Thursday, 31 May 2012

From Poplar to Sculpture

Progress Report by Valerie Grove 

Over the course of the past few months I have been closely monitoring the progress of 'Changing Spaces'. As well as regularly talking to Jonathan, I have made two studio visits and three sculpture site visits, all of which I have visually documented.

My three sculpture site visits have been very different. On the first visit I found a poplar tree trunk laying on the damp grass shedding its crumbly bark and soft wood along with a whole host of insect inhabitants.

By the time of the second visit it was obvious that the original plan for the sculpture (carving and inserting painted bricks) would have to be abandoned because of the unstable condition of the wood. When I arrived  at the site I found Jonathan already well under way with Plan B, which involved removing the most rotten parts of the trunk, wrapping the whole thing in wire mesh and stabilising it with steel straps.

Today was my third site visit and although the sculpture is not yet finished, it is now upright and in its final position. Getting it there was a complicated operation and involved  the assistance of several people and a mechanical digger to lift and move the sculpture, then lower it into position so that it could be placed upright in the hole dug manually by Jonathan last week.

The whole operation took about an hour and it would not have been possible without the actual physical and mechanical support of the team at the Waterworks Centre and the Lee Valley Park. At this stage it is very clear not only how much work has gone into creating the sculpture, but also just how collaborative the process has been.

I will do a final site visit to see the completed work shortly before the exhibition opens on June 16th.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Up close and textural

Here are a few images showing some of the textural detail in the materials. Some are from finished works and others were taken when the work was in progress.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Always Have a Plan B

One of the defining pieces of the project was going to be a 3 metre high, site-specific sculpture made from a felled tree but I had a major problem today.

I went to the site to begin working on the sculpture only to discover that the tree is now completely rotted. Although I noticed some water damage when I moved it into position a few weeks ago, the majority of the central trunk was intact and stable. Since then a combination of constant rain, muddy ground and insects have made it completely unworkable as sculptural material.

This was a real blow, and let me tell you, depression started to set in rapidly! However, over the last two years I have repeatedly heard the mantra that artists should be taking more risks so I am putting this experience down as an exercise in risk. From the outset the tree was an unknown quantity and I knew that I had to work on whatever I was presented with. However, the other mantra that should never be too far from the mind is 'Always Have a Plan B'.

The fact that this sculpture remains a major component of this project means I have had to think quite quickly and very creatively about how to overcome my little problem. What I have decided is to change the original, sculptural concept  of working on the wood itself and to encase the decaying trunk in wire mesh instead. The mesh will be pinned tightly to the surface of the trunk so that it takes on the form of the original tree while supporting the material integrity of the wood.

This protective intervention actually presents a work that engages directly with ideas of conservation and preservation. The rotting tree will serve as a habitat for different life forms connecting it very strongly to the  Lee Valley Park's work with the conservation of natural habitats. At the same time, the gradual disintegration of the rotting tree inside the mesh will ultimately leave only the tree shaped cage behind it, thus rather contradicting the idea of preservation. The whole process of this 'slow-release sculpture', however, will provide a visual embodiment of an entire natural cycle.