The Object Absolute - is nought
The Object Absolute – is nought is a test. Coming out of my enquiry around notions of boundaries its first manifestation was a bundle of small painted sticks not dissimilar to pick-up sticks, which I put together in the studio with the intention of looking at the collapse of an edge. Not a physical edge or edginess as in uneasy and tense, but an edge that tips over into the spaces between modes of thought around how to look at and question things in today’s world of flow, change and immediate sensation.
On the 24th February 2015 Rowan Bailey asked me if I would like to come to a meeting at the Rat and Ratchet pub in Huddersfield to talk about ideas around sculptural thinking. What is sculptural thinking, what is sculpture, what does thought look like?
At our next meeting I brought my painted sticks to the pub, held them in my hand resting their base on the surface of the table and let them drop – as in pick-up sticks – playfully, casually and unknowingly. As with pick-up sticks they rested where they fell, I watched with curiosity as people started to move them around. (I should digress here to point out that Rowan had asked us all to bring something that might articulate ideas around sculptural thinking).
The movement of falling became a pure articulation of my overriding interest in what ideas do before their objectification. What was important was that I was not showing an artwork I was showing the in-between - the germ of what might become. I was also trying to visualize how the viewer sees the ‘thing’ within the thought. I wondered if the others were looking at an action, the resulting spaces, or were they seeing an object?
I left these meetings no clearer; in fact, if anything, I had more questions. Back at the studio I resumed what had been absorbing me before we started meeting. Ideas around boundaries, walls, edges and the like preoccupied me. But what I had done with the sticks was merging into my thoughts about walls, something was collapsing - walls / sticks were tumbling down.
Figure 1 Liadin Cooke, Photographs of Sticks (2015)
Figure 2 Liadin Cooke, Photographs of Sticks (2015)
My use of colour is a tentative reflection of synesthetic identification and, though I had purposely used what I term ‘object’ colours to paint the sticks, their colour was to my mind functionless and irrelevant. Yet if I had left the sticks bare wood they would have been ‘just objects’ – the paint turned them into more than ‘just objects’ and they became something much more slippery – more thoughtful.
My next move was to make some drawings of the falling to try to pin down and fix my ideas. With no particular outcome in mind it was more of a studio exercise, a task to occupy my hands as I thought. I made five drawings using gouache to give them solidity on the page; the blue, red and a nasty flesh tone were meant to be subtle and enquiring. I then made five more in monochrome to see what they would be like - hanging on to the flesh tone so that they would have a little bit of reality. They became shadows.
Figure 3 Liadin Cooke, The Object Absolute – is nought (2015). [Gouache, pencil on paper]. In the exhibition, Thought Positions in Sculpture. Huddersfield Art Gallery (2015)
I was surprised when I laid them out together to see that they did indeed mimic the falling of the sticks - only these drawings tumbled across the page and never really fell down. Perhaps I had made something that was in perpetual motion that in a sense mimicked or was a reflection of my continually shifting thoughts on sculpture? The drawings were between collapse. Whatever, they were very different to what I had imagined their outcome to be. Their colour grated, the heaviness of the gouache felt leaden – I still did not know.
Archives and an exhibition came into the equation in April. I started off by looking at the Leeds Sculpture Collection and stayed there. Initially I browsed through the list of artists they have, looked them up online, made notes about those that nudged my attention many of whom I have never heard of. I made a visit to the store. A welcome opportunity to prowl around exploring ‘hidden’ works, though you know that they are catalogued, dusted and looked at on a relatively regular basis. Due to the dim lighting and the way the work was placed seemingly at random on the shelves it was an adventure, my eye skipped over things and rested on others.
I made lots of notes on that day not thinking much about what I was looking at just recording what caught my eye. It wasn’t until I got back to my studio that I saw a work I recognized. A work that I later found out to be Geoffrey Clarke’s Test Piece.
It wasn’t so much the linear quality that struck me, or the fact that I knew how it was made. I recognized the testing going on in the work – the fact that he had been trying to find something out, I presumed it was a technical test as opposed to my questions about the fluidity of the object / thought.
I went back to have another look at Test Piece and began to examine the spaces or gaps generated by the linear crisscrossing of the aluminium. This in turn led to a further enquiry into his use of colour, particularly in his stained glass works. These were often incorporated into cast aluminium structures giving them a fluidity that I recognized as part of my own investigations. I have since found out that Test Piece was made as a trial for a stained glass commission for Ipswich Civic College in 1961, now in a private collection it is installed at the end / edge of an infinity pool.
(From left to right)
Figure 4 Geoffrey Clarke, Stained Glass Window and aluminium relief for Civic College, Ipswich (1961). Courtesy of Judith le Grove and the Geoffrey Clarke Estate.
Figure 5 Image of an infinity pool. Retrieved from: http://www.homedit.com/8-awesome-infinity-pools-around-the-world/infinity-pool-in-the-hills-of-tuscany-italy/
Though there is a marked similarity in the appearance of our two works, they are doing opposing things - restraining and letting go. Clarke’s Test Piece pushes to the edge and then is restrained by the rough frame of the aluminium. Water in an infinity pool flows to the edge and is then restrained by a wall. I don’t know where my edge is and in fact I don’t want one.
To an extent both Clarke and myself are exploring space and form but in very different contexts – I am trying to collapse sculpture into something that sits between the object and the thought. Clarke was looking at how form sits in space. His work is a complex mixture of the tender, tangled and the hidden and much of it appears to accept vulnerability as part of its function. The drawings I made also accept vulnerability as an inherent part of their hidden function. Perhaps The Object Absolute –is nought and Test Piece are collapsing space thereby allowing a form to reconfigure itself as a potential thought?
(Above right) Figure 6 Liadin Cooke, The Object Absolute – is nought (2015). [Gouache, pencil on paper] and Geoffrey Clarke, Test Piece (1959/1960) [Aluminium, cast using expanded polystyrene]. Courtesy of Leeds Museums and Galleries (Leeds Art Gallery) and the Geoffrey Clarke Estate. In the exhibition, Thought Positions in Sculpture. Huddersfield Art Gallery (2015).
It is telling that the word absolute comes from the Latin absolutus meaning freed or unrestrained, for a lack of restriction denies the finite form of the object. We cannot look at an object without tainting it with our own (value-laden) perception of it. And can, in fact, an object seen by a human be anything but a perception? Therefore, are we unable to see a thing as it actually is; is there any chance of seeing any work as it’s thought?
As Dickinson so aptly puts it - it is the object’s loss that is the gap I saw originally in Geoffrey Clarke’s Test Piece that I felt – and still feel – a need to fill.
Perception of an object costs
Precise the Object’s loss –
Perception in itself a Gain
Replying to its Price –
The Object Absolute – is nought –
Perception sets it fair
And then upbraids a Perfectness
That situates so far –
Poem no. 1071 by Emily Dickinson1
1Dickinson, E. (1998). Poem 1071. In. Franklin, R. W. (Ed.) The Poems of Emily Dickinson. (Ed.) (p.962). Cambridge; Mass, London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.