If the Royal British Society of Sculptors “Sculpture Shock” award is anything to go by, the contemporary British sculpture scene looks to be in rude health and its future bright. Last Wednesday, 7th November, the RBSS announced the winners of its Sculpture Shock award, a prize of £3,000 to the winner in each of three categories (‘Historic’, ‘Ambulatory’, and ‘Subterranean’) and a three-month residency spent in the late Dame Elisabeth Frink’s former studio in Chelsea. Each residency will culminate, as the RBSS website states, in a “surprising spatial intervention in one of three non-traditional spaces”.
‘Spatial intervention’ is a deliberately more expansive term than the more conventional ‘sculpture’, and testifies to the much more elastic and often highly invigorating practices now common in the realm of 3-dimensional art. Certainly two of the winners produce works that push at the limits of what we conventionally understand to be sculpture. The winner of the Subterranean category, David Ogle, whose piece Linear UV Drawing was amongst the most exciting and compelling at this year’s Kinetica Art Fair, has been making works from fishing wire and ultra violet light that seem to incarnate drawn lines, travelling weightlessly through space. The Ambulatory category was won by Amy Sharrocks, whose recent work includes participatory events such as Swim, in which 50 members of the public swam across London from Tooting Bec Lido to Hampstead Heath Ponds. Nika Neelova, who won the Historic category – where an intervention will be made on a “historic and illustrious building” – makes sculptures within more traditional parameters such as her spectacular Partings (pictured below), shown in Somerset House as part of the Crisis Commission earlier this year. Her installations, often using reclaimed, ruined or burnt materials, are saturated in memory, history, loss and dissolution.
The themes of the three residencies are wonderfully broad, polyvalent subjects offering the prospect of exciting, wide-ranging interpretations. Indeed some of the most intriguing and challenging sculptural works of the last few decades would sit easily within these frameworks – the ambulatory work of Richard Long; the intervention upon the historic Reichstag building by Christo and Jeanne-Claude; the bold “Monument against Fascism” by Jochen Gerz and Esther Shalev-Gerz which was lowered underground over time until it disappeared entirely. The assured and compelling nature of the three winners’ work suggests that they will realise similarly exciting and thought-provoking outcomes.
The jury, including the President of the RBSS, Terry New and the art critic and author, Richard Cork, emphasized the extraordinary strength of the shortlist, the engagement and eloquence of the nine finalists and the difficult challenge of having to choose the winners. I would identify one of the other finalists, Joanna Sperryn-Jones, as another one to watch closely. The experience of breaking her collarbone inspired her interest in the themes of making and breaking and the fragility of the human body. Her fascinating works often involve destruction as part of their evolution and execution, in which the public themselves are invited to participate in the violent process of destruction –an uneasy and discomfiting role inspiring all sorts of questions – amongst them about received wisdoms about the value of art and the sanctity of creative production.
Sculpture Shock is curated by Claire Mander.