanna Haaslahti 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, photo by AK Purkiss

A gestural cut out, photo by AK Purkiss

"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.

Written by Nina Wisnia

Notes from the Studio - William Mackrell by Claire Mander

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by AK Purkiss

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by AK Purkiss

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

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by AK Purkiss

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by AK 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 AK Purkiss

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by AK 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)

Written by Nina Wisnia 

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.