This latest body of work is about the relationship between material and idea, which could also be described as the relationship between matter and thought, between the physical and the non-physical, between the hand and the brain.
Concrete has a very strong material presence and I use it to represent the physical world. It can be a malleable substance, almost a liquid, and can be poured or placed in a negative space where it becomes like rock. It takes up physical space and has weight. It can also be layered and built up in a positive way. I use both these methods in my concrete work, transforming material through a creative process – the mind, leading the hand, transforming material. Jacob Bronowski said: “The hand is the cutting edge of the mind.”
In this relationship how could I best represent ideas? If you think about ideas as pure thought, then words are one of the best immaterial ways to represent ideas; a written word, impressed into a solid material, expressing a thought, can be a metaphor for creativity. This could be letters impressed by a typewriter into concrete, or letters made out of concrete.
I was studying the long wing bone (the ulna) of a seagull when another way to represent idea came to me, and that was to express lift, floating or flying, defying gravity. The bone was matter, but strong but light, and enabled the bird to lift off the ground, to become weightless. It was material and it embodied an idea, in the same way that ideas lift material out of the physical world. Thinking about wings and flight, I worked with a detailed image of dragonfly wings to play with this theme. Our perception of concrete is that it is heavy, solid and fixed to the ground. If ideas can transform it, then perhaps it could fly.
The curved shape of the ulna, when joined to the radius bone, reminded me of a mandorla. The mandorla is an almond-like shape that I have been working with for some time – it can be a boat, a leaf, an eye, and symbolically represents (for example, in early Christian belief) the coming together of heaven and earth, because it can be generated by the overlapping of two circles. This is also the yoni, a female symbol, which represents a gateway and a union of opposites. The shape is a way for me to think about creativity by considering its two parts: matter and idea.
Concrete is a real material of the physical world. I can express ideas with words made real in this physical world, or I can suspend concrete in the air, or make objects in the physical world that are linked to bird bones or dragonfly wings, things that have somehow transformed the material or transcended it. I can also photograph concrete, and have that image stand in for the idea of it, because the image has transcended the material itself. And the word “concrete” can be applied to a concrete object, and the label itself can be an idea, can invoke the nature of the material. Or the word concrete could be spoken in a dark room.