Rotten

Extending my work with the female form in an effort to depict fertility or the lack of fertility resulted in an exploration into anthropomorphic rotten vegetables.  These were cast in pristine white.   Inspired by Kim Pace’s ‘A Fantastic Fermentation of Matter’ and Helen Chadwick’s ‘Carcass’ this is an attempt to expiate the rotten in our lives and give the event importance, an attempt undermined by the uncanny quirky nature of the forms.

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Concept

My collection of narratives from women fall into many categories. One theme is women’s relationship with their choice/ability to have or not to have children. There were four overlapping categories: Women with no children who were happy to be “child-free”, women with children who were happy to have them, women who wanted children but who were “childless”, and finally women who had children but who were dispirited by the experience. I wondered if there was a way to visualise these four types (while understanding how many women would fall into more than one category within a life span and how women relate to each other while in different categories).

Development

More and more is being understood about how the fungi under the soil communicates information to allow life above the soil to flourish. It felt to me a metaphor of how the women around me communicate with each other, especially the little kindnesses that allow us to survive our day to day existence. I had already been working with the natural life and decay within a compost heap and began to save vegetables to morph into anthropomorphic forms that depicted in a theatrical pose the levels of joy and grief of the four types of women listed above.

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Construction

Each of the four forms is made using vegetable matter and a small amount of clay. Some have been cast using a silicone mould while others have been built slowly using the casting material (Jesmonite) to directly form the shapes over the vegetable matter. The discs were professionally cut using 6mm steel. I then welded the discs on to rods bent at various angles in order to create a horizontal platform.

 
An experiment in bending steel rods and rusting steel without sandblasting first

An experiment in bending steel rods and rusting steel without sandblasting first

An experiment with shaping kitchen waste into forms

An experiment with shaping kitchen waste into forms

Half sweet potato, half clay form

Half sweet potato, half clay form

Creating a silicone mould and counter mould around a rotten marrow

Creating a silicone mould and counter mould around a rotten marrow

 

Presentation

It made utter sense to return the four vegetable forms, now encased in pristine white, to the bottom of the garden, presented on their own bending steel “trees” buried into the ground. I imagine their roots stretching out towards each other. The steel “trees” are new and dark in colour. They fade into the autumn leaves while the bright white of the figures stand out illuminatingly. Come winter the dark steel will rust to a brilliant red while the white figures will dull. I hope for snow as the contrast will be interesting. Come spring the bluebells will contrast with the rusted steel… the area often floods… time will bring interesting developments.

Installation

Although this forest is private land, I did not want to impose too much on the environment. But obviously the steel “trees” are very heavy and required a counter weight to allow them to bend and sway without falling over. I calculated the amount of leverage I would need, used a small amount of cement to place the rods and used movable stone slabs (that I had already) to weight the rods in. One rod is resting against a natural lip in a tree trunk. Over time I expect the tree to grown around the disc.

 

A walk in the forest… autumn… late afternoon…

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A form based on a rotting marrow, moulded and cast in jesmonite

A form based on a rotting marrow, moulded and cast in jesmonite

A form based on an old sweet potato, moulded and cast in jesmonite

A form based on an old sweet potato, moulded and cast in jesmonite

A form built from kitchen food waste encased in jesmonite

A form built from kitchen food waste encased in jesmonite

A form based on old black bananas, moulded and cast in jesmonite

A form based on old black bananas, moulded and cast in jesmonite

Reflection

My aim was to visualise four states of fertility as described in the narratives collected: child-free, childless, child-frustrated, child-joyous, and to depict these states as flawed but beautiful, an attempt to expiate the rotten in our lives and give the event, whatever it is, importance. I was drawn to kitchen food waste as I noticed the beauty of a decaying aubergine.

I created the forms in various ways and I learnt a great deal about casting and the materials I used. The forms became something other than the four narratives I was trying to depict, however, this development took the work away from the theatrical and into an uncanny realm, where the forms became strange and humorous. The viewer wouldn’t necessarily link them to fertility or even realise, unless they had a keen eye, that they were created from vegetables.

The most successful elements were the steel “trees” which are interesting things all on their own and I look forward to watching them rust…

Context

Kim L Pace: Vegetables with agency, anthropomorphic matter, uncanny, quirky

Kim L Pace: Vegetables with agency, anthropomorphic matter, uncanny, quirky

Helen Chadwick: Rotting vegetable matter that becomes a thing of life

Helen Chadwick: Rotting vegetable matter that becomes a thing of life

Guiseppe Penone: Intruding into the growth of trees

Guiseppe Penone: Intruding into the growth of trees

Francis Upritchard: Steel plinths that form a spring board for the form that sits upon it

Francis Upritchard: Steel plinths that form a spring board for the form that sits upon it

Kim L Pace

Pace herself explains that she is fascinated with transformation and metamorphosis and that the work is “deliberately left open to enable multiple interpretations as embodied by the psychological phenomenon Pareidolia, where the mind perceives an image where there is none.”  Pace seems to be interested in “allowing things to emerge from her unconsciousness” and to invite multiple meanings to be given to her work by a viewer. 

Helen Chadwick

Helen Chadwick famously used rotting vegetable matter to create her Carcass work.  She talked of meaning to represent the idea of the alive and beautiful turning into death and rotting awfulness and talked as well of her surprise at the fizzing and bubbles of the fermentation of the rotting matter as it converted itself into compost alive with nutrients and possibility.  Carcass becomes about cycles of life and the fermentation of matter and shows the transformation of life into something else.   The photo above is her self-portrait.

Giuseppe Penone

In 1968, Penone attached a bronze cast of his hand to the trunk of a young tree. 6 years later, he cast this tree in situ, and again at years 8 and 12, recording the growing symbiosis of his hand and the tree enveloping it. While the artist’s grasping hand hinders the natural growth, each tree adapts to the constraints of the metallic touch, subsequently embracing and absorbing the hand. Here, both the human body and the tree are simultaneously metamorphosed to become one inseparable entity. Its sculptural identity continues to organically evolve and link its past, present and future. (Marian Goodman, October 2016)

Francis Upritchard

Francis Upritchard's rainbow-skinned figures may have stooped shoulders, sagging bellies and bald heads, but they never stop dancing. These hand-modelled, marionette-sized creations bend their knees and wave their arms, raver-style, absorbed in trance rhythms only they can hear. Others around them strike tai chi or meditation poses. But they all keep their eyes shut, refusing to connect. All are raised on steel plinths that contribute to the idea of dancing like no one can see you…

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