THE INDUSTRY OF SCULPTURE
Understanding Process and Practice
This collection of interview snapshots examines some of the processes and practices that make up the ‘industry of sculpture’. It aims to disseminate the first-hand knowledge of our interviewees and reveal and contextualise what they do. Their stories reinforce the fact that experts aren’t born, they’re made. Most people work hard at acquiring their knowledge and skills, enabling them to carve out their unique position and roll with the punches.
Using the term ‘passion’ when talking of artists is a don’t here at Pangaea Sculptors’ Centre. This is especially so when passion is romanticised as an uncontrollable drive that overpowers all rational thought and practically forces one to make art. What, of course, use of the term passion too often denies is the amount of labour, time and planning—the commitment as well as negotiating the often less-than-ideal conditions—involved in making art.
The complexity of the industry of sculpture as it hums, whirling along, with its multiple economies and ecologies, isn’t easy to understand or operate within. From artists to curators, fabricators, technicians and assistants; from engineers and architects to town planners; from stone masons to tree surgeons to haulage teams and art transporters; studio providers, crate makers, conservationists and archivists: this web of interdependencies is pulled in many directions. It services economic regeneration and social cohesion, art for art’s sake and art for investment. It’s these networks of experts, interns and others, with their breadth of skills, experience and labour, that make the wheels of the sculpture industry go ‘round.
With this context broadly mapped, we can now explain why PSC doesn’t rule out the importance of passion altogether. Being an artist or working in the worlds of contemporary art demands this and more. Nowhere is this more obvious than in London. Here, graduates of some 180,000 courses in the UK related to the creative industries compete for 6000 places at any one time in the cultural sector.*
At the same time, the squeeze on affordable artists’ provisions in the Capital due to rampant regeneration makes the day-to-day reality a sort of a mad-man’s folly. It takes passion and desire—not to mention luck, thrift and risk tolerance—to keep on keeping on.
With some initial support from the Arts Council, PSC conducted a research survey through interviews with leading sculpture-related professionals to better understand the world(s) in which they operate, what they do and what their needs are. Selected highlights from these transcripts are re-presented here in lightly edited form. Through the process of setting the questions, engaging in the conversations and editing down their rich and often surprising yield, we kept in mind emerging and early career sculptors: what for them might be most useful. Our survey only just scratched the surface as it gathered some valuable insights. The generous responses to our questions helped us to appreciate the breadth of roles and positions at stake in this industry and, in particular, the sheer amount and division of labour involved in its ongoing sustainability.
We are continuing to build this archive of interviews as a resource that shows and tells about the often-unsung labour that goes in to making the industry of sculpture tick.
*Bewick, T. (2010) Securing the pipeline of talent to the creative industries, London, Creative & Cultural Skills.
Artist, Designer and Researcher
‘Umberto Boccioni’s ‘Unique Forms of Continuity in Space’ stands alone, until you find his lost sculptural legacy, then a new truth emerges as to how he arrived at this masterpiece.’
‘The working method feels simple and clear, but I’ve learnt that it is only when the nature of materials and forces surprise me and I find myself steered into the unknown that the work gains its own compelling identity.’
Independent Consultant (strategies related to culture and the creative economy)
Co-founder of Bold Tendencies
‘I don’t think ambition is necessarily scale, budget or size. It could, for instance, relate to duration, a sculptor engaging in a ten-year project. Rather than, you know, bragging rights that you topped Damien Hirst in terms of dimensions. Now that Hirst is building a whole village, does that mean we have to build a town? The reference points of ambition need to be very carefully scrutinised.’
Director of V22
‘I think there is so much need for infrastructure, and I know that can be a dirty word but what infrastructure has been put into art? The gallery system? 300 years ago? That’s all we have? What about the museum system? What is the new museum system really about? It’s still really about the state and showing off in some way. Even something like Tate Modern that is supposed to be more supportive of contemporary art, isn’t in itself very contemporary.’
‘Frieze approached us looking for a sponsor. It was a new idea, ambitious, something that had never been done before. The first time anyone had gotten permission to set up a tent in the middle of Regents Park. The product was good. The organisers had pulled off something quite unique and so we felt it was the right thing for us to be supporting.’
Artist and Researcher
Senior Researcher and Development Officer at Acme Studios
‘Artists are normally pretty structured in the way they work and use the studios in very specific ways. They have the dirty space, the clean space, the thinking space, the office space, the tea space, the digital space! It really depends on the artists and the environments they need to develop their practice! This spaces can change from one week to the next. The studio is an organic space, as we saw when we documented the studios for the 18 months.’
Creative Director of HRM199 Ltd
‘People talk all the time about emerging art, emerging artists, emerging economies, emerging this, emerging that. It’s almost a state in itself. The state of emerging. It talks to what’s coming next rather that what is now. I think the works that can be associated with this idea or notion of the emerging paradigm have a sense of multi-disciplinarity, a sense of no fixed boundaries, spatially or otherwise.’
Wishes to remain anonymous
‘The successful ones are good with money. Getting it and using it. They’re almost accountant types as well as artists. They keep a very tight rain on production. And they also know how much things cost as they haven’t just arrived there from Mars, they’ve grown into it.’
Director of Exhibitions at CHELSEA space
Chairman of the Trustees of
the Chelsea Arts Club Trust
‘You know, students often say that in the end they learned the most from the technicians. That’s where they really got some support, in the workshops. So it’s right and proper that the technicians should be acknowledged more as part of the academic community.’
Director of Livestock Market Ltd & GT Ltd
‘Galleries assume they can take 50%. That’s their default button and I think quite often artists generally default to thinking that the galleries know best, but they don’t have to. They don’t have to do that. It depends how much the gallery wants them.’
Directors of Studio MakeCreate
‘Our first project together began by Johnny getting a phone call from me saying: ‘Hey, do you want to make a waffle maker in the shape of a Nike trainer? In five days?’ And that was it.’
Director (until 2017)
Royal British Society of Sculptors
‘Being a professional sculptor is rather like being a professional sportsman. There are millions and millions of people who enjoy playing the odd game at the weekend and for whom sport is a wonderful thing. But it’s not the same as making your living out of it. You’ve got to be bloody obsessed and determined as well. Luck does help but you need to work at it. To make it the odds are tall.’
Director of London Bronze Casting
‘I’m interested in making a fantastic foundry – really good quality – and then investing it back in to helping young artists come through. So that means I’ve got to make this foundry ‘open’. And that’s where it’s different from other foundries, I suspect.’