Glasgow Project Room 2 – 9 June 2018
Some parts of a conversation held in public between Nick Evans and Kitty Anderson in Glasgow Project Room on 2nd June 2018
KA: The first area where our interests converge is around materials, so I firstly wanted to ask if you could say something about how you came to them and how you use them?
NE: It goes back to the formative years of my practice… it was after graduating (in 2000) and looking to many sculptural practices, particularly those using assemblage at the time that I decided I didn’t really want to use many found objects in my work. I wanted to use materials which enabled me to generate original identities; rather than using ‘ready-mades’ I would use ‘made-readies’.
So that led me at that stage to use materials that I felt had no intrinsic symbolic identities beyond the nature of the materials themselves, so things like clay, and ceramics, and resins.
It was only later that I came to plaster really, It had never really occurred to me that plaster might be a more kind of appropriate material at first.
And plaster is a very humble material, its very cheap, which is extremely important as my interest in materials is also an interest in maintaining a daily practice around material, so I don’t really want a ‘project material’ that is a one off, or requires a lot of resources.
KA: Are you using materials in order to utilise the material’s inherent properties or to go against them? Or is it possibly both?
NE: Well, I’m interested in plasticity…
I don’t usually have that much interest in exploiting different forms of textualities, or image qualities, or materials that are being asked to function as images, or literally are images, such as photographs. I just want to try to think about plasticity more, and so the primary quality of a material like plaster, and the materials that I use is their plasticity…
KA: I came across a nice quote from civil engineer Pierre Luigi Nervi. He referred to concrete as “a living creature that can adapt itself to any form, need, any stress”… and I was wondering whether there was a sort of similarity there, this thing of letting a material do its thing, but also to push it to do something, anything you can imagine as well…
NE: Yeah, it perhaps relates to the idea of craft as well, I mean working with a material, you obviously become quite familiar with the language of a material. Part of your remit, if you like, is to allow the living qualities of a material to emerge, and to really step back slightly, when you are working with it.
I’m sure it is something that probably goes for most materials that are more or less plastic – but you know I quite like the way a material like plaster is almost over plastic, you know you can really… it is really plastic, at certain points, it takes everything you do to it, it just kind of like wants it… it’s a wanton material (laughs) and I kind of like that.
KA: There is this nice quote from Fiona Jardine where she talks about plaster within your work as, “an auxiliary material, propositional and prosthetic”, and, because of course this quote comes from her talking about it in relation to orthopaedics, there is something about these sort of medical associations, or even the remedial, and then of course when we add the figure back in it sort of…
NE: (points to sculpture of leg) – its a cast, erm… a stookie…
KA: And whether that association, moving from the previous work, the Tramway show where you were using the body in a perhaps more monumentalised form… Is there a shift in terms of moving into a human fragility, is there a different bodily relationship?
NE: I think that with the older works, like the Tramway works, I was probably looking for an end point with each work, for each sculpture I was looking for it to become definite, whereas I think that would maybe be less so the case now…
I’ve always seen the work as figurative, and I’ve always tended to work quite alot with the display, and I’ve tended to develop ideas of situations, or ideas of scenarios, or there is an element of world building, so once the sculptures are kind of ‘done’, as in I’ve worked with a form in my studio as much as I feel able or willing to do so, then there is the other bit, which is making the show, which is less to do with material, and is more to do with situations, both physical and imaginary, so I think there are different things going on there really…
KA: Then the other thing we spoke about previously, is your process of actually making the work, and we see it here with these repetitive structures of different kinds, whether it is these small pieces of timber joined together, or pieces of metal, you can start to imagine how they came about, likewise with the building blocks on the various plinths. Do you maybe want to say something about how you work?, You had that very nice term…
NE: The generative…?
KA: The generative working process, yeah
NE: Yeah, so I try to maintain a generative working process, throughout the passage of a sculpture, and what that means, for me, is actually quite literal.
It means that I try to have processes in which I don’t have to know what the end point of that process is, and that the process can allow for multiple changes and iterations of the form all the way through.
And in the past I have tended to make small cast elements which I have joined together and plastered together. Usually the first iteration is not right, or not usually as good as it could be, so usually it gets cut, turned, changed. Often that can go through multiple iterations, and each iteration builds upon the previous iteration, or develops or changes somehow the previous iteration.
Its quite operational, and it is a little bit like speech in a way, or language, in the way that you start with a limited range of letters, words, signs or symbols and then they can be joined in order to create phrases.
I’m also interested in the way they appear at the end as if they haven’t actually gone through that process, and I’m quite fine with that, I’m not trying to reveal the process. The process is very important I feel, but it is not something that is necessarily important to communicate to the viewer.
KA: The next topic I wanted to discuss with you was about form, and contradiction, formally what are we looking at and how do the forms decide themselves or what they become, their duality and contradiction?
There is another nice quote that I found… you’ve spoken about your work as “trying to hold together terms that are in opposition to one another”.
I had first read that and understood that as a thing about human and non-human, the organic and mechanical, the natural and the man-made, and then here I started to see it as the figurative and the abstract, and then more generally in your practice perhaps it’s about modernism as against post-modernism, and affinities with certain periods of time, and being able to reflect upon that…
NE: All of those things are very much the case, I think all those examples you cited are very much the case.
So if a work looks like a figure and it looks like a machine it is going in the right direction. If it looks like a machine without being a figure it is not going in the right direction…it goes back a little bit to the generative process, like, ok, you have generative process, but generative to what end?
I’m not like John Cage or something. I’m not like setting up some algorithm which determines its own outcome. I’m authorial, I am determining the outcome, so you do bring criteria when you are sitting in the studio looking at something. And increasingly perhaps some of the primary criteria are around whether it is doing at least two things, and ideally is it doing at least two things in a slightly ‘ontologically problematic’ way.
So it is finding that very delicate sometimes… sometimes it actually happens really easily… but sometimes it’s a very delicate line you are treading between it falling into the over familiar or it falling into the overly abstract.
KA: We had spoken about the uncanny valley…There are these nice charts, I don’t know if you know them, which chart human empathy and human likeness; the more like a human it is, the more empathy you have for an object, until suddenly it is so like the human that your empathy drops off and you are suddenly disgusted or terrified by it.
NE: Yeah, yeah the closest work to it here is probably the leg, the leg has a definite reference to something that is definitely human, but I guess the fact that it is a dismembered part of a body…
KA: A child’s body!
NE: It has, it carries, quite a high degree of discomfort with it anyway…
KA: Maybe this is the moment to start talking about plinths! Because all of these works have plinths or are plinths, or incorporate plinths in some way, but they are also situated on this other plinth, this platform, the ‘carpet’.
And I guess this is something that is connected back to the sculpture studios presentation (Sculpture Showroom/GI 2018), where the whole room became the plinth, in a way, because every surface was covered with plaster. So, the object, the artwork, and the supporting structure, become one… is there a performative element here…?
NE: There is a staging, yeah…
I guess I am quite interested in the anthropomorphic qualities of objects, and I think a lot of objects have varying degrees of anthropomorphism, regardless of whether they are sculptural objects or not.
I guess that is pretty accessible, right? Everybody sort of understands that in a certain way, so I think that can become a kind of tool, or possibility of working, to allow that familiar process of the relationship of one’s body and another body, an object body and our body to exist.
I like that when I am in the studio. I really like to fill my studio with other bodies, and they become kind of co-habitants of my space with me.
That’s one of the ways in which I understand them as sculptures, as opposed to things that are just annoying, (laughs) and get in the way.
If I begin to relate to them as another body in the space, then they are a thing… If I don’t begin to relate to them as another body in space then they are not really a thing, they are still yet-to-be-a-thing.
And then I don’t think it is fanciful to imagine relationships between them. Like I think they relate to each other in a very strong way, and they are inhabitants of their own world.
So when I leave the studio they continue to inhabit the studio and when I come back to the studio the next day it is like, “good morning sculptures, what are we going to do today?”. And I don’t think that is fanciful, I think that is real.
I literally think that is a relationship with the world that everybody has in fact. I think to a greater or lesser degree. I think obviously when you’re an artist and you are with your objects, and your objects are of you and of your space, that is amplified, right, and I am sure that most artists have that kind of relationship with their work.
It is just I perhaps play it up a bit, through scale, and through certain attributes of being ‘a bit like a torso’ or ‘a bit like a head’. And then with some of the more recent work, I then allowed some of the furniture and other things that you have those relationships with anyway in everyday life, to become ‘sculptural’.
KA: I had a question about the furniture-like objects or elements…Would you say that the more functional they become, the less like friends and more like objects they are?
NE: Well no, because I think it depends perhaps upon the grouping, when I was working on this grouping, the pot plant on a table belonged to the sculptures, so it’s the sculpture’s plant.
I guess these are figures and that (pot plant sculpture) is not really a figure, and the flowers are not really a figure… But then again, perhaps the flowers are a figure and perhaps the pot plant on a table is a figure, like I’m not really sure. And I think those kinds of ambiguities are what I was talking about, when I was asking about the work, is it doing more than one thing?