If, on the way towards constructing a sculpture, perhaps starting with two or three pieces of cut and/or shaped steel or wood, joined together in a way that suggests some physical pressure or activity or structure; then is that, in itself, unchangeably and definitely either figurative or abstract, one or the other? Or is it mutable? Is it, after the making of it, an act that can have clarity only once, or can it be expedited in either form, and at different times? Does it need the context of the larger organisation that will include its identity in the whole sculpture?
What about joining these parts together without physicality, just “putting” them together, offering them as spatially conjoined in some way, just fixed together by what is between them (with a weld or a nail?), but nothing further in terms of physicality? Does abstract sculpture need a physical “context” for its content? Is it, perhaps in any case, not a question that can be answered before a great majority of the whole sculpture is built?
There seems here lots of ambiguity; but then again, if you exactly specify the joining together of the parts of the sculpture in order to avoid figuration, there is the likelihood of losing any degree of fluid spatiality… something which seems essential for abstract sculpture to be alive and flourishing.
Fluid spatiality offers possibilities for varied interpretations of the work in the act of the onlooker moving around and observing the possibilities of “everything” in the work, or as much as is available, from different directions. And this can continue coherently on each new viewing occasion, provided that the content is complex enough to “hold and accumulate” that variety of experiences; and provided that there is available a recognition of at least some degree of wholeness – though this may need to be open-mindedly worked on. One person’s wholeness may be another man’s muddle; but one person’s suggested or “gambled-upon” wholeness is also a possibility of fluidity.
Let’s say the more diverse, complex, and demanding the experiences of abstract sculpture, the better, though it increases the difficulty in both making and viewing. Can we just say that making abstract art is and should be difficult and complex, at least until such time as we understand more about it? The more we put in, the more we are going to get out, perhaps even when failing.
Abstract sculpture cannot continue to develop without seeking to build upon complexity in its most fluid and fully three-dimensional state. What does that mean? Probably something beyond our current ability to define it. To say that we understand what three-dimensionality entails in abstract sculpture at this moment is hugely presumptuous.
Look at these two photographs; there seems no outright connection. But they are in fact two views of the same sculpture, turned so it stands differently. As I write this, I’m trying to decide which is the best way (I like them both). What is the meaning of this indecision, if that is what it is? Does this sculpture have the possibility of more than one – maybe several – meanings? Did I put the meaning in both ways of looking at it? I don’t think so.