Terms & Conditions was a new work made for the AirSpace gallery in Stoke-on-Trent as part of the British Ceramics Biennial 2019.
Following various research visits and workshops in Stoke, Dunhill and O’Brien recruited a team of volunteer participants from the area to work with them during a 3 week residency.
Each member of the group, including a dentist, dressmaker, boulderer, sports masseur, translator, jeweller, baker and engineer, agreed to step outside of their individual comfort zones to explore a range of ‘terms and conditions’ for collaborative making, using raw clay, and methods that tested the limits of verbal and visual communication. Working within a purpose built modular ‘dexion’ structure, they each employed their unique 3D problem solving skills developed through their occupations and hobbies.
The exhibition that followed the residency was comprised of a number of elements: a large custom made structure forming the workshop/laboratory space; unfired raw clay objects made by the team of participants; video documentation of the processes involved; a wall text, and a 3.5 tonne raw clay form sculpted by Dunhill and O’Brien, and based upon information gathered during the workshops.
Sitting in and among these elements were a number of found rocks as well as images and videos of rocks. These were used as source material and prompts for the various activities, and connect this new work to Dunhill and O’Brien’s long standing fascination with naturally formed rocks and stones, both as they are represented in popular culture, and as material, physical objects.
Proposition 1 (Window)
Collection of clay objects made collaboratively by participants, kept damp through a sprinkler system, and added to following workshop sessions held during the exhibition.
Proposition 2 (Sitting)
Making spaces for up to 4 seated participants. The central unit designed for two people to model the same clay object together (filmed from above); the two units on either side are for individual making (filmed from the side). Small LED screens show images used as source material. The proposition is to understand and translate the 2 dimensional images into 3 dimensional forms, solely employing tactile interpretation.
Proposition 3 (Standing)
Making space for two participants standing side by side, with a shared tabletop unit (filmed from the front). There are two options with this proposition. In the first, a participant describes how to make a rock they are exploring through touch for up to 20 minutes, while the other uses tactile interpretation to model it in clay. In the second version a participant, at an adjoining workspace, observes and gives instructions to two participants at the standing unit, who model versions of the same object in tandem for approximately 20 minutes.
Proposition 4 (Table)
Making space for up to 5 participants employed for an introductory exercise. This session is not filmed though the outcomes are kept and displayed. In the centre of a large table area a small rock (flint) rotates very slowly on a turntable. Each participant models a clay form based on the flint for 5 minutes before swapping places to work on their neighbor’s clay model for 5 minutes. This exchange continues until each member of the group has been involved in modelling every one of the clay objects. Adjoining the table is a sink as well as a storage area for the aprons and tools used by the participants.
Proposition 5 (Shelf)
Collection of collaborative clay objects made from Proposition 4 (Table). This collection will be added to during the exhibition following further workshop sessions. Stored on the shelf are also various rocks that have been employed in Proposition 3 (Standing).
Proposition 6 (Video monitor)
A video documenting Proposition 3 (Standing), duration 3.5 hours.
Proposition 7 (How to Make a Rock – Object)
3 tonne clay sculpture made over an 8-hour period by Dunhill and O’Brien, employing sound recordings from Proposition 3 (Standing) where different participants describe how to make a rock in clay.
Proposition 8 (How to Make a Rock – Text)
A number of texts transcribing the recorded descriptions made by a number of participants during Proposition 3 (Standing).
Proposition 9 (How to Make a Rock – Video)
A video documenting the process involved in Proposition 7 (How to Make a Rock – Object) . Duration 1hour
With very special thanks to our participants: Ayad Al-Ani, Melissa Beardmore, Silvia Cotelea–Cazacu, Joanna Dawidowska, Sarah Delvari Zadeh, Steve James, Taraneh Noroozi Farsangi, Shelia Podmore, Anna Robinson, Leo Robinson, Len Robinson, John Shapter, Emma Tunnell, Asal Vahedi, and to Sophie Ashcroft, Sandy Auden, Lynn Davis, Genesis Rowley and Claire Stewart for input during preliminary workshop tests. We would also like to thank Gavin Birkin and Pete Smith for pitching in to help shift a tonnage of clay and to John Plowman and Glen Stoker for their practical and professional help and their generous encouragement and insight throughout the development and realization of the project.
This project was supported by the Arts Council England and Valentine Clays Limited, with professional support from Beacon Projects and AirSpace Gallery.
STONE APPRECIATION: SELFIE
Despite its hidden armature and padding, the tailored tarpaulin, constructed to mimic the form of a rock, doesn’t quite live up to the glamour of the image that it literally projects of itself.
The pairing of stone and tarpaulin, digital photograph and ungainly fabric form, internal structure and surface effect, appears to mirror something of the awkwardness of partnering inherent in collaboration. Does one element undermine or enhance the other, can two distinctly different parts become a cohesive and convincing sculpture?
Dunhill and O’Brien first came across a small image showing an example of an erratic boulder, at the Natural History Museum in London. Struck by its position elevated on three supporting ‘plinths’ of rock they decided to visit this naturally formed sculpture, one of the ‘Norber Erratics’, near Austwick, North Yorkshire, for themselves.
The geological term erratic refers to a boulder that has been transported from its place of origin by the movement of a glacier and deposited at a different location, in some cases thousands of miles from its geological source.
Their decision to cover the boulder with blue tarpaulins, purchased in a local store (along with some staplers) after a day measuring and filming the boulder in situ, was something of an afterthought. Wanting more information about the rock to take home, making an accurate ‘skin’ of the boulder was appealing. Not so much an homage to Christo and Jeanne Claude, but rather a way of temporarily gathering information. In the rolling hills of Ribblesvale this migrant boulder appeared wrapped and ready for further transportation.
Images 1 and 2: Stone Appreciation: In the Morning
2019, 30 x 38 x 15cm
Images 3, 4 and 5: Stone Appreciation: Okasan
2019, 28 x 20 x 15cm
lava Rock, MDF, felt, plywood
Photo: limited edition postcard, painted plywood stand with acrylic.
Images 6 and 7: Stone Appreciation: Otosan
2019, 30 x 50 x 30cm
flocking on jesmonite, vintage brown bowler hat, steel.
Images 8 and 9: Balanced Rock: Selfie
2019, 33 x 36 x 28cm
jesmonite, oil paint, aluminium, souvenir plate of Balanced Rock, colorado.
Images 10 and 11: Brimham Rock: Upholstered
2019, 50 x 38 x 38
wood, mixed media and linen
Image 12: Mountain Geta
made as part of installation Yama to Ana 2007, completed as single work 2019
50 x 37 x 50cm
wood, fabric geta straps, jesmonite, wooden stool, acrylic sheet.
In Stone Appreciation: Booth, exhibited at Camberwell Space, London, participants were invited to experience the challenge of making, communicating and collaborating through modelling a clay form. Two small screens on top of the booth showed a sequence of images of a free-standing erratic boulder.
Working in collaboration two participants at a time were allocated 20 minutes to discover if, and how, it was possible to model a likeness of this complex natural form from a clay block, without seeing what they were doing or speaking to each other. A camera in front of the booth filmed the modelling process and when finished the soft clay forms were presented in a damp store/vitrine before new clay forms made by the next round of participants replaced them at the end of each week. Meanwhile a video of the modelling process ran continuously throughout the month long exhibition.
Feedback from participants indicated that they had found that this unspoken form of negotiation, through modeling clay, had been both strangely intimate and absorbing. The process had also revealed frustrations and rivalry and it soon became apparent that participants from different backgrounds responded to the task in very different ways. Meanwhile those who had not previously met reported that they developed a sense of connection and camaraderie. All participants spoke of a strong sense of shared ownership, pride and fascination in the form that resulted, no matter how ungainly or how little it resembled the boulder that had been the catalyst for their work together.
This work takes its title from a tai chi sequence that involves many subtle shifts of weight. At a certain moment one hand lightly brushes over the other before both hands draw back to push an invisible assailant.
A number of plausible narratives coexist in this work, depending on whether you speak to Dunhill or O’Brien. Even then their mood and the time of day may determine different responses. Their frequent attempts to master grasping the sparrow’s tail; or casting rocks over 20 years ago; or finding unused handkerchiefs in a carved wooden box; or remembering a poignant sequence in a Taviani Brothers Film (Kaos); or lamenting the absurdity of Brexit; or the Japanese Art of Stone Appreciation – they are asking this modest work to make room for rather alot. Their real and persistent preoccupation and dilemma – how to make sculpture together – has resulted in a work where making has become the lightest of interactions.
In Western culture stones and rocks often have negative associations as dumb, unfeeling and burdensome. Figures of speech such as ‘between a rock and a hard place’, ‘like getting blood out of a stone’, alongside the legend of Sisyphus with his eternal punishment, reinforce this low status. Meanwhile there are other instances, most notably in Japan and China, where rocks are venerated and used as a focus for contemplation or pilgrimage.
Stone Appreciation 3 presented videos of Dunhill and O’Brien in various British landscapes drawing and measuring large boulders alongside film of their attempts to model those same forms in clay from memory without viewing the clay object as it forms. The physical act of clambering on, under and over these rocks, attempting to gather information has been translated in to the smaller gestures and awkward intimacy of hand modeling.
The geological term erratic refers to a boulder that has been transported from its place of origin by the movement of a glacier and deposited at a different location, possibly many miles from its origin.
We first came across an image of a particular erratic boulder, at the Natural History Museum in London and were struck by its curious position elevated on three small supporting rocks. We set off to find it in Yorkshire and there, in an area with many rocks seemingly thrown about at random, was this rock on its limestone plinths.
Tailoring blue tarpaulin*, purchased from a local hardware store, to clothe the erratic, we were able to take temporary possession of it – but this was not a homespun homage to Christo and Jeanne Claude. In the rolling green Yorkshire landscape it appeared wrapped for transportation, ready to be relocated in some way. This was indeed the start of it’s journey, albeit through a digital image, to the famous Ritsurin garden in Takamatsu, Japan’s largest and most celebrated ‘daimyo strolling garden’.
Two works were made for the exhibition at the Sanuki Folk Craft Museum. Erratic, ran the length of one wall in a gallery dedicated to a local furniture designer. An image of the boulder moved at glacial speed along a narrow track- calculated to travel the actual distance that the original erratic had been transported over the 6 weeks of the exhibition. The size of the image was meanwhile in proportion to the length of the track at a ratio of 11:1.
*Blue tarpaulin is widely used internationally for protecting objects from the weather, its colour signifying the weight and strength of the material. In the Takamatsu area there were numerous applications of this ubiquitous material and a great variety of sculptural forms created by it – at least 78 were worthy of documentation.
This project was funded by Tokyo University of the Arts, with special thanks to Professor O JUN, Associate Professor Yusuke Nishimura, Yoshinori Takakura, Kenta Kawagoe
In 1981 Isamu Noguchi completed his largest, heaviest and most nomadic artwork, Thunder Rock. This 15 tonne granite sculpture travelled 3 times across the pacific in search of a home, after its original commissioner in the USA was unable to complete the purchase.
When Dunhill and O’Brien encountered the sculpture in Yorkshire on a cold windy day in March 2009 they were struck by the gap between Noguchi’s expressed intention (to make an elemental form transcending the banalities of daily life) and the logistics of repeatedly crating, shipping and storing the work, with its expanding carbon footprint and related paper trail. It seemed a particularly poignant example of one of the troublesome paradoxes that may be encountered when making sculpture.
In response to an invitation to make a temporary work for a park in Tokyo, Dunhill and O’Brien made a full size transcription of Noguchi’s sculpture, based upon photographic documentation and written descriptions. Tailored in ‘distressed’ beige and cream leatherette to mimic the carved and un-carved surfaces of the granite, their Rock could be stowed as cabin luggage. Like an out sized Pakamac or sports holdall it travelled with them Economy Class to Tokyo before a trip to visit Noguchi’s studio and quarry in Shikoku. Back in Tokyo and fully upholstered this ungainly object was cautiously wheeled through the back streets of Nishi Ogikubo on a convoluted route to avoid the steep hill between the studio and park, eventually reaching its month-long location at a picturesque spot overlooking the lake in Zempukuji Park.
Inspired by Japanese mountain culture and traditions such as Fujizuka and Suiseki, Dunhill and O’Brien decided to use their residency at Youkobo Art Space in Tokyo as a research and development period, devising and making a series of prototype tools and accessories to make a ‘Mountain Object’.
The work shown at Youkobo Art Space gallery was the result of a physical and somewhat ritualistic process where they attempted to make a new sculpture together, entirely modelled and formed by tailor made geta based on topographical information of 2 important mountain ranges in Japan.
The installation comprised of the geta and other bespoke implements used to make the work with a video of the process that evidenced the at times competitive way in which the form was shaped.