Brancaster Chronicle No. 79: Group Sculpture

26th October 2019, near Kings Lynn

Taking part: Anne Smart, Anthony Smart, Hilde Skilton, Mark Skilton, Sarah Greenwood, Robin Greenwood, Charley Greenwood, Richard Ward, Noela James, John Pollard

The Arthur Series No. 1, 2019, Tony Smart (all Arthur Series approx. 54cm high, in mild steel).
The Arthur Series No. 2, 2019, Tony Smart
The Arthur Series No. 3, 2019, Tony Smart
The Arthur Series No. 4, 2019, Tony Smart
The Arthur Series No. 5, 2019, Tony Smart
The Arthur Series No. 6, 2019, Tony Smart
The Arthur Series No. 7, 2019, by Tony Smart
untitled, 2019, Robin Greenwood, steel, H.27cm
untitled, 2019, Robin Greenwood, steel, H.32cm
untitled, 2019, Robin Greenwood, steel, H.42cm
untitled, 2019, Robin Greenwood, steel, H.45cm
untitled, 2019, Robin Greenwood, steel, H.54cm
Transit of Mercury 2019, Mark Skilton. L.123cms x90cmsx h.84cms.
Transit of Mercury 2019, Mark Skilton. L.123cms x90cmsx h.84cms.
Construction No 1, John Pollard (H22cm mild steel)
Construction No 2, John Pollard, (H20cm mild steel)
Ekorketa, wood, H.74cm, Alexandra Harley

Ekorketa, wood, H74cm, Alexandra Harley

Oren, wood, 54cm, Alexandra Harley

Oren, wood, 54cm, Alexandra Harley
  1. tony smart said:

    We look at sculpture and are taken up and involved in its thought processes.We are fascinated by all the propositions and ambitions,and occasionally, absolutely riveted by real integration when all of these accumulations unite around some purpose,enabling us to rise consequently to another level. But the depth of that level of understanding seems to come over a period of extended looking, during which time the sculpture would physically appear to be changing as we see more clearly the combinations of material and space and how they work together.
    Even when this happens it is not always apparent to everyone or anyone. This could be the opportunity to begin to see the ‘unresolved’ as a stopping point. Could such a state of being achieve the highest order of feeling for sculpture ?
    It seems that off the back of these three films there is a suggestion that if a sculpture, becomes resolved it ceases to evolve, becomes inert and no longer stimulates.
    Indeterminacy is not a constant state of flux.
    The indeterminacy could be in this ‘ evolving’ but maybe what is evolving is our understanding!

    A discussion about the difference between work where the content tries to come together to create wholeness ,and work where the activity of the content ,in being unresolved, could sustain the meaning of the work, seems important.


    • Mark Skilton said:

      You are seeming to suggest that indeterminacy cannot exist as a resolution. In my view a work becomes real when all the various facets, jostling for expression, achieve a kind of stability, as a balance of probabilities of all the possible outcomes that may yet happen. Stability is only temporary and only becomes real because of the indeterminacy of its various components.


      • tony smart said:

        I don’t see indeterminacy as a resolution.

        Maybe the individual elements of sculpture,being indeterminate of themselves, have a better chance of combining in the most surprising ways because of this liberty.
        I feel we are not far from each other on this. I think I am suggesting that some kind of democracy of the elements of sculpture will emerge to allow for a new whole where the old order gives way to ‘stability’

        There is no literal joining together in a non relational ambition, and there is the indeterminacy facillitating this fluidity.


  2. tony smart said:

    …..Small addition Mark….
    When I say we are not far from each other on this …of course in terms of our own sculptures, we are tackling this in very different ways.


  3. tim scott said:

    Tony and Mark – I would say that ANY good art surprises one with CHANGE every time one enters the room and sees it afresh.
    Every decision, in MAKING, could be different; a bit more this way or that, longer,shorter etc. In the end, for better or for worse, there has to be a determinate role for every element in a piece in relation to the whole, governed by plastic and structural decisions. The ‘rightness’ of these decisions is ‘quality’ (content); and HOW they are arrived at can ,of course, vary hugely and is personal. A ‘democracy of the elements’, like all democracies, has to incorporate ‘law’.
    It could have a feeling of ‘indeterminacy’ or ‘unresolvedness’; or it could project something stable and determinate.
    My own take on this is that, in trying to create sculpture that is ‘image free’ and whose ‘totality’ is indeterminate, one is trading a new path which is in itself ‘indeterminate’.


  4. Mark Skilton said:

    Any path worth treading in sculpture is going to be indeterminate, otherwise you are just repeating something that has been done already.
    Tony’s democracy of elements is a bit misleading; in a sculptural democracy everyone is a terrorist waiting to burst out and create havoc but held in check by the pressure of all the other elements. Not only is it indeterminate but completely lawless with wholeness only achieved by the complete exhaustion of the space around the work, rather than by any structural or formal constraint.


  5. tony smart said:

    i think that with “all the balls in the air’ as an approach to the elements of sculpture,I would not want to single one out.
    Structure is an element of sculpture even when thought of as non-structure.
    Your sculpture’ Transit of Mercury”, which I interpreted more as a torrent, is full of structure but what matters is how that literal structure of any ‘put together’ group of bits is turned over into being knowing of each other in some way. In your piece a helpful clue for me was in the “transit”/torrent { imaginative leap !] of the accumulating, spreading, squeezing, rising, supporting, projecting, the breaking away or the coming together of the two main sections. How they are both together and separate. How the randomness of the bits are felt to belong together, but free as the resistances of their individual shapes both hasten and obstruct this torrent. I would not worry about “structure or formal constraint” .I cannot see them in this work in a negative role.
    This piece is loaded with indeterminacy but thus far in my considerations about this sculpture the space around the sculpture has not come into the equation. But the space inside the sculpture is, as I describe, very active.

    I am very taken with this piece of sculpture and the fact that I did not get an understanding on the day, is for me part of the engagement of, and what I always hope for in the Brancaster Chronicles.



  6. Noela James said:

    Just to say Mark J and I watched this Brancaster and were completely engaged with it.
    The discussion between Tony and Mark was especially illuminating in part 2, such depth of understanding and articulation of ideas around the works on show.
    I am really enjoying the continuation here in the comments.
    It feels like ‘indeterminacy’ (as Mark Skilton has suggested) has to be part of abstract work if it is going to be a process of discovery and interest.
    In Tony’s sculptures I feel the indeterminacy is all in the movement, the more I think of them the more I am impressed by the changes and flowing ‘kineticness’ of the works. The movement has a different quality to Mark’s complex, fragmented, cutting, shifting expressions, but there is a connection. It feels to me that the movement in Robin’s sculptures comes from the complexity of the elements within each piece.


  7. anne smart said:

    Yes Noela..and….

    I quite like the thought of being a pirate.Swashing away on the high seas and striking out on to dry land every now and then to capture some treasures.

    I feel that ‘indeterminacy’ as a component of ABSTRACT painting or sculpture is being overvalued .
    In my own experience the ambition for wholeness will always need me to balance that ‘indeterminacy’ with a PRECISION pertinent to the fluctuation of the work as it progresses.
    A moving duality.


  8. I still haven’t seen the films (busy), but this dialogue is very good, in particular Tony’s opening paragraph.

    I confess to not really understanding the attraction (or appropriate meaning) of indeterminacy for abstract sculpture. I’d rather look at something that gives me a new “wholeness” every time I look at it (which negates simplistic “wholeness”), acting in many different ways. But that is not indeterminate, that’s a changing brilliance. Unfortunately most of the work here did not do that for me, with Mark’s getting the furthest by far.

    Hopefully we are not going back to simplicity for the sake of clarity…?


  9. tim scott said:

    Mark – “…Any path worth treading in sculpture is going to be indeterminate, otherwise you are just repeating something that has been done already…”
    I don’t agree.
    Of course if one’s determining consists of repeating old forrmulae, death ensues. But determine one must, if any real decision making is to take place, (albeit alterable at any time)l; which is not to say that the RESULT may well (intentionally) exude indeterminacy as its by product.


  10. tony smart said:

    Abstract sculpture should defy a full verbal description.

    If you can describe a sculpture it suggests that it is not indeterminate.That then sounds like it could be a criticism of the sculpture.But is it?
    Even if you just throw steel [material] at the floor a structure will emerge, even if it is only the logic of the bits falling on one another.
    If you have something of a structure you have the beginnings of some sort of meaning.
    Ambiguity, not being able to make up your mind, is one thing. But indeterminacy ,being more than one thing at once, is a better bet for sculpture trying to escape the object and it being literal. A space that has more conflict of meaning is perhaps more three dimensional?
    Contradiction, in a spatial context can be good and useful.

    I am talking about a non-relational abstract world with no literal meaning. So, enter new thoughts which have to have names.
    A thought has emerged that indeterminacy has the possibility of creating conflict without the baggage of the literal. Because so much of old order sculpture has been rejected we are inventing situations for material and trying to give all the material an equal potential.
    Sorry Robin but I see no return to simplicity! In the best of the sculpture in this exhibition I see all of it trying for a real complexity off the back of all the elements of sculpture being addressed by all the material.
    That, I think is complexity ,at the moment !!


  11. tim scott said:

    Tony – “…Even if you throw steel (material) at the floor a structure will emerge, even if it is only the logic of the bits falling on one another…”
    This is not ‘structure’ (as I understand it), but chance.
    I understand structure as meaning that the material (part) contains a visible logic to its form, condition, and how it got to wherever it is.
    This logic could be given (by Nature for example), or it could be infused by decision making (Man); nevertheless it has to be a product of ‘the resolution of forces’ (which is what ‘structure’ means) to be meaningful in sculpture, or we land up with
    the Dadaists.


    • tony smart said:

      In a way you are of course right.
      But if you put that to one side, as I try to,I can see that some sort of sense will be present.
      “……you have the beginnings of some sort of meaning” [ Tony ]
      I am by saying this trying to suggest that the idea that a grouping of material could have no structure, is very unlikely, however and by whom it was put together.
      Hopefully what would happen would be that the potential would be recognised as a way to begin and move on.


  12. tim scott said:

    Tony – I was not implying that one could NOT use chance in art. From Leonardo to Picasso many have.

    The ” beginnings of some sort of meaning” must surely eventually entail moves that come from the eyes through the brain, spelling ‘decision’. ‘Potential’ has to become physically apparent in terms of the attempt at making something which can be recognised as ‘sculptural structure’.
    Of course, the great question of today is what exactly sculptural structure IS.


  13. tony smart said:

    Not surprisingly one of the things discussed in this talk was the actual/literal size of a sculpture.
    This was an exhibition of small sculpture.
    This may be the point at which the advantages/disadvantages or just personal preference be explored more.
    Is it an issue today?
    For instance are there any advantages vis-a-vis size, structure and the sculptural structure as Tim has just raised?


  14. tim scott said:

    Another eternal sculpture question, scale, the relationship of dimensions of part and whole to the effect of the whole.
    Quite obviously,as has always been the case in history, large scale sculpture impresses; but as we all know that has nothing to do with quality.

    I have always thought it interesting that, for example, Rodin, worked on a comparatively small scale, enlarging them if necessary. I imagine that he instinctively felt it easier to grasp and feel what he was doing. After all we make most sculpture with our hands, and their limitations must have some bearing.
    If I were to hazard an observation, it is that the moment a sculpture approaches the monumental in actual size, the literal forces at work; weight, strength, support etc., become more dominant, and that inhibits the attempt to ‘invent’ structure which reads as specifically ‘sculptural’, i.e. reading as not concerned with anything the sculpture ‘does’ other than what is VISUALLY necessary and intended.
    In other words if,at present, one is attempting to make sculpture which bypasses former solutions to ‘structure’ to enable one’s visual aims, small scale working has an advantage.

    I am interested to hear other comments on this.


    • Re Tim”s comment on scale, I think the perception of size and scale hugely varies with material. It is relatively easy in metal to up scale and work larger ( the logistics aside). Wood will always have the structure that will be a give away, try disguising the annual growth rings for example. This material will alter the visual impact because the structure is so fundamentally obvious.


  15. Alexandra Harley said:

    Sadly not able to take part in this discussion, I am struck, by only having access to the film, that I am reading the totality of the sculptures in a very different way than I usually do. Not being able to get up close and see junctions/welds, as Mark says, Tony’s sculpture in particular look like they are constructed from one sheet of material; a closer look at the stills and the same applies to Johns. Clearly ‘distance’ changes the perception.


  16. I have just posted images of two works by Alexandra Harley at the end of this post.


  17. tony smart said:


    The following are not criticisms or evaluations, just thoughts off the top of my head [photos notwithstanding]

    Alex’s ‘Ekoketa’ has a lot of tension built into it. In a proper discussion I would query whether that is only a bi-product of the ‘natural’ wood configurations, or whether it could be ‘made’? The relationship of the ‘pins’ with the wood ‘forms’ is inventive.

    Mark’s cantilevering ‘Transit of Mercury’ suggests elevation and lightness; but maybe the steel ‘weighs it down’ visually speaking?

    John Pollard’s ‘Construction 2’ is very delicate and sensitive; the actual cutting of the material plays an important part?

    Robin’s ‘Untitled No 4’ is the most spatial, but maybe ‘steelness’ is now something to be overcome rather than exaggerated?

    Tony, if this was a proper discussion in situ, I would want to talk about the ‘strip’ material which maybe does not contain sufficient ‘character’ to carry your spatial intentions ?

    These are merely ‘instant’ impressions; not to be taken too seriously.



  18. harleysculpture said:

    Tim, I didn’t carve or form some of the larger wood pieces, so in that sense, yes you are right, they are ‘biproducts’ of the natural wood. I didn’t think this was a problem, (I do accept your impression). The woods used are very varied and the black is a unifier I hope. I didn’t want the natural wood to Influence the overall vision of the piece and I wanted a strong contrast with the manufactured pins. These pins need to lift and configure, and in doing so the pins have become tense and under pressure.


  19. tim scott said:

    Alex – Didn’t see your comment.

    I can easily see the seduction of the natural wood forms, their twisting and turning (bending and compression);
    I also agree that the contrast with the pins is expressive and tensile.
    When I was in Germany, (there is a very strong tradition of wood sculpture there), a lot of students used wood. I not only banned chain saws (pace St.Martin’s), but was obliged to frequently discuss the use of wood’s natural tendencies in a sculpture context. The upshot being that even quite ‘organic’ pieces (parts) were modified by working the form to some extent. I am not saying that this is a rule, but it is a problem that continuously crops up.
    The students in Germany also often worked on quite a large scale which then involved heaving quite heavy pieces of wood around, making it necessary to ‘feel’ the forces involved. There is also the question of junctions which in wood involve much more consideration than in welding steel for example !
    I will be interested to see how you continue


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