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Installation at CHELSEA Space in 2009 with sculpture by Brian Wall

 

 

"It's possible that, by adding shapes to intentionally empty spaces, Wilsher is smoothing away some of these sculptures' jarring, awkward boldness. But mostly his small-scale interpretations are an inventive way of coaxing these oft-maligned lumps of steel and concrete to share their secrets."

Metro September 2008



Jon Wood: What is it about this kind of sculpture - when reproduced in magazines of the time - that interests you today?

MW: The big construction boom in the 60s created many new urban plazas and anonymous public spaces, and it coincided with the emergence of a type of large scale, metal sculpture that could be used to create an instant identity for a place. They have a bad reputation these days but you can see why it happened, they were weatherproof, hardwearing, highly visible, modern-looking and fairly inoffensive. My intention was to go back and re-examine what I considered to be a rather bland genre to see if I could understand where those artists were coming from.
One other aspect was the idea that this generation was pretty much the last that was able to get away with a purely formal composition. I went through art school in the 90s and the dogma was that formalism was essentially just meaningless decoration. Conceptual art was the root of everything and certainly the starting point for most of the art I personally enjoy. So I was intrigued by the idea that these guys felt able to just "compose" a form without any angst about it, and I wanted to know what that felt like.

With this project I developed a real respect for this mostly forgotten generation of sculptors, who by various accidents of history and fashion found themselves suddenly superfluous to the orthodox narrative of British art history. Meeting Peter Hide really brought home to me the fact that these were real people we are talking about, who have dedicated their whole lives to art, often with considerable success at the time. And yet now all that comes down to a few pamphlets or sheets of sketches in the archive. I was really struck by the fragility of that knowledge and I see part of what I am doing both with the images and the texts as a kind of archaeological restoration that I hope will get people to look again at this period.


JW:  Do you see your project, pointedly entitled 'Unfinished Business', as part of broader contemporary interest returning to modernist sculpture, cutting through the stereotype and reinvestigating its meaning and potential through a more imaginative and sympathetic re-reading of its life as image and text?

MW: The problem was that this particular set of 'sculptural' concerns was simply absorbed into a larger set of post-medium issues. They were outflanked and made to look parochial.  I think, and this is often borne out by conversations with students, that we have had to re-learn what Modernism was and what it stands for because we have had no real experience of it in our lives. Anyone who grew up through the 1980s or later grew up in a totally post-modern environment in terms of culture, consumer products, politics and so on. It doesn't seem particularly strange or radical to us because it's all we know. There is therefore quite an attraction to idealistic qualities like abstraction and formalism, as well as simple curiosity. I mean the title 'Unfinished Business' to be equivocal. It's actually a quote from David Evison, who is saying that modernist sculpture still has a lot of formal questions to work out, but obviously there's a slightly confrontational element to it as well. I thought it summed up my position neatly.