Wednesday, 5 March 2014


I've written the catalogue text for Cathie Pilkington's Marlborough Fine Art show 'thing-soul' which runs from the 7th March - 29th March at their Albemarle St gallery, London. There is some lovely work in the show, not least Siren, who is shown on the cover of the catalogue (right). There is plenty of Cathie Pilkington's work, including the pieces referred to in the catalogue text, on the Marborough Fine Art website.

The title of the show is a quotation from Rainer Maria Rilke's essay of 1913 On Dolls. This text, which ostensibly deals with the wax dolls of Lotte Pritzel, is really about the strange quasi-animate quality of dolls and their peculiar auratic effects.

One of the remarkable things about Rilke's essay is his articulation of auratic phenomena, twenty years earlier than Walter Benjamin's totemic text The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproducibility, and perhaps even more remarkably the extent to which it prefigures the critical attitude taken by 'pictoral turn' authors such as W.J.T.Mitchell. It's also beautifully written.

Read: Carpenter, B. (2014) thing-soul (pdf of essay), London: Marlborough Fine Art. The whole catalogue can be viewed here.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Memorialisation and Recognition

For the last year I have been involved in a research project at the Centre for Health and Social Care Improvement, Faculty of Education, Health and Wellbeing, University of Wolverhampton,  titled Recognising the gift of organ and tissue donation: the views and preferences of donor families. Earlier this month I was appointed an Honorary Research Fellow at the faculty, which cements my involvement in this research.

The project explores the perceptions of donor family members concerning the ways in which the gift of organ and tissue donation may be recognised, and is intended to determine their views on the possible benefits of personal and public recognition, including any personal impact on their bereavement. Another objective of the project is to elicit donor families' ideas and preferences on the nature, design and location of a public memorial. This responds to a call from the Organ Donation Taskforce (Department of Health, 2008) for more research into means of honouring the gift of donation.

The other investigators on the project are Dr Wendy Walker (PI), and Professor Magi Sque.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Handling Things, This Living Hand Part 2

Melanie Vandenbrouck and I were invited to talk about Handling Things at the Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at Cambridge University today.

Melanie started off with Putting the finger on the rise and fall of the absolutist monarchy: medals of the Sun King and the French Revolution. She argued that the changing production and dissemination of medals between Louis XIV’s reign and the French Revolution can only fully be understood with an appreciation of these medals through touch.

I delivered the expanded version of This Living Hand, in which I talk about medals and other artworks by Chloe Shaw, Cathie Pilkington, and Felicity Powell as well as Edward Lovett's collection of amulets. My interest in these small-scale works is their relation to the hand, both as an image, and a site of creation and reception.

Both presentations are available in a single podcast from the university website.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Sensing Sculpture

I have been involved in the rehang of the Sensing Sculpture Gallery at Wolverhampton City Art Gallery, which opens tonight. There are eight audio interpretations of the work on display, with Ron Dutton, former Head of Sculpture at UoW; me; Judith Woods, an MA Student; and Adam Bryce, a BA student, in conversation.

The detail used on the invite for the launch, right, comes from John Paddison's excellent Diana and Actaeon [image].

Paddison used to teach sculpture at the art school in Wolves, and the work of one of his former students, Glynn Williams (former Professor of Sculpture at the RCA, who, incidentally, taught me), is also on display in the gallery, from which the latter's debt to the former can easily be discerned. This work, Woman Combing Hair, like Diana and Actaeon is also, essentially, a sculptural reworking of motifs drawn from painting: (Paddison's Diana is a transcription of Titian's treatment of the same theme; William's work references motifs from Picasso and Gaugan).

The Sensing Sculpture gallery also features work by Robert Jackson Emerson, Charles Wheeler, John Gibson, and many others, and is open during normal gallery hours. Visit the city art gallery website for more info.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Paper: This Living Hand

This paper examines the medal and other small-scale works from the perspective of their relation to the hand. The hand, in this sense, is both an image, and a site of creation and reception. Through an analysis of recent work by Cathie Pilkington, Chloe Shaw and Felicity Powell, as well as Edward Lovett’s collection of amulets and charms, I look at the possibility of commemorative and apotropaic functions in these small scale works, and the strong sense of the relational that follows from this.

Revised and expanded version of a paper that is forthcoming in 'M├ędailles 2012', and that was delivered at FIDEM XXXII, Glasgow University, 10th - 14th July 2012.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Review: Modern Medals

The link below is to a review that I have written of Modern Medals, FIDEM XXXII, at the Hunterian Glasgow, published in 'The Medal', No. 61, Autumn 2012. The exhibition ran from 15th July to 19th August 2012.

Read: Modern Medals (pdf)

Friday, 11 May 2012

Universal Object

This sculpture of mine, commissioned as a result of winning the first Jerwood Sculpture Prize way back in
2001, has been sold at auction at Sotheby's by the foundation today, along with the rest of their collection of sculpture.

Anyway, I like this photo from the catalogue, of the back of its departing head...

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Paper: The Value of the Hand - Cathie Pilkington

This paper analyses the work of contemporary British sculptor Cathie Pilkington. It concentrates on her quotation of craft and fine art processes as a satirical strategy to question the reflexive authority that aggregates around our inheritance of Romantic notions of genius. Her recent BAMS medal is discussed at some length, particularly in relation to the awkward status of the form, sitting as it does between the defined cultures of art and craft.

Published in 'The Medal', No.60 Spring 2012

Read: The Value of The Hand (pdf)

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Sculptures for Jerwood Gallery Hastings

Media:Powder-coated Mild Steel
Stainless Steel, Rubber
Balance Beam
Size:180 x 110 x 300 cm
Location:Jerwood Gallery, Hastings
Other views:
The powder-coated mild steel sculpture in the foreground is called Netform 2, a sculpture that the Jerwood Foundation commissioned from me for the RIBA award winning Jerwood Gallery Hastings.

In the background can be seen an architectural screen designed in collaboration with HAT Projects, the gallery architects, a stainless steel fence that is variously open and closed to the view of the net shops behind depending on the the location of the viewer. The gallery opened in March 2012.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Disavowing Craft at the Bauhaus: Marcus, G.

Literature review: Marcus, G. (2008) Disavowing Craft at the Bauhaus: Hiding the Hand to suggest Machine Manufacture. The Journal of Modern Craft, 1(3), pp. 345-356

This journal article is written by George H. Marcus, Adjunct Assistant Professor of the History of Art at the University of Pensilvania. The article is an analysis of Walter Gropius’ projection of a machine aesthetic, through devices such as misleading or retouched photography, onto objects that had been hand-crafted in the early years of the Bauhaus, as a stratagem for changing the school’s direction.

Marcus begins by discussing the Bauhaus’ roots in craft practice, quoting from Gropius’ founding manifesto of 1919: “Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all return to the crafts!... There is no essential difference between the artist and the craftsman.” The Bauhaus “embraced self-expression and individuality, and honoured the mark of the maker’s hand”; (346) crafts were even thought of as ends in themselves. But by 1923 craft was disavowed, as increasing emphasis was placed on design for industry. Four years after the first manifesto, Gropius wrote that the “Bauhaus does not pretend to be a crafts school. The teaching of craft, is meant to prepare for designing for mass production”. Thus, the nineteenth century craft-based, hand-made aesthetic was replaced with “Bauhaus style”. (347)

Marcus points out that Gropius’ “emphasis on function as the determinant of form” (347) would preclude any notion of ‘style’, but the author proceeds to provide evidence in the form of artefacts that aspire to be something that they are not: hand crafted objects made by members of the Bauhaus (Wilhelm Wagenfeld, Marienne Brandt) that pretend to be machine made. Marcus also looks at how Gropius presented these objects, using misleading photography to play down any evidence of the hand in the work. This doesn't seem to sit too easily with the determinism of ‘form following function’, but introduces another criterion, which might indeed best be described as ‘style’ in the service of institutional strategy. As Marcus concludes: “Gropius simply chose the look that suited his new plans for the Bauhaus. Revealing a craft sensibility at this moment would have subverted the school’s new image of technology as it took its first steps toward establishing the elements of a machine style, even though creating that style depended entirely on the skills of the hand itself.” (355)

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Monday, 12 December 2011

Fiber Art and the Hierarchy of Art and Craft: Auther, E.

Literature review: Auther, E. (2008) Fiber Art and the Hierarchy of Art and Craft, 1960 – 1980. The Journal of Modern Craft, 1(1), pp. 13-34.

In this paper, Elissa Auther, assistant professor at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, discusses the hierarchies of art and craft in the context of fibre art in the US in the 1960's, with reference to Mildred Constantine and Jack Larsen.

The paper charts the efforts of two curators to claim art status for fiber art- (fiber is the US spelling used by Auther). It discusses their strategy of recasting it as high art as flawed on account of reinforcing a constructed and received hierarchy (privileging art over craft), but suggests that Larsen and Constantine had few alternatives, given that their aim was to have the work taken seriously within existing institutions.

The most interesting part of the paper discusses the role of the curator as a gatekeeper of cultural significance, and the implicit essentialism that this model is based on – qualities seen as emanating from within the object that the trained eye can perceive and assess. There is also a useful discussion of the way that 'soft' anti-form sculpture was read as art against almost identical artefacts produced by fiber artists, which the author interprets as evidence of cultural privilege: “The necessity of establishing ones art as art was a handicap that belonged only to the artist working in craft media.”

The article ends with a brief statement of progress, citing first-wave feminist art use of fiber as evidence that fiber art is now more securely in its status as 'fine art'. I feel that this is a little hopeful as the strategies of feminist artists are based on an anticipated reading of fiber's inferior status on the part of their audience. Only in a roundabout way does this constitute progress, in as much as their critique of art may serve to change its practice. 

Excerpt from page 21, a conversation between Constantie, then a curator at MOMA, and its then Director, d'Harnoncourt:

Friday, 5 August 2011

Drawing Projects, an Exploration of the Language of Drawing

Still Life 6
There are three of my drawings, (one pictured here), and a short piece of my writing in a new book, Drawing Projects, an Exploration of the Language of Drawing, by Mick Maslen and Jack Southern. The drawings are from 2007.

According to the publisher, Black Dog, 'Drawing Projects' "is both a practical guide to drawing and an informative insight into the minds of artists who work with the medium. Drawing Projects profiles ten key artists and illustrators revealing their working environments and practices including Dryden Goodwin, Cornelia Parker, Claude Heath, William Kentridge and Keith Tyson. Each artist comments on the value of drawing in their own work, opening up discussions on how we view life, art and the story that is told when the two are combined. Drawing Projects includes 15 projects for the reader to join in and work through at their own pace, including detailed tutorials and instructions on how to draw these images. They also go beyond that to advise on the mental skills required to become a proficient drawer by seeing beyond subjects as recognisable objects, and instead appreciate the abstract form of the world around us. Full of handy tips and useful details, with colour illustrations and photographs to engage the reader throughout, as well as a glossary of technical terms and precise information on drawing materials and techniques; Drawing Projects is a practical guide to drawing and an informative insight into the minds of artists and contemporary practitioners of drawing. As such, Drawing Projects will inspire enthusiasts and beginners alike by bringing this popular medium to life in a relevant, contemporary way."

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


Media:Bronze, Brass, Mild Steel, Rubber
Size:15 x 15 x 10 cm

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Sparks from a Plastic Anvil: Banham, R.

Literature review: Banham, R. (2008) Sparks from a Plastic Anvil: The Craftsman in Technology. The Journal of Modern Craft, (1)1, pp. 137 - 146

Banham was a British architecture academic and professor of the History of Architecture at UCL. He was trained at the Courtauld Institute. Despite being British, he had a love affair with Los Angeles and was largely resident in the states from 1960s until his death in 1988. This text is the transcript of a lecture that he delivered at the V&A, London. It was extemporised from brief notes, which were later revised by Banham. 

The lecture was part of a series marking the inauguration of the Crafts Advisory Committee, later the Crafts Council. Banham's intention was to dismiss the nineteenth century notion that the crafts were ennobling or predominantly pleasure giving. In this respect, he was opposed to Ruskin, and uses David Pye as an ally and for heft.

Banham begins by commenting that “The word 'plastic' for most people, represents everything that has gone wrong with the visual and craft culture in the mid-twentieth century”(137) - the broad thrust of this lecture is a reconsideration of that reaction, tracing the role that the craftsman plays in all aspects of modern manufacture and in relation to modern materials. The most compelling part of the lecture is a consideration of tolerance in machines, and the interchangeability of parts. Tolerance is sloppiness – looseness, and it is this that enables a cog to be replaced with another generic, mass-produced part rather than one that has been individually crafted. This recalls his reflection of his own training in an aeronautical factory in Bristol, in which one of the first tasks of the apprentice was to make a square metal peg to fit into a square metal hole, exactly and without any light showing through. This, he comments, is something that can only be achieved by hand and eye, a process it would be impossible to automate. By contrast with this human precision, machines only work because they are made to loose tolerances. Thus, the common association of machine made with precision is inaccurate – in fact the ultimate arbiter of precision is the dexterous craftsman. 

Banham also discusses the less visible but nevertheless omnipresent role of the craftsman in mass produced goods, or trash; the mass produced object might not bear the hallmark of being hand-crafted, but all machinery requires the ministrations of a craftsman as it gradually rattles, due to its tolerance, literally to pieces. In this way, the skilled craftsman might be more 'available' through the goods available to a consumer today than to the mediaeval peasant who had to make their own necessities or put up with bodged ware.

His film “Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles” (on Vimeo - 1972) rehearses some of the same material – but