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Become an Object: Interview with Martin Holman + Jonathan Michael Ray

Exhibition information: Become an Object – introducing the exhibition | DRIFT Journal – Become an Object (Guide) | Upper Gallery Floorplan | Lower Gallery Floorplan

Become an Object is an exhibition of four emerging artists, Will Cruickshank, Jemma Egan, Jesse Pollock and Jonathan Michael Ray, brought together at Tremenheere Gallery to display sculpture born from surprising combinations of material and process with unexpected outcomes. We caught up with curators Martin Holman and Jonathan Michael-Ray:

What inspired this exhibition? 

MH: Jonathan and I feel that both galleries are particularly suited to showing sculpture. That opportunity is not always taken in the annual programme of exhibitions. West Cornwall is closely associated with the art form: Barbara Hepworth remains one of the most significant post-war sculptors. Surprisingly few shows of new sculpture take place indoors at this region’s public art venues. So, we wanted to explore the present state of sculpture through a handful of exciting, emergent voices on the contemporary scene. After all, the practices and materials of artists making objects are so prominent and often discussed in the wider art world at present. 

Please tell us a bit about the exhibition

MH: An exhibition need not just be about showing artworks. In my opinion, there’s much more. It involves relating artists and their work and to other artists’ work within a specific environment – its dimensions, light and so on. The whole space is the artwork: the visitor become part of that experience at the moment of crossing the threshold. An exhibition focuses on that encounter between the artist (although absent), the artwork (the go-between) and the viewer (who adds her and his own thoughts to the presence of each piece). That is when the “language” of art gets spoken and interpreted, shuffled and raised between levels of response, ideas and impressions. 

This show is called ‘Become an Object’, a phrase borrowed from Barbara Hepworth, who wrote: ‘From the sculptor’s point of view one can either become the spectator of the object or the object itself. For a few years I became the object.’ Her words, full as they are with the insight she acquired through a long working life, emphasise the role that mental perspective plays in exploring an artwork. We can view it objectively, from the inside, or think our way into the material and formal properties of the piece itself. It reminds us that there is never just one way and that our relationship with the outside word is flexible and often changes. 

Jesse Pollock, for example, assumes such an interesting perspective on the world his art populates and which we live in every day. His skulls and skeletons might at first appear ghoulish; perhaps they voice an warning. But stay a. while with them, their shiny surfaces, and our ideas begin to alter. Jesse thinks deeply about our attitudes and is uneasy about solutions or reactions to events that are based upon rather romantic notions of past glories. So there is symbolism in the shapes he makes. Above all, he accepts the inevitability of uncertainty. A lot of people yearn for clear and Jesse feels that’s impossible today. 

Jemma Egan is also interested in people’s behaviours – such as the way we attach ourselves to inanimate objects in our surroundings, attributing personalities to them, building up a relationship. That comes through in the forms her works take. They are also about taking that perspective for a walk: we approach the ridiculous, but in a tender way. She also seeks the spectacular in the everyday and makes that a subject for art.

Can you tell us about the types of work we can expect to see in the show?

MH: Immediately apparent is the range of material properties and qualities on show. These vary from metal to stone, thread to glass; synthetic to organic; spun to cast in a kiln; modelled by hand to being formed by machine. And then some are soft while others are hard; some coloured and others quite monotone. There are light and heavy; small and large; floor-based and free hanging; figurative and abstract; straight-edged and (on purpose) wonky. And that’s just the start of the list.

How do you feel the work resonates with Tremenheere?

We hope visitors will perceive direct connections between the work they see in the galleries and the open-air installations in the gardens. There is a dialogue between them, in terms of materials, scale, their physicality and approachableness. There are also differences – the main one is that in Become an Object, the work is inside. That detail means there are other textures and materials involved, most noticeably Will Cruickshank’s use of spun yarn. Another contrast is that sculpture can be both freestanding and attached to surfaces – to walls, the ceiling – and curled round architecture. 

Jonathan, is there a link between this exhibition and ‘Lith’ already in the gardens? 

JMR: Included in the show is a new work titled Portal – made from engraved and gilded blocks of Cornish Slate, stainless steel and wool felt. Portal is visually similar in some ways and different in many, and there is definitely a continuation of the ideas and themes behind Lith. With this new work, I’m still thinking about standing stones and holy sites but further considering parallels between ancient and contemporary civilisation.

This is a great collaboration. How did you decide to bring these artists together?

MH: We are working with four artists who are beginning to attract critical attention to their work – from other artists and from people who want to show it, buy it and write about it. That’s a thrilling and anxious moment in any creative person’s career. It means the future brings fresh opportunities. We are delighted to be part of that. 

What do the artists involved in the show have in common, and what do they do differently? 

MH: A striking feature, and one that Jonathan and I were looking to illustrate, is the relationship between the artists and the potentialities of the materials they use. Materials have tolerances and tendencies of their own. Artists have to learn about these idiosyncrasies and to work with them. 

A sculptor cannot simply impose her or his will on the substances chosen for making. What is fascinating, I believe, is that at the outset outcomes – what the object will look like – cannot always be predicted. The material might want to go in another direction. 

For instance, Jonathan says that the different stones he works with have different personalities and compositions. He uses a material that has been constructed by natural forces over millennia. They have features of their own – like colour, texture, fossils – that help determine the forms the sculpture assumes.

You can view and purchase the artworks online.

Tremenheere Gallery will be open Tuesday – Saturday, 11am – 4pm, for the duration of this exhibition (also open both May bank holiday Mondays – 6th and 27th). Entry to Tremenheere Gallery is FREE. 

Supported by the Henry Moore Foundation.