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The Relationship to Action An interview with Richard Deacon
Rajesh Punj

"There could be a long discussion about drawing and the relationship between drawing and the work, drawing and hollowing out, and the ways in which the vocabulary of stock materials is used, and finally of a relationship to volume"

In conversation British sculptor Richard Deacon employs language and lexicon as though the buildings blocks for one of his works. Deliberating over the construct of the conversation as though it could well become a physical object pinned together by ideas, and applied to space. From the middelheim museum, Antwerp, where Deacon’s Some Time exhibition has just opened, he explains everything as part of a process, that resulted in the placement of existing pieces and new versions of older works, in a celebration park of sculpture. As he sees materials and language as the elemental skin and bones of his sculptural works, that in-situ make contact with the rest of the world. And whilst enjoying the potential abandon of middelheim’s vast landscape, Deacon also recognised of such circumstancesthe potential failure of placing works outside to do with the intensity of so many natural elements at play.

Recalling how previously “when things went outside the relationship of the skin of the work to the inside was lost, and they became lumps outside. Whereas inside a room you were between one sort of skin and another sort of skin; so that there was something about the fragility or the existence of the skin of the work that became more apparent.” Which as a precursory concern to his middelheim opening demonstrates the real risk and resulting reward involved in negotiating with the enormous intimacy of nature. And of his relationship to the outside Deacon says, “site-specificity can go several ways. Richard Serra has a very hardline approach to it, and he maybe right, he maybe wrong. There are some works of Richard’s that are clearly site-specific, to do with the levels of the ground. But sometimes I am not sure that they are as specific as he claims. And with his Guggenheim works in Bilbao, there is something between the architect and the sculptor that is more antagonist than complimentary.” Which interestingly has us consider that a work, as Deacon’s contemporary sculptor Tony Cragg might also suggest, deserves our undivided attention; without the wonder of the rest of the world.

Part of a generation of long-standing artists from the 1980’s and 1990’s, there is an incredible honesty about how Deacon explains himself that shows itself in his works; as though his choice of materials could be likened to body organs carried by a metal frame. The endeavour to shelf his ideas as objects that hold space, is so utterly engaging for their logic.
And it is by virtue of his evolving explanations of everything that one begins to understand his art as an extension of his own attitude to life as an adventure of the mind.

“The casting process is normally associated with bronze, of which bronze skinned down is the only exemplar of working in that way, both in the show and anything I have ever done; and I have never made any other large-scale bronze cast. But in that case the original cardboard was burnt away in the casting process so one thing was replaced by another. Then there could be a long discussion about drawing and the relationship between drawing and the work, drawing and hollowing out, and the ways in which the vocabulary of stock materials is used, and of a relationship to volume.”

The mexico City born New York based artist Bosco Sodi talks as eloquently, when explaining of process as fundamental to the visual outcome of something. Seeing art as an extension of philosophy, in interview Sodi said “there is a very nice book zen in the Art of Archery which is a very beautiful book that artist (Amedeo) modigliani gave to (Wassily) Kandinsky’s wife, and then Kandinsky’s wife gave to (Antoni) Tàpies. A book about German philosopher Eugen Herrigel, who lives in Japan in the 1920’s, and wants to learn one of the disciplines of zen. The whole book is about how the orient is much more focused on the process, and of the journey over the outcome. Here we are much more looking for the outcome, and we want results very quick.” And in the company of Richard Deacon it is something of Sodi’s appetite for process together with Deacon’s
own interest in the object’s physical appearance that has the British sculptor engage in a kind of biology of objects as art, in which the materials and the mess deliver these inside out sculptures.

Interview

Rajesh Punj: Can you begin by exploring and your explaining the significance of your work being outside?

Richard Deacon: most of the time I have obviously made work outdoors. I have done commissions, and I have made work for group shows etc. But when I thought about it I realised actually I had never made or tried to make a show in a park or landscape style situation. Peter murray at Yorkshire Sculpture Park did talk to me at some point, but I was never particularly interested at the time, or I never thought I could do it. The motivation for doing the (show) here is catapulted by the determination
to reintroduce the work Never mind back into the middelheim collection, and with the means and an idea of how to do it,of how to reprocess the work. And then from Sara (Weyns) saying that if they (middelheim) were going to put that amount of resources into doing this then actually it should have some context by them having a larger show. And of then constructing the exhibition around the basis of ‘A’ what there was there already, and ‘B’ if there was any relationship to the work Never mind. Or of thatprocess of remaking, and of reconsidering a work once it has been made.

In the pavilion Bikini was made a year or some months before Never mind, and I only ever made two works like that. So having Bikini at one end and Never mind at the other end are about spatial separations of works which are closely connected. Also in the pavilion is a work called Body Of Thought whichwas in my show in Antwerp in 1987-88 (the only other single show I have done in Antwerp),which is the earliest work of this show that acts as a connection between that occasion and this. So the collection of mOCA (The museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles) has a significance, and then the narrative gets a bit complicated.

There is a group of small works up on the wall called Some more For The Road, which were actually originally chocolates. They were made for a show at the Ludwig museum in Cologne, entitled Art and Chocolate; and obviously chocolate is not a sculptural material. Well chocolate does stand up, it is subject to insects, and it also tends to go white when it gets older. With the silicon molds we made three different versions, one in a neutral material and two in colours. The chocolates were originally coloured, using quite virulent food dyes. Not quite as strong as the yellow up there but still quite harsh colours never the less. The casting process is normally associated with bronze, of which Bronze Skinis the only exemplar of working in that way, both in the show and anything I have ever done; and I have never made any other largescale bronze cast. But in that case the original cardboard was burnt away in the casting process so one thing was replaced by another. Then there could be a long discussion about drawing and the relationship between drawing and the work, drawing and hollowing out, and the ways in which the vocabulary of stock materials is used, and finally of a relationship to volume.

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