“Block Work”

6 04 2014

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This work is part of a series of sculptural compositions created from plywood blocks reclaimed from the roof of an Auckland house. I routed out various grooves and channels at random, cut the plywood sheets into pieces, and fixed the pieces in pairs. The result is many thousands of similar but never identical components, providing a huge variety of surface shapes and intervening spaces to work with.

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The meanings of the various objects that have emerged are very much tied up with the nature of the material itself. The process of making them has been about experimenting with notions of space and time, and allowing unexpected patterns to establish themselves as the object’s interaction with the environment becomes unstable.

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I really enjoy the immense repetition and laboriousness of this way of working. I find that I switch off and go into a Zen-like meditative state, which gives me time to think, or rather not think, whilst translating something of myself into the object. In a way it is a form of cathartic release.

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Above all, I love the challenge of creating something beautiful and meaningful out of a material that would otherwise have been discarded as landfill.

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The material at first yielded smaller decorative objects…

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…and then two larger sculptural pieces for exhibition at the university, both of which allowed me to explore the possibilities of the material rather more profoundly.

The first piece I call “The Arrow of Time”.

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It’s about the process of transition between two extremes: order and chaos. The ordered and predictable stack is apparently transformed into complete disorder, as if it had eroded, crumbled or decayed over time.

As humans we believe we ‘experience’ time flowing forwards – from past to future, from order to disorder or, in terms of thermodynamics, from lower to higher entropy; hence the ‘arrow of time,’ which flies in only one direction.

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In fact, the piece tells us nothing about the direction of time. It still makes perfect sense if we invert our interpretation  and observe order being spontaneously created out of chaos, suggesting that time itself can be reversed.

A question: which of the two ends of the process is more random? Remember that each of the bricks possesses its own element of randomness, and there are far more of them per cubic meter packed into the ‘ordered’ end than are in the jumble. Perhaps our immediate perception of order and chaos is reversed. Entropy can be confusing like that; just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, it changes direction.

One must think of objects not as singular but made up of many parts, each of which contains the seeds of destruction or creation of the whole. No two bricks are identical, meaning that even the highly ordered stack encapsulates a high degree of randomness, which is released during its decay, or captured during its assembly.

Whichever way you look at it, the theme of entropy is immensely powerful. It is the creator of life, our world, and the entire universe. It is the destroyer that will eventually bring about collapse, death, and the end of everything.

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The second piece I named “Brahma and Shiva”, after the Hindu gods of creation and destruction.

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At a basic level, the piece evokes the eternal opposites: light and darkness; good and evil; yin and yang; creation and destruction. Like two sides of the same coin, one entity needs the other in order to exist.

The randomness encoded in the component blocks themselves, and the arbitrary process of assembling them, means that the objects cannot be comprehended at a single glance. Every solid plane, every space between, is subtly different to every other. Superficially, the pair appears to consist of a simple inversion but, on closer inspection, each object reveals its own unique DNA.

Because of the high degree of surface detail, and the fact that there is no intrinsic clue to the objects’ scale, they could represent cells viewed through an electron microscope, engaged in spawning new life, or planet-sized science fiction spaceships locked in mortal embrace.

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Seen as a whole, the two opposing forces merge into one, creating a synthesis, a balance, that is the very stuff of existence.

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