I built a house from waste materials in the studio.
And then then slept there for a week.
I built a house from waste materials in the studio.
And then then slept there for a week.
A few work-in-progress images from the residency at the European Ceramics
Work Centre (.ekwc)
This work is a continuation of the original quivering dog (2005), developing the theme of interbreeding and genetic modification and their potential for catastrophic outcomes.
Vincent Honore: Your new installation goes further in the exploration of instability. Conceived on a primary level as a set piece for the symbolic play of basic dualistic energies, such as geometrical / organic, cultural /animal, inside / outside, and heterogeneous / homogeneous, it is structured by the interaction between the natural and the constructed, the ludic and the reified, and eventually creates a form in constant state of redefinition. The denial of the fixity of form and meaning in your work involves potentially endless developments and evolutions, frustrating the self-enclosure of pure visibility. You are creating a situation involving four major new works: a series of porcelain sculptures, almost figurative, an igloo, a series of video works and a mechanical sculpture: how did you conceive this installation and why are you putting together works that at first glance seem to be, if not contradictory, then not immediately related? What is the motif of the exhibition?
Sally Underwood: Viability of the object’s continued existence is the central conceit that runs through all the work. During the process of making it, I am interested in the actions necessary to make the piece do what it needs to do but no more. The aim is to make the objects only just viable and only just operational. And to explore one idea, I think it is also necessary to find its opposite, so there are moves towards stability and eternally viable objects as well.
When considering the non-viable object’s demise, the schedule and mode of its disintegration are critical. Is it sudden and violent or is it a series of subtle changes through which the object slowly comes apart?
The title of the exhibition is Delivery, as used in the context of joke telling: however good the joke, it will fail if the delivery is wrong i.e. timing is everything.
Two pieces in the show function on an intermittent basis. (which may appear random except for the fact that they co-ordinate with one another). Hero is a repeatedly lifting and dropping large, willowy form which suggests a human or animal form, living or otherwise. On occasions the ‘head; will remain suspended in the air for some time, on others it is stick halfway between up and down and sometimes it is left collapsed and abandoned on the floor. Egg Yolk is a smaller piece which functions alongside the up/down mechanism is an abstracted wax body part which is released from its support on a spring and is then wound back. Ham-fisted and much less grand, but nevertheless connected; the object being released from its spring is a precursor to the next, much bigger event caused by Hero.
Using kinetic elements allows me to explore ideas of time and destruction, creation and continuation. It also means that its necessary to engage with mechanics, methodological making and binary notions of success or failure, thereby providing a counterpoint to the impulse towards the chaotic and organic: the desire to let objects do what they want.
Within this dynamic scenario created by the time-based work, there has to be some stasis, some moments of stability. Delivery includes more stable works than previously, including Bambi, a dismembered horse head with a bright red glossy surface and a set of smaller, dormant figures which appear lost in the vastness of the space, yet in their materiality, they are so much more robust than the more dominant objects.
Use of ceramics also allows me to play out a refusal to be selective about each material’s properties: it is an incredibly hard and inert material but it is the result of a process during which it is extremely fragile and vulnerable to a catastrophe. I need to be democratic with this, as I do not find its shiny hard surfaces necessarily more desirable than its potential for it to crumble or collapse in the process of achieving such robustness. For example Vulcan, one of the larger ceramic pieces I am working on, has ‘burst’ and sits in a pile of detritus whose origin is questionable as to whether this is the former contents of the figure or whether it has been engulfed by some lavalike substance.
Meanwhile, igloos are hurtling towards obsolescence, yet they hold an idea of wilderness, refuge, self-sufficiency etc, with the added counterintuitive interest of snow being warm! Greg’s Igloo is constructed from thermal board which presents and interesting set of relationships and contradictions, not least that this material’s primary function is to counteract the global changes that are bringing about the igloo’s demise.
The igloo embodies ideas of gradual change whereas for Hero everything is going along swimmingly and then suddenly everything is different, much like a car accident versus a slow growing tumour.
The time-related ideas provide a broad structure for the work, while the choice of objects clearly adds another dimension to the work. I like to use animals because they seem to so easily become victims of humiliation through their domesticity yet they retain a small sense of their own ‘animalness’ despite their hopeless situation, which is the part I’m interested in.
If I had to try and contain or summarise all my subject matter I would say that it is a playing out of an argument with myself over the dualistic energies you emntion above plus the desire to make everything stay the same while also wanting it ‘to get on with its own end’, and along similar lines the debate over whether to slow down the demise or to indulge a lust for sudden, violent and dramatic destruction.
VH: Most of your artistic productions use natural or cultural readymades to explore perception, temporality, and instability. You have created a manifestly non-rational, non-archival, non-institutional body of work that resists being fully identified with industrially produced objects and the economic order generated by commodities. They offer an alternative and regressive analysis of economical and social fluctuations.. The fascination in your work with the object’s obsolescence and the sudden eruption of its ludic potential resists the commoditisation of the artwork and repulses contemplative passivity.
SU: My background in art that streatches very far and certainly not as far back as school as I didn’t know what it was for then! My purpose for doing it has as much to do to do with giving myself a platform to experiments with objects, a set of problems to solve and something to get really interested in as does with rather than being engaged in a purely formal/isual exercise. What I’ve always loved about art is that I have seen it as essentially an anti- economic activity. So there is a situation when I’m making the work where I want it the work to be somehow limited in its existence or dependent on its situation so I create built-in problems that cause difficulties for the object to be seen as a thing that can be continuous and separate.
At the time of writing, none of the work in Delivery has been subject to any catastrophes in the way that previous exhibitions have. The Waiting Room (2005) collapsed well before its scheduled time and Pedigree (2005) quivered as intended but then tipped itself over like a clumsy drunk. At such points the work loses some coherence but gains a sense of autonomy albeit a rather defeated one. When Pedigree fell over at Gagosian the offers to buy it dried up! I have some ambivalence about these moments: it seemed that they upset the the expectation of how a quality object might behave, which is very satisfying, but on the other hand it is disappointing if they cause the work to be rejected in some way. It’s a difficult word, but I think there is an anarchic (and maybe sometimes masochistic) spirit which acts to set up a certain uneasiness or self-consciousness in the work.
VH: Humour protects the work from any tendency toward idealism. “I am for an art that takes its form from the lines of life itself; that twists and extends and accumulates and spits and drips, and is as heavy and coarse and blunt and sweet and stupid as life itself.” Your artistic productions incorporate duration and death, and in so doing accentuate the presence of the artwork and its ahistoricity and immediacy. So, pushing this reflection further, could one qualify your works not as sculptures but as happenings?
SU: Yes, this is how I am most interested in thinking about them. I have always found the relationship between the duration of a show and the natural lifespan of my objects difficult to reconcile. I think in future the objects will need to determine the lifespan of the show, rather than the other way around (or at least not be compromised by it), but it still feels like an idea I need to play with more before I can take a clearer stance on it.
That they embody ideas of time and the end of time is critical. There is always a part of the work I want to leave untouched or even undealt with as if to keep something in motion. The strategies employed in the work have been influenced by films such as Festen (1998, Vinterberg), Irreversible (Noé, 2003) and the timing of the repetition by Al Queda.
VH: Even in the more formally structured works such as the porcelain pieces, there is an expectation of chance eruption, an avant-gout of the event, of the catastrophe. Chance escapes logos and moves to an unmasterable rhythm. It keeps the artwork from becoming immobilized and fixed and constitutes the installation as a landscape of unconscious pulsations. Chance and alea question the processes of production and circulation, and the underlying energetic structures that govern them. The artwork exists in the space between initial order and the coming apart of that order. Order is destroyed in various ways in your work, by degradation, redundancy, inversion, tearing, and overgrowth, which recalls Robert Caillois’s notion of entropy, “the constant and irreversible degradation of energy in every system, a degradation that leads to a continually increasing state of disorder and of non differentiation within matter.” This entropic schema in your work opens to a performative system that plays with the viewer’s cognitive, sensory and mnemonic functions. Denying its object-like status, the artwork becomes a theatrical set for the acting out of primitive forces, an experimental situation in which the multi-layered relationship between object and subject is questioned. Eventually, can the system exist without its main actor, the spectator?
SU: Firstly, to answer your question about the destruction of order in the works, in the process of making the work I really want to all to go well but it never does. It’s like being on a Melanie Klein guilt reparation/cycle where there is a guilt associated with indulging the urge towards chaos and& disorder, which is assuaged by good intentions that next time there will be order and adherance to proper methodologys (much like the rhythm of the tearing apart putting back together that operates throughout Festen). When something goes wrong, I am presented with an interesting problem: should I fix it? Should I reverse the error? Or should I say ‘this is what the material has done so that’s that’ or should I say that mistakes are infinitely more interesting because they could be seen as representing wilfulness, honesty or even freedom in a way that following a method doesn’t. A mistake by its very nature must be an individual!
For me it has always been really important that the work does its thing regardless of its audience; that it continues at its own pace regardless of who is there or indeed whether anyone is there at all. In my experiments with performance art I realised that it is essential to be oblivious to the audience during the event, otherwise the idea leaks into them, and I wanted it to stay contained within me and the immediate vicinity. This idea of leakage is translated into my active objects. The second major problem I realised was how to conclude an action, because it’s so easy to ruin things with a damp ending. One solution is to simply use a frequency for the work that is set and unresponsive to the audience. Plate Fall did its thing every 30 minutes regardless of requests, number of viewers etc. I think that this autonomy and single-mindedness of the objects is essential. They are not crowd pleasers.
 Claes Oldenburg in Environments, Situations, Spaces, New York, Martha Jackson Gallery, 1961
 Roger Caillois lecture La Dissymétrie (1970), p. 34. This notion is developed in a similar way by Robert Smithson in Monuments of Passaic (1967)
First forays into ceramic.