Thinking through Making
Writing and sculptures by Sarah Larby
Whilst writing this I am in the process of making a work titled “The Wall”, a sculptural piece of art made from a wooden frame that visually looks like the timber support systems you find within the construction of a wall.
The intention behind the creation of “The Wall” was to come up with a solution to how the structures of display could be an integral part of my sculpture rather than an addition to my sculptural elements. I’m going to take you through my thinking process behind the work, how it shifted, warped and changed as I made it.
I started this piece of work today by building some wooden “frames” out of garden trestle. These frames were then filled with plaster and some arrangement of rusty nails to act as hooks to hang my sculptures from. As of yet I don’t have a solid idea of how these pieces are going to form a larger work, but I like how the framed plaster elements look like sections of plastered wall and are reminiscent of a painter’s blank canvas.
I decide to build an actual wall to hold my sectioned framed pieces of plaster. I start by researching how walls are built in the construction of houses, looking at measurements and drawings of wooden frames before designing my own.
I’m gradually learning that wooden frames need braces and support to stop them wobbling, the right kind of screws and how much pressure the wood can take before it splits. It’s all a learning process. But after a few sketches and failures and adding more triangular bracing I have built a free-standing wall. A wall that I am strangely proud of.
Now I start on my favourite bit of the process, developing the sculptural elements to hang off the rusty nails. I start by making fabric moulds, allowing the moulds to decide their own curved form, following the direction that the sewing machine wants to take. These flat sketches drawn with sewing machine thread will then become three-dimensional sculptural objects when filled with liquid plaster.
It’s the big day, the filling of the fabric casings, when the work begins to take shape. Always a fiddly process, the filled casings bulge, hang and sag where their weight will allow them to. Sometimes I have to nudge them along with the helping hand of a nail here and there to keep them upright. I had a couple of breakages and explosions, plaster bursting out the seams with the pressure of the fluid.
Thinking Day - Initially the fabric casings were going to be removed to show the pure plaster element inside but once displayed I was attached to their protective layer. Like cocoons or skins, I didn’t want to expose the pure plaster to the outdoor elements. In a way I think it also pays homage to how they are made, and the visible seams show the once flat draw out shapes. I decided to keep them.
Day Seven (The supposed final day)
I use today to attach my frames to the wall; I am happy with the outcome, but I thought it lacked something. I decide that it needed some sculptures freed from their frames, resting within the wooden frame.
It rains today. My sculpture is outside being washed. I went to go check on it and a pigeon was sitting on the top. At first it seems quite cute but then the thought of having to clean pigeon poo off my sculpture is not pleasant. I am now thinking about adding some anti-pigeon spikes on the top of it to protect the work. I can’t work on the piece today, sitting looking out the window at it waiting for the rain to stop. I will finish it tomorrow.
The rain stops, so now I have “pigeon-proofed” my sculpture, adding some rusty nails on the top bracing. Filled and displayed two more sacs and finished off the work. There is something about having two sculptures freed from their plaques, resting slumped against the woodwork – in a way, to me, reminiscent of pictures of construction workers eating their lunch on the scaffolding.
I photograph the work and think about how I have to take it down the next day. I have nowhere to store it and need the space to keep making work. Only my family will see it in the flesh.
One week later, reflecting on what I have made I noticed that there is an interesting dynamic between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional emerging. Starting off my degree as a painter, I found my practice was restricted to wall space before I moved into sculpture where I was then really interested in this dynamic between the two and three-dimensional image. Now, this comes back into my work in an unexpected way, the wall reignited my interest in the dynamic between the dimensions.
A wall is fundamentally an object that we only ever see as a two-dimensional plane, but, in this instance, a wall exists as a sculpture that can be walked around and viewed three-dimensionally. A wall that can be looked through. Sections of the wall frame the environment around it, whilst also containing framed sculptures.
So, what does it mean that I built a wall outside?
My final piece for my cancelled degree show was going to be in conversation with the building’s architecture, so when I found myself left with no architecture to riff off, I found myself building my own. I like the outcome. We are all surrounded by walls at the moment, most decorated with some art, personal pictures or posters; or at the least constructed by a craftsman or builder. For some reason, this brings me some kind of comfort. I keep being asked by family and friends if I am making work responding to the pandemic, and my answer is always “no, not directly”. But I think this Wall is my subconscious reflection. Walls govern how you interact with your space. They carry a load. They provide security and shelter. They can be functional and/or decorative. Yet they also confine us.