"Material is Everything"
with Tony Cragg
Photo: Hugo Glendinning,
© Tony Cragg
is the title of the nearly five-meter-high sculpture - two silvery spirals of
stainless steel winding up into the air. At the same time, the forms are
reminiscent of human faces. For Tony
Cragg, Constant Change sets the tone. The sculptor, born in
1949 in Liverpool and resident of Wuppertal since 1977, can't be reduced
to a single style or material. Along with bronze, stone, and plaster, he's
worked with modern plastics such as Fiberglas and Kevlar, the fiber that
bulletproof vests are made of. In an environment increasingly influenced
by human beings, Cragg sets out to clarify the aesthetic obligation that
arises from working with a given material.
artist became internationally known in the late '70s with his assemblages
of civilizational garbage, such as colorful plastic bottles. Since the
'90s, he has been making perforated bronze objects and biomorphic forms on
the floor. For the Briton, who worked for two years in a chemical
laboratory prior to his art studies, an intense investigation into
scientific discoveries has always played a key role in his work. This also
applies to his monumental sculpture Secretions (1998) from the
Deutsche Bank Collection, which occupies a prominent position in the foyer
Winchester House, the bank's London headquarters. Thousands of white
plastic dice are assembled together like molecules to create organic
forms. Their glimmering surfaces look as though they were in a constant
state of transformation.
Now, the Turner
prizewinner and repeated participant in
documenta has bought a villa in Wuppertal and is planning a sculpture park
for its spacious garden. After a large one-person exhibition at the
Akademie der Künste in Berlin and at the
Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg, his current gallery show at
Marian Goodman in New York is opening on May 3. Brigitte Werneburg visited
Tony Cragg in his Wuppertal studio.
Photo: Niels Schabrod, ©
Art objects count among the thousands of things manufactured every day. Do we
still notice paintings, videos, photographs, sculptural installations, and
sculptures? Or are they seen as ordinary products of an increasingly
Tony Cragg: In
terms of human activities, I think that making art is still extremely
rare. Maybe that explains why it's so strange that it should carry a
price. Basically, art's net product isn't such a big deal. Art is never
mass production; it's about the artist's individual investigation into
self-imposed questions. You can't compare painting a picture to
manufacturing plastic bottles.
Grey Container, 1983
Photo: Franco Toselli & Co., © Tony Cragg
What does that mean for you as a sculptor?
Well, take the average street, as far as that actually exists: cars,
buses, trucks - and then there's the tarred surfaces and the curbs, the
telephone booths, streetlights, advertisements, and signs that are the
same everywhere. Altogether, they constitute an everyday reality whose
form is the expression of an economic rationalism based on purpose. The
easiest and most economical solutions have the best chances of survival,
if you take the
Darwinian view of the everyday world of things. Sculpture, which is
eminently useless, demonstrates that it's not about this. Rationalism
based on purpose leads to a poverty of forms, whereas sculptors have to
make these possibilities clear.
George and the Dragon, 1988
But other sculptors represent
existing things in their works. Why do your sculptures have to incorporate
forms that have only entered the world thanks to Tony Cragg?
Until the end of the 19th century, sculpture was exclusively representative.
It was only thanks to the work of other sculptors and artists over the
past 100 years that other possibilities were discovered besides the
figurative sculpture created in traditional materials such as stone and
metal. That's why sculpture was ultimately thought of as a form of
"thinking with material." If you take this attitude seriously, then you
don't only have to think about the figure or about things that already
exist. At some point you think about things that don't yet exist. That
begins in any case with Rodin.
Art seized the chance to create a completely new language and completely
new formal experiences.
Line of Thought, 2002
Schabrod, © Tony Cragg