Recent Sculpture

Article

01 October 2008

Houldsworth

Three of Laura Ford’s recent sculptural projects, Glory Glory (2005), Sleepwalkers (2005) and Armour Boys (2006)

Laura Ford exhibited her series Glory Glory at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005. These works saw Ford create a world of deeply sinister cultural posturing. Using associations of national identity, war and destruction the giant figures of Glory Gory continue the themes of violence, stereotype and sculptural humour that have flowed throughout Ford’s many exhibitions and commissions. Whilst appropriation is a common and accepted tool in most contemporary photography and painting, sculpture still operates in a realm that is widely associated with authenticity and intellectual, as well as physical solidity or enters into the realm of kitsch. In Ford’s work immense sculptural solidity and presence adds serious threat to the fluidity of strange associations which flow over the work. Bizarrely we may notice a teddy bear tied to the front of a masked simian figure (Glory Glory) which almost blends in to its armoured body, but once noticed, throws the whole gravitas of the figure out of joint. In fact this bear relates to the idea of old rag and bone men who used to tie found toys to the front of their carts/vans. This kind of unsettling appropriation makes us aware that each sculptural move Ford makes, however seemingly accidental it seems, has been carefully measured to orchestrate the right levels of pathos, terror, humour and the plain bizarre.

Concurrently Ford showed the chillingly moving piece Sleepwalkers in Kinderszenen at Rohkunstbau in Berlin. Ford’s figures use cloth coverings to belie the hard steel and jesmonite structures that lie beneath, but it is the solidity of the little bodies in Sleepwalkers, covered in striped pyjamas, which make them so unnervingly alive. Blindfolded and tied together by the elongated sleeves of their austere nightwear there is a suggestion of recent media images of army atrocities, whilst the style of the fabric suggests an earlier horror and another trauma too immense to encounter directly. The piece, which was widely used by the German press, seemed to strike a note with that public, who joined countless audiences who have fallen under the spell of Ford’s cast of unlikely characters; which include suicide bomber bunnies, elephant boys, five legged donkeys, and girl assassins to name but a few.

In 2006 Ford has brought her examination of heroic and maligned figures into the media of bronze. Whereas Ford usually works from the inside out, clothing hard structures, Armour Boys (2006) uses soft bean bag figures thrown carelessly to create awkward random positions as the initial forms from which her bronze figures will be cast. Unlike other casters of the human form, Gormley in particular, Ford does not attempt to solidify a universal image of man or to foster a direct existential relationship with self, but instead uses this most grandiose of sculptural techniques to capture the absurdity of the figure and the pathetic implications inherent in every bronze that stands alone on a plinth in a street ignored by passers by and denigrated by pigeons.

Five figures lie as if on a battle field, but Ford is always at pains to limit the narrative; these figures may not have been fighting but may have collapsed under their own sculptural weight, or the pressure of their historical positioning. The figures are, however, not men, but the size of eight-year old children. This move towards the childlike, but also to the personal (Ford herself has three children) brings us back to issues of instinct, play and violence; games both benign and malevolent. Collectively the installation allows viewers to enter Ford’s world of the childlike destruction and surreal association, and individually each sculpture resonates with the sculptural tradition itself and with our own sympathies and desires. As with her previous collective sculptural installations Wreckers, Headthinkers and Desperados, each Armour Boy stands alone both in its sculptural self, and in its poignant introspection.

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