Towards a New Sculpture: 2
Tim Scott writes on Direction; Movement; Space; Physicality.
Far too frequently, direction has depended on ‘received’ form that is most often provided by manufactured preformed material, but can also equally be the product of shaping and forming any material by the sculptor. Historically, in sculpture, it was most often the bi-product of gesture, usually provided by the subject matter. In abstract sculpture this source disappears as being self-evident and decisions around it become crucial. The start, ‘from where’, and the finish, ‘to where’. of any sculptural part is of vital importance plastically. All too often it is merely a cosmetic decision that forms part of a composition that the various parts of the sculpture conform to. Direction is an expressive decision of intent which should have physical meaning and purpose and contribute to the plastic realisation of the whole piece.
The ‘liveness’ of life is movement. Take a plaster cast of, let us say. one’s hand, which in reality changes from millisecond to millisecond resulting in a living, breathing thing – life. The plaster hand, though a perfect reproduction in every respect, is dead, inert, life-LESS; lacking the movement of change which is integral to the real hand. Sculpture cannot reproduce this movement; but it can and must simulate it in some decisive respect if the forms are to convey any feeling or emotion visually. Movement is the essence of life; sculpture’s job is to create and purvey this essence without actually possessing it.
Space is the forgotten element of sculptural creation. Most sculpture, down the ages, has either ignored the aesthetic effect it may have in relation to the physical body of the sculpture(s) or merely treated it as displacement – what was there before being replaced by something else.
A new sculpture cannot afford to ignore this aspect of its conception. A new sculpture must envision the effects of spatial occupation and manipulation as a positive asset in the creative process; an asset that can be developed and incorporated for its own qualities and possibilities as an integral part of the sculpture.
Most examples from the history of modern sculpture have been limited by a vision which is essentially two-dimensional, graphic as in drawing, i.e. planar; or, if aspiring to the three-dimensional, architectural or environmental. Sculptural space IS three-dimensional by definition. A new sculpture will attempt to expand upon and enlarge these limitations, and envisage space as a true integer of the sculpture’s conception and making.
Physicality is of the essence in a piece of sculpture. Without it, the effect is lifeless, dead, a body without blood in its veins; an amorphous lump.
Modern sculpture has had a difficult relationship with physicality because it was either imported from the real physical parts of the body (usually human), or it was accepted as a biproduct of ‘given’ form as being employed in the makings of the sculpture.
Much modern sculpture has fallen into the trap of assuming that inflated form is synonymous with physicality. From Picasso down to Henry Moore and all that lies in between, there are innumerable examples of sculptures with ballooned up forms passing for the idea of physicality; the assumption being that an enlarged beyond the norm form will create the desired effect. True physicality in sculpture though. is the result of a translation of the observation and understanding of real physical forces into sculptural equivalents; not just the gaining of a ‘look’
Whatever source the infusion of physicality may have in the evolution of a sculptural idea, it, a priori, should be based in an adequate recognition of the forces that create it, both literal and visual.
Some late twentieth century sculpture has made a strong bid to replenish awareness of the importance of responding to this earlier lack of perception of physicality in the development of a modern sculpture into its various strands by attempting a new body of work for the present day.
A new (abstract) sculpture will be faced with the intense discipline of an adequate consideration of Direction, Movement, Space and Physicality into its conception as essential.
Robin Greenwood writes on Three-dimensionality.
Although there have been lots of sculptures made throughout history that have dealt by different degrees with the important issues you raise here – direction, movement, space, physicality – there is little in sculpture’s past, not even in its recent non-figurative past, that has been convincing in how it has dealt with a full, explicit, and multi-directional three-dimensionality. In fact, sculptors have often idly or deliberately used a frontal or flattened or simplified “design” of spatial content (or adopted the figure wholesale) which, as you agree, is generally unprogressive. So this is the place where I find myself now in my own work, trying to deal with things that have no connection with figures or architectures or images or how things do or don’t stand physically in relation to aspects of the real world. I don’t find these subjects as interesting as I did because the content I am trying to engage with now has nothing much to do with the content of sculpture that has been made in the past, including my own.
My personal view is that three-dimensionality is the biggest and most dynamic new focus that abstract sculpture can engage with, and, as it does so, it will distinguish itself yet further from both figurative and more recently non-figurative sculpture. It feels like a different discipline, a different way of thinking, about how to engage with what belongs uniquely to abstract sculpture alone. Actually, I’m not really sure on my part that it is a conscious “way of thinking” about sculpture, because to some extent it feels more like a “walking away from” the things we have talked about as important in sculpture for so long, in order to be able to move towards something new; something with an outcome that I don’t know how to predict; something that has lots of variety in the way it can bring together very different things in a successful sculptural wholeness; things that have not previously been brought together in sculpture.
Whilst I think “space” in sculpture is important, it remains in my understanding something that is associated with figuration, because it is either directly related to the body, or at the very least has an architectural connection that is referenced outside of the sculpture itself, a part of an inevitable contextualisation. “Space” tends perhaps towards being in some way descriptive, and, as we have often seen, it gets worked in a linear fashion, articulating material from A to B. That might have been enough once, if we had not recently put so much pressure on what space might do or not do in relation to being fully abstract. Spatiality as an end-game now seems limited compared to what is possible with a free-flowing three-dimensionality that can come and go, back and forth, in an open and unlimited way, not reliant on either subject or context.
You say, Tim, that “Sculptural space IS three-dimensional by definition”, but, as you see, I’m not really agreeing wholly with that. These things are a matter of degree, and I don’t put down spatiality completely, but even with recent sculptures, those we have perhaps accidentally or inadvertently called “abstract” (or perhaps “abstractions”), there are, for example, many, many non-figurative, constructed sculptures (e.g. Caro, Smith etc., etc.) that occupy and define space without in the least addressing something fundamental to the potential weirdness/newness of their internal three-dimensional “relations”. “Spatial” can look very predictable and banal. “Three-dimensional” can now look very challenging. When repetitions and outside references, or flatness and design, are in the mix, the differences that abstract sculpture might address become rather lost.
If three-dimensionality can really take precedence over spatiality (and indeed over physicality, movement and direction, as you list them), the freedom for abstract sculpture to be itself and “do its own thing”, in ways and means that are unparalleled, begins to look really amazing. We cannot really pre-define or pre-empt or pre-plan our sculptures if they are going to be fully abstract, but we can work openly with that unpredictability, in the discovery of new, exciting three-dimensional content, whatever that might turn out to be.
Can we make sculpture that is even more abstract than we have so far imagined, more independent of our own previous ideas, freer of references to ourselves or anything that is figurative, architectural, and – I’d even go so far as saying – structural? Is that going too far? That’s an interesting question: what is necessarily structural in abstract sculpture, and is it fundamentally different than figurative or architectural structures, as we have understood them in the past? For example, does abstract sculpture have to address how it stands in the world (on the floor, for example), in the manner that lots of sculpture has given much previous attention to? Does it have to give some consideration to how it addresses us, the viewer, in the way if often has in the past? At the moment, such considerations are, for my part, outrun by the spontaneous and unforeseen involvement with a kind of fluid, rather non-structural three-dimensionality – even though I don’t really know quite how to define such things. Truly three-dimensional sculptural parts seem to suggest to me that they can join in ways that are unfamiliar, and work in ways that function together more inadvertently and “naturally”. I think three-dimensions, when it acts in new abstract sculpture, is not really referencing anything I can put my finger on beyond its own ever-changing, ever re-defining, “activity”. Maybe it is self-informing… maybe it is connected to time spent looking… maybe it just gets on with its own business on its own terms, and we take from it what we can, on ITS terms, not ours, without the need to read into it our own assumptions.
Enough for now. And we haven’t even talked about “scale” in sculpture (particularly “human” scale), which once seemed so important – and now I’m rather sure isn’t!