Actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface.
I have been thinking about the difference in the way my mind has been working throughout the lockdown, depending on the amount of space I have had access to. Within the confines of my flat my thoughts seemed smaller, fitting the space I was inhabiting. I was itching to get out, and the walls around me seemed to limit my work to my surroundings. As soon as I could get out to parks and wider spaces, my thoughts expanded and I felt able to think of how to make pieces interact with the landscape. I began to think in 3D again, and of how my work could become gigantic things taking over public spaces.
To see is to think, and to think is to see.
The space around us allows us to think in a different way, and the experience we have of landscape is a mutual one, with our impact being felt on what is around us. Or, as Arnold Berleant puts it in the Philosophy of Landscape, “landscape is a relationship” – it has to be considered as part of an experience and in relation to human perception rather than on its own.
Barbara Hepworth’s work explored the idea that sculptural work is about the relationship between people and a landscape. In 1966 in ‘A Sculptor’s Landscape’, she wrote
I cannot write anything about landscape without writing about the human figure and human spirit inhabiting the landscape. For me, the whole art of sculpture is the fusion of these two elements.
Hepworth’s sculpture is something that has to be seen within the landscape, where the forms of each respond to the other. This is easy to see with her larger pieces, but she emphasised that even her smaller works have the same response to space, that they can also seem to be ‘held’ in the landscape.
Philosophers like Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty both explored our sense of experience – phenomenology is a philosophy based on our actual experiences of the world around us, the actuality of being that encounters the phenomenon around us. Heidegger’s concept of “being in the world” acknowledges how we rely on being embodied and embedded in the world we are in.
There is a deepening conviction … that it is the modes of interconnectedness of things rather than the things themselves
Ramsden, a friend of Hepworth, wrote that her sculptures worked because of their interconnectedness – to the spaces they inhabit and to us as the viewer. Our experiences of the landscape and her sculptures within them are phenomenological, we are experiencing the feeling we have to the space around us and to the pieces within them.
Sculpture occupies the same space as your body.
As Anish Kapoor puts it, sculptures inhabit spaces that you also occupy, and this means that you have a physical and bodily response to them. Sculptures relate to the space around them as well as to your body. The sculpture will impact the space, and both of these will impact on you, the viewer. Alongside this, your presence will change the nature of the interaction of the sculpture in the environment. I think it is important to think about all of these elements, to understand the impact ad interrelatedness of the viewer, the piece and the landscape it sits in.
I think the job of a sculptor is spatial as much as it is to do with form.
I find inspiration comes easier when I am in a landscape that I can imagine a sculpture sitting in. Inhabiting the space myself seems to allow me to understand how a piece could be placed. Whereas conceiving an idea of a piece that is meant to sit in a landscape that you haven’t inhabited yourself means that you’re likely to misunderstand what the space can do, what it has to offer. The interaction might be wrong.
On the other hand, making a piece and moving it to a new space can completely alter it, filling both the space and piece with a whole new sense of life as the piece becomes something else, reacting to its location.
I think you always have to find where the boundary is in relation to the context in order to be able to kind of articulate how you want the space to interact with the viewer.
In Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta, the garden surrounding his house is full of sculptural works. Pieces are scattered around the garden, hidden but ready to be found. As you walk around the landscape you find them in niches, nooks, by streams, by the pond. With his work, it seems as if the pieces respond to the landscape around it, they don’t blend in, but work with the space and gain meaning through it.
When talking about why he made his garden, in a conversation with Robin Gillanders, Ian Hamilton Finlay was asked why he had made it, and replied
“Basically because it was a possibility – the ground was there and so there was a possibility, and I like to realise possibilities.”
He saw a landscape that could inspire him to make work, that was full of possibilities and ideas. I think this is why I find it so hard to think of ideas that can be outside the flat when I am stuck within it, the possibilities and my horizons seem reduced.