[No.1] Garrulous Gallinule, 2014, steel, H.203cm
23rd August 2014, the artist’s studio near Bath.
Those present: John Bunker, Anthony Smart, Anne Smart, Robin Greenwood, Sarah Greenwood, Mark Skilton, Hilde Skilton, Noela James, Nick Moore, Saul Greenberg, Sam Cornish.
[No.1] Garrulous Gallinule, 2014, steel, H.203cm
Mark Skilton: We are looking at these two sculptures; the big one was worked on first, then the small one, so they weren’t worked on together, it was one after the other.
Sam Cornish: The most immediate impression I have got, particularly in comparison to “Greedy Granadilla” from last year, which I am seeing today for the first time, is that the large new one, No. 1, has a quality which seems to start at the top of the sculpture and hang downwards; whereas “Greedy Granadilla” starts from the bits on the ground and works generally the other way, like its coming up off the ground.
Mark Skilton: What I wanted to do was lift the sculpture. I wanted to lift it off the ground. I felt “Greedy Granadilla” and other sculptures had a tendency to depend upon the ground for support; it doesn’t have a sense that the structure within itself could hold the thing up on its own. I’m unsure about the relationship with a sculpture to the ground but my initial impulse was to get it up off the ground, get it into the air and get it to stand on its own. So it was built almost from the top down, and it started off on a table and it progressed outwards, supported on stools, and then coming down to the ground was almost the last decisions that I made.
Sam Cornish: It is a thing with all of the sculptures – with yours, Robin’s, Tony’s – one of the things for the sculpture to be successful, they will have a very natural relationship to the ground, and it can be a problem when the reaction with the ground feels forced. And I think in this one it feels very natural, you don’t even see at first how it touches the ground, so it just meets it. Your attention is not there at all.
Anne Smart: It is an interesting point. Do you think that is because Mark is thinking about the ground all the time, or because he’s not thinking about the ground all of the time, if you can come in and have that as a first impression.
Sam Cornish: You would be better asking Mark…
Anne Smart: I think it is critical to sculpture making is what the ground is doing…
Mark Skilton: Yes.
Anne Smart: …and is it important that the sculpture gives no indication of the thinking process about that? I find it is intriguing that Mark says that he worked from the top, with the help of stools from underneath, that is one of those things that you don’t want really to know about. What I want to know is whether this is working. So when you get anecdotal information, its good, but… You were saying about “natural”, Sam?
Sam Cornish: By “natural” I mean, with ease.
Anne Smart: Agreed. But bizarrely I think the opposite to that. I thought that “Greedy Granadilla” dealt with that issue much more naturally, and had a much more natural relationship to the ground. Whether that is because both sculptures themselves have a thing about that, so that you will be aware of the ground in both of them…?
Sam Cornish: …because you see it as an important thing and you are overly conscious of it?
Anne Smart: Not overly conscious but are aware that to make something as three-dimensional as this, and big as this, it is going to have to touch the ground. So the interesting thing for me is that it comes to the ground in three points. This one “Greedy Granadilla” has four points, with its central point taking some of the stress; but for me it comes to the ground more naturally. But is it because I know it came first…?
Robin Greenwood: Do you think what you are saying relates to what Sam said at the beginning, about how “Greedy Granadilla” really feels like it’s coming up from the ground?
Anne Smart: Sam’s was an immediate response. If you had been here a long time, what would be the difference between those responses? Your response was acute and thought out and astute, because I agree with how No.1 hangs down, and I think it will be interesting to see, when we get going, what we think No.2 does.
Robin Greenwood: I agree that No. 1 hangs down, but my first reaction was that it was very “leggy”.
[No.1] Garrulous Gallinule, 2014, steel, H.203cm
Anne Smart: Yes, I felt a consciousness about it…
Robin Greenwood: …that was my first reaction to it.
Noela James: This one [“Greedy Granadilla”] seems very relaxed, while this one [No.1] seems like it is teetering a bit.
Robin Greenwood: Going back to something that Mark said right at the beginning, you said something about the internal structure of this piece [No.1] feeling like it could hold the sculpture together, rather than the floor supporting bits of it. Can you elaborate a little? Do you think that this new one, No.1, does that better?
Mark Skilton: I do, yes, think it supports itself. And inevitably that is why it ends up looking a leggy, I think. Another thing I was aware of was that I didn’t want it to have an accidental relationship with the ground, for parts to just meet the ground conveniently. So although it started from the top down, I was thinking about the ground all of the time. And I eventually decided it had to meet the ground and engage with the ground positively and with purpose, and I ended up with this kind of result. I don’t like the legginess of it, but I don’t know what to do about that. The other thing that occurred to me was that the ground becomes an integral part of the sculpture, just because the sculpture is so dependent so much on the ground plane. Again, I was thinking around that, but I don’t have any particular ideas about that.
Robin Greenwood: The issue that comes up for me is about the space underneath this thing [No.1]. That is a sort of measure of its “legginess”, or the result of its “legginess”, that you have this very big space under it that you don’t have in “Greedy Granadilla” and I think there is a problem with that space. I am not quite sure yet how I really feel about that…
Sam Cornish: “Greedy Granadilla” works across itself a bit more. Whereas [In No.1] you see the “prongs” or the “legs” or the directions immediately. I am personally not aware that you can look “across” so much [In No.1]. I don’t think it’s a problem, it feels like a whole thing, it doesn’t feel disjointed. But with “Greedy Granadilla” you can go laterally much more.
Mark Skilton: I became very suspicious of that lateral effect you get in sculpture. There is a sort of “ground effect” when you build just above the ground, it sort of cushions the sculpture. Caro used this a lot. And I, for whatever reason, became very suspicious of it, so I decided to try to get it to stand up, without having things laid out in a horizontal plane, to get things more vertical. So it created this thing rather like a wall, with the parts in it which you see as you walk around.
Robin Greenwood: Like a wall?
Mark Skilton: Yeah, everything’s “up”, like that…
Sam Cornish: It doesn’t look like a wall to me…
Anne Smart: I find that the way that it hits the ground, be it either by design or default, each part as it hits the ground seems to have a tendency to grab hold of a lot of the ground… more than it actually touches. And I can’t make my mind up whether that is a bit literal, almost like they are really like “grabbers” of the ground, if you look at each one individually…
Robin Greenwood: What I would call the “middle leg” – which is the middle sized leg of the three, those being a big one and a small one – I was initially really attracted to this thing “middle leg”. It seemed to be the one part that was out from the middle that was actually holding the space really well, sort of independently… Now you could say that is bad or that is really good, it could go either way I think, but at the beginning yesterday I thought this thing was really well organized, standing well, and “had” this space, it “owned” this space.
Sam Cornish: I talked earlier about the thing “hanging down”, but now you have drawn attention to it, this bit to me seems like it stands up, and then comes down from the top of it, down the diagonal into that bit in the middle, whatever it is.
Robin Greenwood: Looking at it yesterday, I got all of that up to there and all that down to the “cage” thing, which Sarah and I talked about. Sarah liked it more than I did. I have sort of grown to like it this morning quite a lot, this thing; but then I find it difficult, what happens when this cage thing tries to get hold of this thing right in the middle, which I really, really like, this big rocking, I don’t know what it is really… and right in the middle of that is a brilliant thing, where you are punching right through to that thing, with that coming there on top of it… what I’m going to call the middle “rocker”, that’s really fantastic. I think what I am not sure about is whether this middle leg, through the cage, can do to that thing both this, which is a compressed vertical bit, and that down there… so you have got two ways getting this leg onto that. The other thing I would say, generally, is you do this really weird thing of defying expectations all of the time. Sometimes I think that is fantastic, and other times it trips me up and I think: did you really mean to do that? There is a place here, where from almost all of the way round the sculpture you think the “little leg” is joined there, and then you realize it is not joined there and it is actually joined somewhere else. So it is joined with this little tie bar through there. There is another instance in No.2, when you have to read your way through it, and you give the viewer lots of problems to deal with … I don’t mind having to work to put the thing together, but then you get the defying of expectations, where you flip the thing around somehow, or do an extra bit of articulation that gets the thing round to another place to join it. That can be really good, and it can be really weird…
Anthony Smart: When you have got this expectation sorted out in your mind, would you henceforth always approach the sculpture and see it clearly, or would you have to go through that whole process again?
Robin Greenwood: No. I looked at it completely fresh this morning. What I said about this middle leg, I don’t get as much today, and I started to see a bit more of the whole thing this morning.
Anthony Smart: I am very excited about this sculpture as it stands at the moment, versus “Greedy Granadilla ”. I think that it is well up there, it is probably going to take it on, and beat it, for some of the things that have already been said. Good points have been made. I am still trying to unravel this and I am also seeing new things in “Greedy Granadilla”
Anne Smart: You are still seeing new things in this [“Greedy Granadilla”].
Anthony Smart: Definitely.
Robin Greenwood: Doesn’t it look very different, yet again…!
Anne Smart: Yes.
Anthony Smart: I have just seen a new element I didn’t know was there. I like the openness of No.1, compared to “Greedy Granadilla”. I think it makes “Greedy Granadilla” feel quite heavy, and I think it does make it look grounded. I am a bit concerned about the debate we are having about the floor. The whole sculpture stands on the floor as Hilde pointed out [Chronicle No 1 in 2013] and I wouldn’t want the point not to be made; it’s not the last six inches or one inch that sits on the floor, it’s the whole thing. And is rising and doing all of the things it is doing.. Where I am at the present with this, following on from Robin, there seems to be a consensus and I am going to add to it that the issue is in here, the central area [the cage], in this whole bit of stuff, and it’s a build-up of material where you get this open tripodal set-up and you have chosen to pile so much stuff in one bit of it. I want to separate the cage and elevate that for structural reasons to do with what’s going on over here in this, the longest leg, and I am even considering if this leg is forming a wall here. Stand where I am standing if you don’t believe me, the whole thing is strung out about that thick [hand gesture]. I was wondering whether that leg could actually come over here, which would let the cage expand outwards and be the big part. What I really like about this sculpture is the big things that are articulating, twisting and its very exciting. It isn’t a leggy thing, but you are making it look leggy by piling in too much stuff… and that’s where I am at the moment.
Mark Skilton: The thing that I particularly wanted was to make a big spatial sculpture. It seems like we have the opportunity with steel to exploit its enormous strength to make big, open structures. The danger with that is that you end up with a lot of bits that link in, and in the end you have pathways and passages. And so, to try to increase the level of complexity as well as to counter that, I wanted to make areas of dense almost confused relationships. So that any passageways you could work your way through, in the legs etc., but when you get here, to the middle, I didn’t want there to be a linear solution.
Robin Greenwood: Isn’t that to do with what I said about you confounding expectations?
Mark Skilton: Possibly, yes.
Robin Greenwood: Does that make sense, to do that?
Anne Smart: Does that make sense to anybody. Does anyone else think that?
Anthony Smart: It makes no sense to me, the way he has described it. He starts down at the bottom, and he talks about coming up…
Anne Smart: Say it again Mark.
Mark Skilton: Making the bigger sculpture, you tend to end up with lines of stuff. It doesn’t matter where they start, I think they start at the ground. I think the ground is “start”, not “stop”. It starts and does come up from there. From here this goes upwards, and as with any movement there is always a counter movement, so there is an ambiguity in saying it moves in this direction, because it moves in all directions. But having said that, this also ties up with thinking about the spatial thing of the sculpture. With this one I was actually trying to build a space in with the material, so I created lots of spaces between blocks, so rather than having lots of literal, physical things, like putting bricks together; I wanted to incorporate spaces within it as well.
Hilde Skilton: But you are not answering the question, why you wanted the different character of these two parts?
Mark Skilton: Yeah, I was just putting it in context, really.
Anne Smart: I think the context is really interesting. I think what we are doing, is banging up against the word complexity, and how different people see and get that. So as soon as you start to describe that in the way you have made it, bringing it together, I think the heads of the people here are thinking: “complexity – how do I do that”?
Anthony Smart: Mark, what is the purpose of complexity?
Mark Skilton: It is a personal thing for me. My vision of sculpture is that the essence of sculpture lies in complexity. I think the best sculpture is incredibly complex, although it might have clarity as well.
Anthony Smart: What is the advantage of complexity?
Mark Skilton: More information…
Anthony Smart: What’s the advantage of having more information?
Mark Skilton: More expression. Greater expression.
Hilde Skilton: In your last Chronicle you said you would like to “condense and distil”, to have complexity and to condense and distil. Do you think you have achieved that in this?
Mark Skilton: No, I haven’t achieved that. The condensing and distilling is “clarity”.
Hilde Skilton: But you said you wanted complexity and clarity.
Mark Skilton: Yes, that is the ambition.
Anne Smart: But that is an ambition.
Robin Greenwood: The advantages of having complexity, is that you have a piece that requires a lot of work to get into it, and has far greater reward when you do get it, surely, more than something simple, easy and bang you’ve got it, and off you go!
Mark Skilton: Quite, yes.
Hilde Skilton: Well said, Robin…
Robin Greenwood: …so that is complexity; a piece of sculpture that will go on giving you things. If it is going to do that, it has got to be complex. But it’s also got to be lucid and simple as well.
Nick Moore: Following on from that , how is that complexity working in No.2?
[No.2] Truculent Ptarmigan, 2014, steel, H.120cm
Mark Skilton: With No.2, I wanted to turn everything in on itself, whereas in No.1 I had achieved a certain clarity with getting it to stand up, and visually you can see major areas clearly, but at the same time I wanted to think about what the space was like on the inside. Natural objects, organisms, don’t have… they are not conventionally laid open so you can see their structure. You have to take them apart to see their structure, so when I was thinking about No.2 I was thinking about what the internal space of a sculpture could be like. And again, I was using things like changing scale and having volumes passing through other volumes to try and create a complex inner space where you are forced to actually look into it.
Noela James: This one feels very muscular, No.2, as if it is compressing, and No.1 feels as if it is expanding. It’s a really interesting pairing…
[looking at No. 2]
Anthony Smart: Where is this internal space?
Mark Skilton: It’s a good question… I was trying to find it all over the place. This is the bit I eventually came to concentrate on. And so rather than have things that sort of merrily work their way through space, no matter how complex they are, they sort of create negatives around the edge. Whereas this one I wanted to create a sort of negative, as it where, on the inside, and in making it on the inside it became a sort of positive sort of space.
John Bunker: It is interesting you mentioned the idea of compression or, I think in both sculptures, what you said about the idea for every action there is a reaction or force, so for this thing to move one way it must be seen to move the other way too. And that for me is what compression is. And in the big sculpture, really, what I think is successful about this sculpture [No.1] is that it sucks the ground up into itself, and you have got a structure up here which forces energy down into there [pointing]. As Robin said earlier of this piece, and I am trying to work this out, this is the area in No.1 where it seems to me forces are generated, one from the ground and one from above, forcing this space together into something really quite powerful. The fact that doesn’t touch the ground is interesting because I don’t think now that it is hanging, I think that it is held suspended in space in a really weird, interesting and exciting way. I guess I am thinking about that because of No.2, because it is sort of happening here too. There are these forces coming up from the ground this time, rather than coming down, and they are creating a really exciting area here, that it feels less, I don’t know – is it that I am looking down on it? – that I’m not getting a kind of intense experience from a sculpture that is taller than me and this manipulation of force, down and up at the same time. In this piece it all seems to be coming up from the ground [No. 2]. So compression, that is a really interesting word.
[No.2] Truculent Ptarmigan, 2014, steel, H.120cm
Anthony Smart: I was really struck this morning by what we would say was the front part, this area of the piece, here, No.2, how incredibly articulate that is and how incredibly separate this is, which I also see doing exactly what you are saying. But how incredibly separate the two things are. Fantastic, particularly seen over here, that kind of brittle and tumbling thing, and the way that is taking part in what is going on in this, this and this and these, and I thought why has he isolated that…?
Anne Smart: Could that be, picking up on what John was saying about compression, could we be having an insight in to what Mark is thinking about. So if you take compression, when you make abstract sculpture, issues, concerns like that, are primary. It’s how you deal with them; and is that another way of dealing with compression, like about something over there meeting something over there, in the middle, and produces something which makes you knock back other elements and makes you concentrate on the compression issue. Forcing you to look at compression as a whole thing…
Robin Greenwood: Why is it compression is important?
Anne Smart: It is important in this sculpture. It is one of the forces of this sculpture. This seems to be made in a compressed way. It is scrunching in, it’s pushing and pushing, so I get the feeling that the pressure in here is about to spring out. This in scale is obviously literally smaller than No.1, but that is “sprung out” already [No.1], so the compression is out, and is it going to come down again? Whereas this, No.2, is down and is it going to go back up again? So there are questions you ask about both of them. But this thing here that we have pointed out that Mark is interested in, has that got anything to do with the way that No.1 stands on the floor? It’s like the thing about balancing things up, this “contra” thing. Is the point that you come to when you keep “contra”–ing the point of clarifying complexity?
Anthony Smart: Isn’t there a point when detail becomes complexity and is a positive thing? Detail [of itself] is a negative thing; detail is just a load of information waiting to be harnessed into some sort of total experience. So that’s what we’re on about. We need to straighten out the language; a while ago I thought we were entering the world of smoke and mirrors. So we need to keep tabs on the language for everyone to be happy that, at the moment, that is what that means. So, I love that thing [front part of No.2], but I don’t get what you think it has to do with this rising…
Robin Greenwood: I see it completely differently, probably from Mark and from you [Tony]. The thing that I saw was a kind of plane [through one side of the sculpture] that took in that thing, because you sort of build on that plane, and down into that leg – so how do I describe that? The whole of the left hand side of the sculpture. And then on to that are these two things, more volumetric things, and again coming in with two ways in, a very subtle little bit of plate joining at the bottom there, and then this thing. And if you are talking about forces going two ways, I think there is a fantastic example of it; that is one of the best things in the whole lot…
Noela James: Yes I agree.
Robin Greenwood: …and it’s a bit like that thing on the front of “Greedy Granadilla”, you go like that [mimes piston motion], you go twice… I just think that’s really spatial, really physical, really strong thing. But I don’t see it has much affect on that. And this volume, well I don’t get that.
[No.2] Truculent Ptarmigan, 2014, steel, H.120cm
Mark Skilton: Right, yes. Fair enough. I don’t necessarily disagree with that. And I think there is a point you get to in sculpture where you have got to think, well, should I now take it apart and re-arrange it, and if there is enough in there to make you, well, keep looking at it, for whatever reason, then you leave it alone. And that is where I’m at. I don’t think either of these is resolved as sculptures. I have just tried to make something that was absolutely logical. It’s just the way that I was thinking about this when I was making it. There is an area down there that rose up and supported this which sort of more or less hung down, and this on the ground bouncing up, supporting that. These are pushed out between the two and then this one went right the way through.
Robin Greenwood: So you are saying that this volume is at the end of this?
Mark Skilton: Yes.
John Bunker: For me that makes perfect sense. I think that, just the way that this bend happens here in relation to that journey, that brings this journey to a close, then it echoes this area here and moves down that way and then the zig zag brings it up again. It is a really successful journey for me.
Sarah Greenwood: There is quite a complex sort of volume there. It has got three directions, hasn’t it ?
Mark Skilton: Yes
Sarah Greenwood: So it is sort of working each way, perhaps not successfully this way, and it works across there and down and faces that way. It is a very complex volume, it reads down to that leg, moves across this way, running with this foot here, and it has got another one going that way, somehow… but I think that sort of ties up with what you [Tony] said, you were not quite sure how this relates to this.
Sam Cornish: Can I just say that in No.1 Mark was saying earlier that you have the “legs” as a sort of progression that becomes readable; and then you wanted in that central cage area to become unreadable. And that almost sounded like a minor heresy within the context of the other attitudes that are expressed in the Chronicles.
Mark Skilton: I think rather than readable, I meant available. The outside periphery of the sculpture is much more available than the inside, which has a degree of complexity which wasn’t immediately available.
Sam Cornish: Yes. I think that is a really strong element of the central bit in No.1, that it has that thing which is not graspable, and I think we have been saying “legs” and “feet” and I think that is unavoidable… Explaining that in relation to the legs, they sort of go in a linear way, even if it’s complex line. You can see that the main thing is getting from there to there, whereas the variety of directions and overlayed implications is much less graspable in the central section. And in a funny sort of way, it’s more abstract.
Anne Smart: I agree.
Sam Cornish: If the other bits could just exist at that level off the ground, without the legs! Inevitably the things that lift it up off the ground are legs. You get over that, to some extent…
Anthony Smart: But they don’t. I am interested in what you just said and am not attempting to dismiss it, but…
Sam Cornish: You don’t think they look like legs?
Anthony Smart: I don’t think they look like legs… The thing that is just irritating me a bit with this conversation is that when you talk about space, it’s using space (and I think this goes a long way forward from “Greedy Granadilla”), using the amount of space it gives itself – in other words it takes on a bigger piece of space and then it sets about to find the optimum place to put the content of the sculpture, for that content to be expressive and fully interrelated with itself. Whereas this sculpture [ No.2 ] seems to be slightly, it’s not really using its space, it’s kissed off everything above that point, therefore has less optimum potential. What it has neglected has restricted it; whereas here in No.1 the way this piece of steel is grabbing hold, moving through and getting across that space, getting as much of the space that is available to it, made sculptural for itself, that is not a leg, that is an active element in a sculpture that I want to see !
Robin Greenwood: Point taken.
Anthony Smart: And I think that when Robin said that this, or somebody said, I agree with every word, this element here (that comes up from the cage) is absolutely incredible. But it is awful to do this, to go to an abstract sculpture and “bodily” describe it, it invites a figurative response, and I don’t wish that for it at all. The bounce in that element, which talks about all of that, not only sets it up into this optimum space, where it can have as much as it wants of what’s out there, but it also gives it its meaning. It tees it up gives it maximum “air play”, maximum space. This is potentially a fantastic sculpture.
Hilde Skilton: Can I just bring in what Sam said again, but Mark said it himself. This character in the rocker and the cage is different to the other elements and that’s what Sam was trying to say. He used the other word [leg] which we were not going to use, but I think the character of that to these other elements is very interesting, but I wouldn’t say one is necessarily more abstract than the other. I think it sets it off.
Anne Smart: I think that Sam is unwittingly on to something here.
Sam Cornish: Wittingly!
Anne Smart: No, I don’t think so. What you are dealing with here is people who know about sculpture and are trying to find a way to make truly abstract sculpture. Abstract is the key word. So when something hits the ground we can’t stop ourselves, even the sculptors are calling them legs, and the key that this is the beginning of finding out how you could do this. In a way the hope is that the sculptors would be able to make sculpture where you could not come in and call it a leg.
Sam Cornish: I don’t think that means you should pretend…
Anne Smart: I don’t think people are pretending…
Anthony Smart: This “element” [pointing to a part]… so I am just looking at it and I’m aware it is being dragged across the floor…
Anne Smart: Visually?
Anthony Smart: Physically, the way it feels, the movement within the sculpture which is all illusion, so this illusionary movement is that the thing is being dragged in by the action, the activity, the meaning of the steelwork above it, which is to do with this big chunk of stuff [the cage] and how its rotating round and so “pulling” the “leg”… you see, I’ve said it! [laughter] It is dragging, and it also drags disproportionately across the two contacts on the floor. So one part is grabbing more than the other, because there is a rotation, this is turning over, one half of it is being lifted.
Sam Cornish: I thought it was quite interesting, the difference between the people who are making the sculpture and the people looking. From the view of the sculptors, I accept that there is a desire to defeat or to get past a figurative relation to the body, and I completely respect that…
Anne Smart: A chair has a leg…
Sam Cornish: It is not a chair leg. If it’s not quite a leg, a limb…?
Hilde Skilton: How about a moving element?
Sam Cornish: The problem is that whilst I completely respect the desire not to have that, that is looking at it from the inside out. From the outside in, the sculpture seems to work the other way around, and they have a freedom which can include those kinds of things, rather than a necessity to stamp them out. I think that’s what I mean… the outside of the situation. Whereas the sculptor might want to…
Robin Greenwood: So you are playing the role of the outsider again, are you?
Sam Cornish: I think there is a huge problem with all of you wanting to overly control the means by which the sculptures are seen.
Robin Greenwood: How are we doing that ?
Sam Cornish: Because you say we can’t talk about legs.
Robin Greenwood: We have talked about legs! We have spent three quarters of an hour talking about legs…
Sam Cornish: To try and argue that they are not there… In a more positive sense, they have a real freedom to be looked at in lots of different ways and that is exciting. I think there is a problem which is that “leg’ is a very basic and not very useful word, but they have a naturalness which is countered in some ways and in the steel in the way they move and for me I don’t see that as a problem really for me as a viewer, even if it is the vital problem for the sculptors, and I don’t think those two things need to match up for the sculpture to be successful.
Anthony Smart: If we were to concentrate on it, and this is not a desire to control how people see sculpture, but to say something about how we ourselves talk to each other about it. The best time is when we talk about what anything in the sculpture is doing. We try to find words to describe what it is doing. Even if we were going to talk about a leg, say in that Degas over there [pointing to a photo on the studio wall], we would quickly stop talking about a “leg” and talk about what it was doing. And if we were going to go on Top Gear and do a review of the latest Jag and talk about its wheels, what they are obsessed about is what those wheels do, and what the last ones didn’t do. So in a way, for all things in the world, calling it a leg is useless, which is possibly why we are pissed off with, a word that is useless, when in fact we want a couple of sentences on what is actually going on there.
Mark Skilton: What we are talking about is the degree of abstraction which is in the sculpture. A leg is a representational thing and the fact that we have talked about legs means there is a lot of a representational element in this. I personally think that abstraction is an aim. I don’t think it is achievable in sculpture, because sculpture is tied to physics, just as everything else on the planet is. It’s going to have to allude to a lot of representational things that we know about, otherwise it wouldn’t be understandable at all. And when we get to thinking about something like a leg… I mean, that particular leg [smallest “leg”] was interesting for me. As I was making it I was thinking about what I wanted it to feel like, and what I wanted it to do, and then when I stood back I was actually shocked to see that I had made a cursorial “limb”. The same limb that an antelope has, and I thought: “Oh fuck”, and was going to cut it out and then I realized that, well, it’s just the convergent evolution and I was just thinking about it and had come up with something that exists in nature. I thought, well what is sculpture, it is inevitably going to allude to all kinds of things in the natural world if in the end you really want it to have a certain liveness. So I think the issue of legs or not legs could go on forever in sculpture. I don’t think it’s one you can ever iron out.
Anthony Smart: Whist we are talking about that particular one, why did you feel the need to put this on? [plate on the bottom of small leg] Having got this rotation, and that pressure down on to that bending element, pushing into the ground, why put that on as well?
Mark Skilton: I think that gives extra spring. It’s a compound spring, it gives spring to that on, to push into there. Take it away and it’s ordinary.
Anthony Smart: When you stand here you can’t see it.
Hilde Skilton: Do you sense it ?
Anthony Smart: No. The tension has gone. This is a detail overriding meaning. It is just a small point, while we are in the vicinity. I don’t want to lose sight of that, because there isn’t anywhere else that does that into the floor.
Mark Skilton: Look at this, look at that pushing back and then countering that; if that wasn’t there, this wouldn’t have this feeling.
Anthony Smart: Rubbish. If anything, Mark, this cut out “L” shape is repeating that cut out “L” shape over there.
Mark Skilton: But in a very different plane. But I understand that you do these things subconsciously as you build it…
Anthony Smart: And they do pile up in quantity and before you know where you are you can’t see through the sculpture, or get access to the thing you want to get access to. Maybe there isn’t full vent given to this “cage”. All the time I am standing here I’m wanting to pull this even more, for even more pressure down here.
Sam Cornish: I think there is something to be said for excess in these sculptures as a positive characteristic. It is something to do with, instead of that paring down to allow everything to be seen, having so many relations just been thrown in.
Anthony Smart: There is a difference between paring down for some sort of stylistic reason, and wanting to be clear!
Sam Cornish: Yes, I appreciate that. You see I just like the excess…
Anthony Smart: The overriding feel as you walk in the room… there is no other sculpture studio in the world that has this particular exuberance. This is Mark Skilton…
Robin Greenwood: …and it’s full on.
Anthony Smart: Yes. It’s full on.
Robin Greenwood: That’s not particularly what you were saying, Sam.
Sam Cornish: It related to what I was saying.
Robin Greenwood: We all appreciate that [exuberance].
Sam Cornish: I don’t mean excesses as a negative thing.
Anne Smart: Well Mark, did say something about parts of the sculpture being designed to confuse, and you picked up on that Sam as a subversive thing, it was attractive. So has it got something to do with whether it is an abstract thing?
Sam Cornish: That is interesting, Anne, because I didn’t realise what you had said in Tony’s last Chronicle, where you mentioned “distraction techniques” and you talked about them being used to get away from the centre of sculpture by putting something over here to distract.
Anne Smart: Or getting away from an issue.
Sam Cornish: Like a trick. It’s interesting that both things are in the middle of the sculpture…
Anne Smart: Most interesting about what we are doing here though the way we are talking about specific sculptures, and artists being put on the spot, suddenly in the headlights, is that we are letting go of some of the ways that we think about what we do. To me, that is what we have to do to let our guard down a bit. Is that something to do with getting to find out what truly “abstract” means.
Sam Cornish: I like what Mark is saying a lot about abstraction, being unachievable. I think that’s like a Naum Gabo sculpture, I know there are a lot of arguments about whether geometry is abstract, that sort of thing – but that feels like a more abstract sculpture in certain senses. It goes too far and it doesn’t have that venturing away from the world and away from how we understand it.
Robin Greenwood: It’s a red herring, all of that and I don’t buy into it.
Mark Skilton: I think the big attraction for abstraction is an ambition to look at what you are familiar with in a completely different way. Rather than make a leg in a known way, you make it a completely different kind of leg.
Robin Greenwood: …yes, and so it gets complex, because that’s what you want, you want the thing to be not like an image of a leg. So you are going to articulate it more and more, aren’t you, and make it a fuller and more three-dimensional thing, and so it gets complex, and then you sort out the complexity. I don’t see where the metaphor comes in.
Sam Cornish: I think it is unavoidable.
Mark Skilton: I think it is just a way of talking about things.
Anthony Smart: What is this metaphor ?
Robin Greenwood: Mark talked about metaphor and that sculpture has to… about how you read a sculpture being dependant on how you know things in the real world.
Anthony Smart: One of the great things about not making figurative sculpture, you are not making figures! So though they are incredibly complicated, they are not that complex in their set-up. In the nature of where the limbs are in relation to the torso and the head it isn’t that interesting and it’s symmetrical and all sorts of weird issues. It’s not an example, it’s not something sculptors would naturally choose. Look at what you can have if you don’t have to bother with all that… I see what you are saying about the physics, but I don’t think it goes much beyond that.
Robin Greenwood: Talking about legs is a convenience. Being human, we have to do that sort of thing. Tony has pointed out how one of these legs is very specific, dragging the sculpture across the floor. You have three very, very different things here so to call them all legs is a convenience. The point is they are all three very different things, so they are not the legs on this table, which are exactly the same.
Anthony Smart: And if we call them legs, it’s a real undermining of the achievement of a piece of sculpture.
Mark Skilton: We are limited by the language that we use to hold a discussion like this.
Robin Greenwood: There isn’t a word for the thing that does this [pointing to a leg]. That is the thing that does it.
John Bunker: It is the way they look, though. I am intrigued by what Sam says, that we have these pre-determined ideas about what “abstract” is. You know, if you mention Gabo or Geometric abstraction – these are not that. So there is something about them which is about physicality, and physics, about pressures, these are things that are felt, sensations, aren’t they?
Robin Greenwood: But it’s not literal physics, is it? It’s about the look and feel of the thing and how that can actually almost defeat the physics, if you like…
John Bunker: Yeah, yeah, OK…
Anne Smart: It’s a compelling physical achievement. It’s an experience that constantly changes, physically.
Robin Greenwood: Under the sway of Mark’s imagination.
Mark Skilton: Is physicality itself a representational thing?
Anne Smart: Bloody hell, how long have we got…?
Sarah Greenwood: Are you saying Mark that if it’s physical, it’s a representation of physicality?
Mark Skilton: In thinking of the physical relationships in the sculpture, is it not the same as feeling them in your own body?
Robin Greenwood: You might as well just call it a leg if you are going to say it’s a metaphor…
Anthony Smart: Isn’t that sculptures position in this culture of the species? Isn’t that the job of sculpture?
Mark Skilton: Absolutely.
Anthony Smart: There isn’t anything else. Architecture doesn’t get as involved as this, it’s nothing to do with housing people etc. Nobody else does this and yet it is an incredibly human activity, this exploitation of the physical, it’s a triumph.
Sam Cornish: I think that is a useful way of looking at it, as a function. It is a complicated thing to think about. If you can talk about it representing physicality, the sensation of having a body, of looking at another body… Or you can talk about all sorts of other things… views across things…. I think there is a sense that these sculptures combine lots of different types of physicality; it is not about the figure but about all different types of sensations and of course… I take the point in general that when you start talking about things it precludes the specifics of how this thing is unique and that’s really important. There is a melding of these things, of this very particular steel articulated in space in a very particular way, and this much broader hinterland of your experience… how we relate to this.
Robin Greenwood: Is this Mark’s job, or your job?
Sam Cornish: It’s Mark’s job, because he’s done it.
Robin Greenwood: But has he done it?
Sam Cornish: I think so.
Robin Greenwood: Has he done it only partially.
John Bunker: He has done a really good job of describing what he has done. The ghost at the dinner party is the language we use, negotiating his terms of reference and a lot of the conversation revolves around this process. It has been highlighted today, it is a contested realm and each maker is going to have a perspective on it because they have had to articulate about what it is about. You imply, Robin, that it was Sam’s job, whereas Mark just simply has to get on with it. Is that what you are saying ?
Robin Greenwood: I think it probably is.
John Bunker: I think Mark has done incredibly well to open up the conversation and to complicate it.
Robin Greenwood: That’s over and above what he does in his sculpture, isn’t it?
Anthony Smart: Sam’s difficulty is there are not enough “Sams” spending time looking at anybody’s sculpture.
Robin Greenwood: There’s only one!
John Bunker: Exactly.
Anthony Smart: He has to invent, to the same extent.
John Bunker: And he is also negotiating these terms of reference.
Anthony Smart: If you think of the 60’s and 70’s, and the end of formalism, if you like, which has almost no humanity in it – to get to this point, well, what we have just been talking about… We have been using the word physicality almost to destruction and now suddenly it’s normal, it has been seen as a “people”, personal thing, without the fear of the sculpture being interpreted as a body…
John Bunker: Absolutely.
Anthony Smart: …and therefore this long winded debate about legs…
Anne Smart: Are you happy to stop there, Mark?
Mark Skilton: Yes…