The changing ‘class’ (not classification) of sculpture / 1
Sheila Gaffney

What I am going to share with you is an artist’s imaginary 2 – that is, an experience that is sustained in the imagination, a projection, a concept, a hunch that drives my practice. My artist’s imaginary is specific to the subject of cultural classification termed ‘sculpture’. I acknowledge that we are generally familiar with the notion that sculpture has moved into the expanded field 3 but for the purposes of this paper I would like to concentrate somewhere in the middle of that field – the place inhabited by the sculpted object. Using the trope of the ‘artist’s imaginary’ I am presenting to you not a study of class nor any kind of redefinition or addition to the term, but a reading of sculpture as the site of ‘class’ where I use the concept of class as a shorthand for ‘structured inequality’ 4. Using my project ‘Locale’ 5 and my series of objects 6 ‘Interpretations’ 7, I shall look at the way in which an art practice can posit at its very inception8 a reconfigured sculptural form as a response to this 9. I shall describe to you examples of artwork produced as an effect of the idea of sculpture as an ideology 10 of ‘class’.

My artist’s imaginary refers to a personal reading of sculpture which is framed by my specific social situation at my entry point to higher education, that is the point at which I moved from being a consumer / viewer of sculpture to a participant and viewer. At the point where I was concerned to understand ‘the field’ my reading of sculpture was also framed by who I was at that point: female, white working class, child of immigrants, an outsider about to make the cultural move to insider11.
For me there was no easy inheritance or understanding of what sculpture as a twentieth century cultural activity was. Prior to an art school training 12 I had absorbed the convention that sculpture existed to educate, elevate and entertain; I ignored it as a valueless relic, a ‘dead elephant’ (that is very large and weighty) something that was a souvenir art: memorialising and allegorising in the public, popular sense. In my experience at that time I saw it as an extension of some ambiguous, authoritative presence. I held an instinct-based suspicion of an art form that to me barely differentiated between material things and itself. In short ‘sculpture’ lay outside of my experience. As we know education enables you to see things differently. I recognised that sculpture in the late twentieth century was a challenged and changing field and I saw scope to work within it. But becoming a sculptor required learning about this field.

As I studied sculpture and stood in front of celebrated examples 13 I found I had no vocabulary for the registration I made, that is the registration which I am identifying here as my imaginary. I perceived when looking at generally floor based object based freestanding sculpture (but not exclusively - also plinth based) that these works, through the mediation of the forms that they took, the materials they were made from 14, the ideals they espoused coerced me into a position for an engagement that was submissive in order to view them. The implicit message was know thy place.

I recognise that my examples are ‘local’, that is British. As evidenced in my notes I was not exploring the Europeans and Americans in this context. I suspect this is because as a student in London at that time, my exposure to British works will have been frequent and easy. It is also possibly a condition local to our island art 15.

What I saw as common to this form was the coercion to take up a positioned reading, one in which the artwork dictates to the viewer “look at, look up to, listen, absorb and learn from”, enforcing a didactic relationship with the viewer rather than a discourse. This was not the sort of sculptor I wanted to be.
Neither are these qualities located safely in the historic past. I have also experienced this positioning when looking at works recently 16.

I am not identifying works for a judgement of good or bad, or as a definition of sculpture or not-sculpture. That is of no concern here. It is to share with you a personal and positioned response as a starting place in an artist’s practice and to illustrate the reading of class central to it. I am describing decisions that have driven my developments as an artist working within sculpture as a result of this projection. My idea is that the space of sculpture is a place where ways in which class is thought, assumed, known and challenged can be explored. The exhibitionary project “Footnotes” announces this idea.

“Locale” was conceived as a work where the viewer would feel that they had ownership in the work. It was composed of casts of hands which were autobiographical and I saw the process of self-identification as an important inter-active aspect of the final work. Searching was important in the rejection of a reading which would fix the position of the viewer. The work was composed in a way that scanning and a close visual search would take place thus reducing the didactic space of the spectacle. The “Interpretations” are constructions in which I have prioritized the notion of feeling over thought and embodied materiality over objectified form. I have attempted to present an embodied subjectivity 17 as a rejection of allegory.

In my art practice I aim to make a place of questioning not a place of assertion – you will not find me telling you through the work what to think or where to be. The decisions I make are to invite the viewer to join the questioning which makes up the work. As an artist I articulate my ‘theory’ constantly through demonstration and what you see is a moment of plastic demonstration of my ideas. Through the work I move towards a clearer articulation of such. Although I have looked for a long time to vocalize this concern I have covertly positioned it within my practice amidst the constructed layers of other readings. At different times, different issues such as feminism, museology, participatory practice, and commodity have been privileged as the driving force of my projects.
Changing the class in sculpture is an indicative impulse in my practice as a sculptor.
This paper represents an attempt to locate a consequence of a class ideology at work and show its influence.

1 A longer version of this paper was delivered at the AHRB CongressCATH2002: Translating Class, Altering Hospitality at Leeds Town Hall, June 21 –23 2002
2 In this instance I would refer to Benedict Anderson’s use of the term rather than Jacques Lacan
3 Krauss, Rosalind, Sculpture in the Expanded Field in Foster, Hal, ed. Postmodern Culture, (Port Townsend, Bay Press,1983)
4 Andermahr, Lovell and Wolkowitz, A Glossary of Feminist Theory, (London, Arnold, 2000)
5 Locale, 27 September to 29 October 1999, Gallery II, University of Bradford
6 I heard the wallpaper in my skin , wax, fabric, glass beads; Michaels, Anne, Fugitive Pieces, (Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1996); Roberts, J.M., The Penguin History of the World, (London, Penguin, 1995); Steedman, C. Landscape For A Good Woman (London, Virago, 1986)

7 Steedman, C. Landscape For A Good Woman (London, Virago, 1986). Steedman refers to ‘interpretations’ as “the places where we rework what had already happened to give current events meaning” p.5..
8 Altering the ‘relations of production’, (a concept of Marxist social theory), is central in the realisation of these works. A discussion around this took place with Terry Atkinson in my Dean Clough studio [12th March 2002].
9 Footnotes, 2002, wax, fabric, wood veneer; Mautner, Thomas, The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy, (London, Penguin, 2000); Abercrombie, Hill, Turner, The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology, fourth edition, (London, Penguin 2000); Bunty For Girls, D.C. Thompson & Co., Ltd., London : Glasgow : Manchester : Dundee, n.d.); Cunnington, C.W. and Cunnington, P. The History of Underclothes. Faber,1981, London; Foster, Hal, The Return of the Real, (USA, MIT Press, 1996); Andermahr, Lovell and Wolkowitz, A Glossary of Feminist Theory, (London, Arnold, 2000); Bunty For Girls 1974, Thompson, Dundee and London; Mandy: Stories For Girls 1972,Printed and Published by D.C. Thompson & Co., Ltd., Dundee and London.

10 Ideology and ‘Young British Art’:
Andermahr, Lovell and Wolkowitz, A Glossary of Feminist Theory, (London, Arnold, 2000)
Buck, Louisa, Moving Targets: a user’s guide to British Art now, (London, Tate, 1997)
Burgin, Victor, The End of Art Theory, criticism and postmodernity, (London, Macmillan, 1986)
Eagleton, Terry, Ideology (England, Longman, 1994)
Foster, Hal, The Return of the Real, (Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1996)
Hall and Gieben, Formations of Modernity, (Cambridge, Polity Press, 1992)
Harrison and Wood, eds: Art in Theory 1900-1990: an anthology of changing ideas, (Oxford, Blackwell, 1992)
Kent, Sarah, British Art – The Saatchi Decade, (London, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1999)
Kent, Sarah, Shark Infested Waters, (London, Zwemmer, 1994)
Nelson and Schiff, eds. Critical Terms for Art History, (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1996)
McCorquedale, Siderfin, Stallabrass, eds. Occupational Hazard: Critical Perspectives on Recent British Art, (London, Black Dog Publishing, 1998)
Renton and Gillick, eds. Technique Anglaise, (London , Thames and Hudson, 1991)
Royal Academy of Arts, Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection, (London, Royal Academy of Arts /Thames and Hudson, 1997)
Stallabrass, Julian, High Art Lite, British Art in the 1990s, (London,Verso, 1999)
Saatchi Gallery Dick Price, The New Neurotic Realism, (London, The Saatchi Gallery, 1998)
Williams, Raymond, Keywords: a vocabulary of culture and society, (London, Fontana, 1976)
Zizek, Slavoj, ed. Mapping Ideology, (London, Verso, 1994)

Bickers, Patricia, ‘Sense and Sensation (Charles Saatchi as example of when art collecting and commerce become entwined)’, Art Monthly, no.211, Nov.1997, pp.1-6
Ford, Simon, ‘Myth Making (the phenomenon of the Young British Artist)’, Art Monthly, no.194, Mar.1996, pp.3-9, [delete p.5?]
Gaywood, James, ‘yBa’ as Critique: the socio-political inferences of the mediated identity of recent British art’, Third Text 40, Autumn 1997, pp.3-12
Kuhn, Nicola, ‘You can puff all you like Damien, but the winds gone out of Britart’, The Guardian, 16 Mar 1999
Mercer, Kobena, ‘Ethnicity and internationality: New British Art and diaspora-based blackness’ Third Text 49, winter 1999/2000, pp.51-61
Roberts, John, Mad for it! Philistinism, the Everyday and the New British Art, Third Text 35, summer 1996, p.34
Rugoff, Ralph, Yours Sincerely, Frieze, issue 42, Sept / Oct 1998, p.64
Saatchi, Maurice, ‘Advertising is key to company survival’, The Times, 13 Feb 2002, p.32
Siderfin, Naomi, The title gives nothing away’, Make, the Magazine of Women’s Art, no.78, (Dec 1997/Feb 1998), pp.24
Stallabrass, Julian, ‘High art Lite at the Royal Academy (Sensation exhibition and 1990s British Art)’, Third Text 42, spring1998, pp. 79-84
11 Bal, Mieke, ‘Reading Art?’ in Pollock, Griselda, ed. Generations and Geographies in the visual arts: feminist readings, (London, Routledge, 1996)
12 Atkinson, Terry, The Avant-Garde Model of the Artistic Subject – A Limit?, seminar programme, University of Leeds 2002
13 A Silver Jubilee Exhibition of Contemporary British Sculpture 1977 [catalogue of an exhibition held at Battersea Park], (London, Greater London Council, 1977)
Phillip King [catalogue of an exhibition held at the Hayward Gallery], (London, Arts Council of England, 1981)
The Condition of Sculpture: a selection of recent sculpture by younger British and foreign artists [catalogue of an exhibition held at the Hayward Gallery], (London, Arts Council of England, 1975)
14 Slides from HMI : Caro 24hours 1959-60; Caro Deep North 1969-70, King Ghenghis Khan 1963, King Through1965, King Nile 1967
15 Gravity and Grace : the changing condition of sculpture 1965 – 1975, Hayward Gallery, London, 21 January – 14 March 1993, The South Bank Centre
16 When looking at Anthony Gormley’s “Angel of the North” 1998 and confronted by the overpowering frontality within the giantism of the piece I experience again the ‘look at’, ‘look up to’ etc., the positioning of the viewer to which I refer earlier. HMI slides a,b,c,d.On viewing Marc Quinn’s “Beauty” 2000-02 –a polished stainless steel box containing a life cast in ice of a contemporary icon, Kate Moss. She has been cast wearing a cloak with regal associations, something a monarch might be wearing at a state function. The ice figure is placed at some height within the overall work forcing the viewer to look up, to be small and their place is structured. The tough, impenetrable highly polished stainless steel container which is part of the sculpture reflects back the viewers own image and reinforces the hierarchy of supermodel and celebrity status over the ordinary joe. HMI slides a, b, c
17 Betterton, Rosemary, An Intimate Distance: Women, Artists and the Body, (London, Routledge, 1996), p.3

Exhibition Essays