scluptures made from steel

Strange Meeting Sculpture Public Art

Wilfred Owen’s memorable poem provided me with the inspiration for this two-sectioned, 3m x 3m x 3m marble carving, which will form part of a major, public realm exhibition in Beijing, July 2008.The exhibition and technical assistance relating to this project is funded by Beijing City Space Sculpture Exhibition Committee. The sculpture is conceived in such a way as to allow sight-lines through the gap between each element of the sculpture, which at one and the same time will frame views of the celebrated Olympic architecture, and reflect on Owens interpretation of reconciliation as reflected in his poem. The polarity of beauty and ugliness is a key component underpinning the concept for this work.

The two identical, shapes, based on garment template contour patterns, are cut from the same veined marble block, turned inward on each other and one assembled erect, the other supine. Strange Meeting recounts a dramatic meeting, perhaps in a dream, between a soldier and the enemy he had killed the day before. The soldiers, who had fought on opposing sides, are no longer enemies and find it possible to see beyond conflict and hatred in a shared awareness of "the truth untold".

“I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now . . ."
Wilfred Owen: Strange Meeting

The notion of “one-world-one dream” underpins key Olympic ideals and has been used by the exhibition organizers as the creative flux for compiling this particular exhibition. The essays of the English playwright Edward Bond (The Popes Wedding: Saved: etc), also underline the futility of conflict, describing human kind as the only species hell-bent on destroying itself through its technological mastery. The rest of the animal world preys on itself only for survival.

I first stumbled across pattern templates in a warehouse that stored thousands of these complex shapes, destined to be made into garments for the fashion industry. Each template was suspended, row-after-row, and side-by-side, from cylindrical rails that ran the whole length of the warehouse where they were stored. Each pattern had a hole at the top most point of the shape which acted as suspension point, pierced into the card surface, as well as a central fulcrum point, from which each pattern hung, suspended in the air; waiting.

the wait

The Wait.: Sculpture House studio Kingston upon Thames London UK

The use of garment template contour patterns forms a focused dynamic to several strands of my research interests: firstly they relate to the human form and allude to human identity via a codification of discreet parts of our anatomical structure: their abstract contour shapes are elegant and connect through surface pattern registration marks (grade lines) to other templates that fulfill the role of contouring the human body. Reconfigured into sculptural form, for me, they become part of the Objet-Trouve tradition, Found Objects that reassert the presence of beautiful, yet ensnared (sometimes brutal) technology.

Working in China was organized through Beijing Municipal Council, shortly after my work was selected from the exhibition of maquettes at the Exhibition Hall of the Beijing Municipal Council Building. The carving took place at FX Stone, located on the outskirts of Beijing and hosted by Mr. Chen, the stone yard owner. I had arranged for full-scale templates of the proposed artwork to be shipped from the UK and it was a stage of the project that needed to be carefully overseen. The experience of the voluminous stone yard was truly breathtaking in terms of scale and atmosphere.

There was a constant aura of “work” generated by footfall activity, dust, and the noise of factory machinery. Mr. Chen helped me to locate the right scale of stone for the project, which turned out to be a beautifully veined, flesh-like marble that had qualities evocative of the human presence.

The giant 20-ton stone was carefully engineered into place and the work began on fitting the template to the shape and size of the marble block. When this was completed, work began on “splitting” the stone along its length and it was at this time it became apparent that the workforce had particular jobs that no other worker transgressed.

With the stone split, work could now begin of carving the undulating centre-line that separated the two masses of stone. This was to be the point at which one element of the sculpture was vertical and the other horizontal: it was important to get the sense of confrontation, evident in my own interpretation of Wilfred Owen’s poem.

The Chinese work force was wonderfully organized and diligent in their interpretation of my directions. There were numerous exchanges, either via translator or by sketch’s, in order to direct the development of the artwork and often hands-on methods were the best way forward to direct the progress of the project (above). Working with the Chinese on this project proved to be a stimulating period for me personally, as I had never worked in stone before this point, and certainly never been able to orchestrate such a massive project. The eventual weight of the carving atop its granite base was approximately 27 tons!

My sculpture won an Outstanding Award and I am grateful to all those involved in the realization of this project, which from start to finish took two years!


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