Skip to content

Catalogue Text – Anna Spearman, ‘Loose Parts’, Roscommon Arts Centre (Writer-in-Residence) May 2021.

May 23, 2021

Loose Parts – A Response to Anna Spearman’s Solo Exhibition at Roscommon Art Centre

If we were to observe the secret lives of art objects, we would find that they oscillate at different frequencies, depending on their environment. In the studio setting, sculptures are playfully coaxed into form, through fluid processes of material accumulation and subtraction, testing and reworking.  Preceding both narrative and the imposition of meaning, these provisional forms come into being through loops of energetic feedback, according to the experimental impulses and urgencies of their maker. Conversely, in the more formal context of a gallery or museum, art objects tend to accrue a more solidified and fixed status, by nature of their public display. Here, artifacts are classified, arranged and presented according to the institution’s ontology, which serves to shape our understandings and interpretations of the objects on view.

It is this ambiguous space between loose and fixed – between maquette and venerated art object – that artist Anna Spearman seeks to occupy. Indeed, much of her recent work demonstrates her unwillingness to relinquish the momentum and energy of the studio during the transition to public presentation. Rather, Spearman often carries her studio with her, when installing an exhibition – both literally, with regard to the tools and materials that she brings to the space, and conceptually, in terms of her enduring curiosity and willingness to experiment.

To this end, many of her artworks have a strong site-responsive element, coming to life in the arena of the gallery – a liberating yet nerve-wracking methodology that has yielded some remarkable interventions to date. Architectural features like mantelpieces and window ledges have previously been harnessed to function as temporary ‘resting places’ for her seemingly furtive sculptures. Playfully subverting the traditional language of sculptural presentation, Spearman regularly fashions makeshift plinths from ad-hoc plywood structures, ramshackle ladders or fabric-covered angular supports, upon which billowing textile sculptures are draped like amorphous appendages.

In an effort to retain the urgency of the making process, many of Spearman’s sculptural forms are endearingly imperfect: unrefined wooden structures are assembled from offcuts; frayed seams are stitched and taped, suggesting an ongoing state of repair; while lumpen forms, teetering on unstable props, are tightly bound with bandages, as if to fend against existential collapse. Rooted in feminine craft traditions and charactersied by an ethos of improvisation and resourcefulness she observed in childhood, this make-do-and-mend sensibility hinges on the physical act of creating, which the artist finds infinitely soothing.  

Though extremely accomplished in many traditional sculptural processes and materials – such as casting in plaster, porcelain or wax – Spearman tends to use an assortment of readily available, domestic or industrial materials, from felt, foil and glazed ceramic, to leatherette, electrical tape and plywood. Like many contemporary artists, she seems to subvert notions of material permanence – perceived as a key obligation of the museum, in preserving collections from decay – by using materials not intended to last. Unlike bronze or marble, which remain intact for hundreds of years, many of Spearman’s materials are non-durable, producing transient objects with a lifecycle that may include degradation. It’s as if Spearman’s sculptures temporarily assume one particular form on the way to becoming another.

Equally as significant as the materials used is their unexpected juxtapositions – the result of continuous, speculative assemblage which conjures tactile interactions between hard and soft, luminous and dull, reflective and opaque, until something instinctive is sparked by particular pairings. Among new artworks for Spearman’s solo exhibition at Roscommon Art Centre (29 June – 30 July 2021), frothy pink fur is tenderly enfolded with pleated metallic lurex; rectangular wooden props are taped at the corners and entwined by smooth serpentine coils; while iridescent forms appear to reflect all the world’s colours in their mercurial surfaces. Crucially, such material scrutiny arises from intently observing objects – through collecting, handling, placing and arranging them. Spearman’s studio has become a testing ground for such preoccupations; a place for stitching, cutting, collaging and attaching things together, to see if they will hold.

It’s also worth noting that Spearman’s artworks are rarely given individual titles, since naming suggests a finished and definite thing, to be isolated for singular contemplation, rather than encountered as constituents of a whole. Within the broader installation at RAC, these ambiguous objects exist as interchangeable ‘loose parts’ – a term coined in 1972 by British architect Simon Nicholson (son of artists Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth) to denote the idea that the cultural participation of young children comes from playing with open-ended, flexible materials that can be transformed in different ways. Many of Spearman’s sculptures embody this sense of playfulness, inviting human interaction through the incorporation of implied handles, wheels, steps or seating, thus suggesting an action that the viewer might undertake. In this way, the exhibition-making process becomes a form of world-building, creating a place in which to daydream – a space for magical thinking, where sculptural props and totems become abstract signifiers. 

Even though there are few traces of the human form in Spearman’s sculptures, they do retain an intense sense of the figurative, not only in their use of familiar, everyday materials, but in terms of scale, which fluctuates from hand-sized trinkets to objects as large as domestic furniture. Indeed, one might argue that perhaps all sculpture relates to the figure in some way, since our bodies must always navigate the three-dimensional space around it – a performative act which unfolds over time. Marking a unique juncture in history, Spearman’s exhibition at RAC offers a welcome reprieve from gallery closures and remote engagement with online exhibitions – something the contemporary art world has grown accustomed to during the coronavirus pandemic. Now that viewers can once again be physically present, we are seduced by sculpture’s glorious tactility and by the sense of connection, no matter how fleeting, that can be activated by encounters with art.

[Featured Image: Anna Spearman, ‘Loose Parts’, installation view, Roscommon Arts Centre; photograph by Dickon Whitehead, courtesy the artist and Roscommon Arts Centre]

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: