22nd June – 7th July 2019
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Yorkshire Sculpture International furthers its presence as a force for change with its Associate Artist Programme, an initiative offering five Yorkshire based sculptors mentoring from Leeds Art Gallery, Henry Moore Institute, the Hepworth Gallery and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The programme also includes a grant, workshops and the opportunity for the artists to showcase their work in ‘Associate Matter’, a two-week exhibition running in concurrence with the one hundred-day long festival.
It’s an opportunity that any early career artist would relish providing as it does a platform to have work seen by an international audience but it’s also one that could burden any artist regardless of their stage of career with a fear inducing sense of responsibility. YSI clearly courts the attention from the art world and its gallery going populace and with such attention emanates a high level of scrutiny, critique and all the pressures that being placed under the spotlight brings. Associated Matter seeks elucidate the world to the fruits of Yorkshires burgeoning artists, to exemplify the nascent practices which will, in the not too distant future, act as the very substance that forms the impending artistic establishment.
The five artists in question are Rhian Cooke, Natalie Finnemore, Rosanne Robertson, Ryoko Akama, and Jill Mcknight. Their work is situated in the Bothy Gallery, a diminutive exhibition space tucked away in the vast grounds on Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The park itself is hosting festival exhibitors such as Damien Hirst and David Smith, two heavy weights of mid-twentieth-century and late-twentieth-century sculpture, makers of vast forms befitting the open air arena of the rolling park-scape and whose work guarantees to summon flocks of visitors.
What is striking about the exhibition is just how dense and busy it is with ideas, for a space containing only five artists it is bustling with a diversity of sculptural exploration.
Rhian Cooke’s ‘Spin Spin Little Thornton Zoetrope’, 2019 is a moving image video piece, in it, Cooke films stone structures (possibly old druid formations) found within the Yorkshire countryside. The zoetrope activates, rotating at a frenetic pace, turning the solid structures in to a stroboscopic animation. Painted digitally on to the images are ghostly arms that wave and weave in and amongst the forms. Cooke’s offering draws on historic artefacts and with the use of digital technology revitalises them; bringing the past into the present. The spectral limbs within the work initiate a conversation about how obsolete matter of old can still speak and resonate with us from beyond their time of initial function.
Rhian Cooke, Still from ‘Spin Spin Little Thornton Zoetrope’, 2019
Less interested in the past and more concerned with current commercial design, Natalie Finnemore’s ‘Display’ takes the appearance of formal sculpture and interior-product as angular wooden beams stand erect and branch apart architecturally, around which wires are entwined suspending contemporary pendant lights. The work innovatively brings together concepts like Duchampian readymades and Sol Lewitt’s reconfigurable minimalist sculptures but pushes these ideas into current contemporary realms by endowing the works with practical functionality; ‘Display’ is intended for public consumption, a sculpture-come-product used as a household commodity, it blurs the lines between the art artefact and functional object by concocting an influential mixture of fine art concepts and product design practicality.
Rosanne Robertson proffers the most visceral artwork of the exhibition with her work ‘Chasmschism’, two plaster casts that were taken from a range of boulders called The Bridestones, situated in Yorkshire’s Todmorden. These forms stand aloft in the Bothy Gallery, high on metal armatures. Robertson’s practice is an ongoing investigation into the representation of gender in sculpture and she pursues this investigation by turning her back on traditional figurative practices of the past. The material tropes of sculptural figurations like marble, steel, wood and stone and are abandoned all together as their permanency of structure reflect all too tiresomely the rigidity in societies understanding of gender identity. Instead Robertson appropriates the natural landscape and the geological activities that carve out crevices and fissures to represent the fluidity and ongoing changes that exist in the nature of gender. Confrontational, standing high as they do in a posture of Phallicism, the work is celebratory in stature. However, the battered, mottled surfaces are telling of an ongoing struggle in the face of societies achingly slow advancements in coming to terms with a more progressive understanding of gender.
Sharing material, aesthetic and conceptual themes with the works of Tamar Harpaz, currently showing at Henry Moore Institute (read our review here), Huddersfield based artist Ryoko Akama puts to use the debris of daily life; Akama’s work, ‘the way they are’, 2019, is a Rube Goldberg-esque device which snakes in and around the space leading the viewer on a journey of enquiry; a magnifying glass grafted on top of rubble is directed towards a magnet, which is in turn wired to another component, cables disappear through walls and re-emerge elsewhere connecting pockets of artist interventions. Distinct by the fact that it is the only work that makes deliberate use of the surroundings, Akama work interrogates and stretches the very notion of sculpture. She employs the forces of electricity and magnetism to prompt sound and movement from her chosen materials, changing or sculpting their natures into something new and surprising. Akama’s work is by far the most playful, it’s inventiveness brims with joy by bringing to life matter that was once inconsequential. This network of engineered refuse leads the viewer ultimately to a slowly rotating public toilet lock, it resembles a punch line to a pre-empted joke about the difficulty of deriving meaning out of the whole affair as it revolves from “ENGAGE” to “VACANT”. It’s a brilliant finishing touch which leaves one affirmatively engaged and wanting more.
Leeds based Jill McKnight uses artist lineage to inform the construction of her work ‘After Emma Dipper’, 2019. The work is a web of references. The title is taken from Anthony Caro’ work ‘Emma Dipper’ which he made in the 1970’s from sheet metal. The unused metal from that time was then passed on to sculptor David Smith and has now has come into possession of McKnight who has used it to create part of her work. Both Caro and Smith have work on show at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which creates an instant material dialogue between all three artists but McKnight’s work pushes the conversation forward by instilling it with personal associations; Emma is the name of one of McKnight’s childhood friends and Dipper was the name of a fairground ride from McKnight’s youth. The symbiosis of material and moniker ties the young artist into a rich history of sculpture and implants her own identity as an artist squarely within it. This complex mesh of genealogy is appropriately manifest in an unwieldy web-like structure. Caro’s/Smith’s sheet metal has been cut and repurposed to form a precarious framework which supports three primary coloured limbs, at the ends of which are casts of the artists own hands. The work speaks of McKnight’s development as an artist, from a foundation of sculptural history the appendages emanate, reach out and gesture; one clutches to the framework reliant of support, another is anchored to the floor for stability and the other searches independently into the unknown. ‘After Emma Dipper’ is a bold statement to make for an early career artist, it shows a level of self-awareness matched by ambition, intelligence and ardour.
What is remarkable about the exhibition is that all of the artists exist in their own theoretical and exploratory space without stepping on the toes of each other, and each artist contributes to the conversation that Yorkshire Sculpture International posits for sculpture in the twenty-first century in their own way.
Each of the five artists are linked by using the past in one way or another, whether it’s the past in the form of ideas, materials, artefacts, geological formations or geographical locations, those pasts are forged into new bold avenues of sculptural investigation that intersect with personal and societal issues. Associated Matter represents the very best of burgeoning Yorkshire art that explores what sculptural practice is in today’s artistic climate. The success for all of these sculptors lies not in the reception of the exhibition or the work itself but in the upcoming years of their respective careers.
It is an exciting time to be engaged with art, especially in Yorkshire and it is made all the more exciting by such innovative and thoughtful practitioners whose futures are sure to make positive gains from Yorkshire’s fertile past.