So here I am back in Wakefield crouching on a floor in order to precariously balance slight objects. I have swapped the basement of an office block (Fell House) for a crypt (Chantry Chapel) and a few spiders to keep me company, for an industrious army. My attempt to destroy their dense webs was more to prepare myself for the piece I was about to make rather than to make any notable impact.
This time I have two weeks to make new work and whilst I had an initial idea about the material I wanted to use, I could not know until I saw it in the space. The metre long, brightly coloured drinking straws had caught my eye a few years ago and this dark space immersed in water seemed to be a fitting home for them. My instinct was right – the light from the thin windows transforms the straws into beams of light.
I find myself returning also to the theme of the grid. I am drawn to its ability to act as a meditative device that has within it the capacity for error and descent. The Victorian floor, an addition to the 14th century stonework, provides a readymade grid to work with. The gaps between the tiles are filled with sand and I am able to twist the fragile plastic straws gently in. They only need to sink a few millimetres to stand. I place them at the corner of each tile where I find a suitable gap. The regularity of the grid is further interrupted by the angle of each straw. They seem to want to lean and bend, asserting their identity.
There was a single bulb that contributed light to the space, which I have removed. I want the work to be seen in natural light, which fills the space unevenly and has its own temperature. I had found the thought of working alone in a medieval crypt worrying. However, I find that I am very much at ease in this magical spot inside the river. As I ponder over the placement of the straws within the floor pattern, make slight twisting adjustments to errant ones and watch the changing light alter their shadows, I am in my element.
There seems to be an increasing prevalence of floor-based pieces in my practice. Am I becoming an artist that makes floor installations? What is it about them that attracts me? Floors are not usually given much attention, however, when considering a space and a sculptural intervention within it, they are essential.
I have always found it difficult to make an object that is later implanted into a space. Using a plinth, shelf or table is fraught with complications. It also removes the object from the floor and brings it to the viewer. I often begin with a floor or something distinct within a space, not as a background, but a fundamental feature with multiple attributes. In the same way that I work with the properties of materials, I work with those of the space. The floor is then another material. It, along with the walls and other architectural features hold, contain, or balance something. They are integral to the work.
Working with the properties of things is one of the rules I set. Rules allow the work to have some kind of logic. Much like the rules we set for ourselves, they might not stand up well to scrutiny, but act as a mechanism to deal with the prospect of endless possibility. Why this and why not this? A tiled floor with its patterns, cracks and anomalies is like a gift. At one end of the floor the gaps are just the right width and depth to sink the straws into and then for some reason, in other areas the width decreases substantially. I draw attention to these details. The arrangement of the straws is determined largely by the building. I add to the Victorian floor, itself an addition.
When I twist the straws in, I have to apply the lightest of touches. I think of Lennie’s mouse in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and am glad for my nimble fingers. As the straw drills slowly into the floor, it fills with a small quantity of sand. Trying to find the point at which I should stop twisting reminds me of tuning an instrument, or focusing a lens – trying to locate this just right instant.
25/07/14 Another recurring theme is the precariousness of the work. I am making more pieces that require a keen awareness of the body as one passes through them. Some people dare not walk through and others pass with considerable care. I am always intrigued to see the anxiety that I experience for the work shared by the viewer.
With this piece I have been removing fallen straws. So far, probably more than 20 have met this fate. Unsecure straws risk bringing down others with them. I am monitoring their progress and hoping that by the time the show opens, the piece will have settled. If they fall during the exhibition, they will be removed. I am not holding my breath with this piece as I have with others. If two straws are left standing, so be it.
Although I work with the properties of materials and space, I often push these to their limits inviting failure. With some pieces I have attempted in vain to prevent the inevitable, with this one, I have embraced it. Maybe I am acquiescing to the prospect that there comes a point at which to relinquish control.