Ways of seeing sculpture
In visiting Frieze Sculpture Trail at Regents Park and Olafur Eliasson’s “In Real Life” sculptural and installation exhibition at Tate Modern this weekend, I’ve been reflecting on the techniques artists use to prompt us to see. One of the functions of art is that art is a way of seeing and artists are people who help us see. Engaging artworks strike up conversation with their audience and say, “hey, look at this or that.” Sometimes they shout “LOOK AT THIS!!!” other times they whisper “did you notice…” Occasionally they ask us, “what do you think of?”, time to time, “hey isn’t this f*&!ed up!”, frequently, “Do you remember?” Artworks ask us to stop and perceive, and other times go and see. Here is my list of nine verbs sculptures use to nudge us and say, “Go on…have a gander at that.”
Suspend it- from above or below.
Circle it- Take an image or object and make it a circle (or any shape for that matter) as Lars Fisk does in his Tudor Ball or Emily Young with her “Solar Disk” series. What draws us to circles? Perhaps it’s our love of the icons on our smartphones, or the poetic paradox of a circle: whole and self-contained, a single line circumnavigating for infinity. Circl-ified objects become self-contained images, their unbroken edges denote a discrete point/idea in space. Their discreteness allows for categorisation. Categorisation for consideration. Consideration for contemplation.
Make it monochrome – There are no colourless forms and no formless colours. However, monochrome, whether it be through eye-watering hues or earthy bronze, is the closest we can get. As our eyes adjust to one colour our attention moves onto the form, the shape, the volume of the sculptural object.
Make it big, or make lots of it – I wish this one wasn’t always so effective. My enjoyment of things made big feels childlike. Is it the same for you? But lots of a thing, like Eliasson’s “Moss Wall” stretching across the expanse of the gallery wall can be so affective. Stood before it my mind jumps to walking through the woods, seeing and feeling moss on a tree or underfoot. I look at the wall and feel compelled to dive into it. In a different way, when things are big, they make us small. Large sculptures like Tracy Emin’s sombre horizontal bronze figure “when I sleep” make us vulnerable as we stand in its large embrace. Big is also close-up. We get intimate with the sculpture. We can see the dimples in its surface like follicles on the skin. We find ourselves almost tête-à-tête, as one would only normally reserve for a family member, a lover, or a fellow commuter on the London underground.
Make it still- Eliasson’s sculpture “Big bang fountain” is a blacked-out room with water fountain. Intermittently, flashes of light print a still of the billowing water on my retina. This photograph develops then fades. Flash. Another unique sculpture formed in water, cast in light appears. The temporal becomes the sculptural. Water becomes a solid.
Make it move – animation is life to imagination.
Make it inhabitable- Leikos Ikemura’s “Usagi Kannon II” a tall tearful figure with the head of a rabbit and on its bottom half a parted skirt. Part sculpture, part shrine. I step through the gap and the perforated dress lets the sunlight paint me with dots. Like us, these sculptures have interior worlds, exterior facades and hidden inner spaces.
Transpose/transform: Eliasson was a master at this. Using light, mirrors, optics, and inversion. The bending and stretching of ourselves and our environment is playful, funny, and disorientating. A communal atmosphere is created as people giggle, “Woah”, and double take at the warping of their collective reality.
Repurpose it: Have it do something it wasn’t designed to be/to do. Functional objects have a way of going unnoticed. When we use them, we often see the goal, rather than the method. We see the flat-pack furniture we put together but take no notice of the spanner we used to assemble it. Some works want us to stop and look at the spanner. Such is the case with Bettina Poustichi’s, “Alexander” in which off-duty street-bollards huddle together in crouched figures.
What else would you add?
I invite you, when you next look at art to ask not just “what is this artwork asking me to see?”, but “How is it asking me to see it?”