BY Sam Thorne in Reviews | 16 JUL 08

A Life of Their Own

Curated by the critic and art historian Richard Cork, ‘A Life of Their Own’ at The Castle Arts, Lismore, comprises works by nine emerging British sculptors

BY Sam Thorne in Reviews | 16 JUL 08

The Castle Arts space is unusually well-appointed: housed in a renovated wing of Lismore Castle (an hour’s drive from Cork), it was built by King John in 1185 and sits high above the Blackwater river. Residents have included Sir Walter Raleigh, physicist Robert Boyle, and – brilliantly – Fred Astaire’s sister. Curated by the critic and art historian Richard Cork, ‘A Life of Their Own’ comprises works by nine emerging British sculptors – though ‘emerging’ is a wide brief here: the exhibition ranges from the relatively little known Kate Atkins and Kate Terry to the more established Eva Rothschild and Conrad Shawcross. The exhibition's high Modernist formal concerns are hinted at by the title, which holds an echo of a well-known line from Michael Fried’s: ‘the apparent hollowness of most literalist work – the quality of having an inside – is almost blatantly anthropomorphic. It is […] as though the work in question has an inner, even secret life.’

Many of the works that Cork has selected are, in some way, more precarious than they initially appear. Matt Calderwood’s Projections Unfinished structure (numbers 3 and 6, 2007) look solid but would topple were it not for the industrial containers of water that counterbalance the hollow plasterboard structures. Kate Terry’s Thread Installation 8 (2008) bisects a high-ceilinged smaller gallery, comprising long lengths of green and pink cotton tacked in carefully plotted lines to create barely visible vectors. The classically minimalist effect of these slight means is rather like an Anthony McCall projection done by Fred Sandback, though the brashly DayGlo threads avoid straightforward homage. Spare crosshatching is echoed in another peripheral room by the looming shadows cast by Shawcross’s Slow Arc Inside a Cube (2007) in which a cruel-looking motorised mechanism circles silently within a black cage, a bright bulb at its tip describing a diagonal line between two corners. The light throws a looming shadow onto every surface of the room, projecting the cage’s grid onto every surface.

Matt Calderwood, Projections Unfinished structure (numbers 3 and 6), 2017. Courtesy: © William Burlington.

Nashashibi/Skaer’s collaboration – their second, from 2006 – gets very different results from dramatic lighting and objects. Their 16mm film Flash in the Metropolitan (2006) lights up various artefacts at the Met with a strobic light, the camera roaming around the displays anti-chronologically, resisting traditional taxonomies of presentation. Like their collaborative work at the Berlin Biennial, Pygmalion, the film animates the sculptures without fully vivifying them. A crowded room of MDF plinths presents a startling array of expressions and finishes carved in black springstone and green soapstone. The rough forms in Daniel Silver’s ‘Heads’ (2006) series work from jpegs of Texan inmates on death row. Like Silver’s recent work – nascent statues, found in quarries in Italy and reshaped to some degree – the attenuated busts are all frozen at different stages of representation. While a little bruised, in their formal echoes of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Henry Moore they retain an unblinking memory of Modernist portraiture. Roger Hiorns’ two untitled sculptures (from 2007 and 2008) are similarly fetishistic. A BMW motor encrusted with blue copper-sulphate crystals is imperceptibly self-producing, with a keen sense of quiet performance, while the other, a large rusted structure, is covered with urine. Along with Calderwood’s unstable Brutalist obelisks, this piss-stained sheet metal is the closest that the exhibition gets to monumental sculpture. Given the recent trend for placing large-scale sculptures and glittering baubles in the grounds of country homes, all of this is admirably restrained.

Sam Thorne is the director general and CEO of Japan House London.