Artists in Quarantine No.6
A second wave of infections, more quarantines, lockdowns, as the invisible virus searches for new hosts. Uncertainty about what the future has in store. When will we meet friends and family again?
Sculptor and multi-media artist Caroline Pick’s recent evolution can be seen as a metaphor for this moment of collective uncertainty. She is a many-sided personality who embraces a wealth of media, modes, disciplines and genres.
Only too aware of the toll which the pandemic was taking on people’s lives, being isolated allowed her to refocus. Her old rhythm of planning for the next show was put on pause. Surprisingly, it became a new kind of motivation: “It gave me the chance to do anything I felt like. It freed me into playing, an experience I’d never had before.
“It meant I didn’t have to give in to fear,” she says. And there was also a political dimension: “Governments instill fear as part of their control, and we need to be wise to that.” Rather than giving in to doom and gloom, she has grasped the time to give herself new challenges.
“Covid gives us a chance to remake the world in another, sustainable way: in short, local not global, with less mindless busyness, less exploitative underpaid work, less consumption, less tourism, and with more connection with nature. We need the political will in governments worldwide to make economic and other changes.”
Released from the clutter of “normality”, for perhaps the first time, she could capture feelings of joy. A sense of liberation is clear in her latest creations, amorphous blobs that creep around her studio floor like fluffy amoebas.
“Having worked only with three dimensional forms, I’d never used colour before. I’ve never painted in my life or dared to even think of it. I could relax. No one was going to see it!’
So she did something new, without inhibitions or pre-conceptions, moving between sculpture and painting. She doodled lines, separating forms from colour, making free-floating squiggles and meandering spatters.
“There are so many ways to express what you are trying to say. I explore the limitations of materials until I can’t go any further. There is an interaction with what material allows you to make. With latex, for example, you have to work fast.”
Under lockdown Caroline’s experimental process involved making shapes with Hollowfill (a substance used to fill cheap pillows, duvets and stuffed toys.) It has been a daring leap into the unknown which could lead anywhere.
The strongest continuity with her earlier work was the search for ways to express emotion and a particular sense of substance. You experience the texture and weight of each material: stone, plastic, Modroc plaster bandaging, Latex, paper.
‘Dumb’ solidity becomes a means to capture transience, a search for what might be between things, the unseen, the liminal, the cracks in nature and the cracks and seemingly empty spaces within our own lives.
Caroline seems to picks up Rachel Whiteread’s well-known technique of revealing the “negative” of everyday objects by making life-size moulds. But unlike Whiteread, whose subject was empty, abandoned spaces, and mass-produced objects in which the human presence is muted and largely implied, Caroline’s are more direct, becoming intimate vehicles for emotion.
For her MA degree show in 2017 she made The Impossible Bed, casts of eight sections of bed sheets at different moments in time, reflecting different states of emotion and calmness. Photographed on the verdant rolling hills of the Sussex downs, it became a thing of magic, not imposed on the landscape but somehow a part of it.
It seems so relevant now, at a time of growing insomnia, where our beds hold a shifting record of our restless minds. There’s a strange beauty in the folds and wrinkles – the imprint of a living body. Fleeting moments are captured in plaster, not modeled in the sense of a Rodin human figure, but equally sensitive to the feeling of skin and movement.
Caroline’s digital projection of cracks in glacial ice were part of that same installation and have a parallel feeling: abstract bifurcations, deep corrugations, rugged valleys and peaks. Made during an artists’ residency in Svalbard in the Norwegian arctic, they convey a powerful experience of nature as a place of emptiness and stillness.
The creases in the bed sheets and arctic ice speak to us at an unconscious level as though connecting with our neural pathways. It’s a visualisation of Shakespeare’s words “wrinkled deep in time”.
“I want to make materials tell an emotional story,” she explains. On the other hand, she says, “Nature is itself. You can’t emulate it.” And this new, close attention to natural process has been shared by countless others over recent months: deprived of our old social contacts, the importance of being out in nature, watching plants changing and growing has changed our routines.
Caroline’s professional life began with film making and commissioning. She had only just completed Home Movie in February when the Covid-19 pandemic began. It’s a disturbing and incredibly moving film in which she discovers the secret history of her mother’s life-story behind happy footage. It’s about an ideal image and the real, terrible stories which may hide behind a facade of happiness.
A seven-year project full of emotion and even guilt, it was only when she completed the film that she realised what a huge space it had occupied in her life. She could now free herself of a burden of responsibility and have a sense of peace.
Health warning: this episode in Artists in Quarantine concludes with a bit of philosophy.
Baruch Spinoza once asserted “all determination is negation”. “Determining” things –identifying, defining and shaping things and processes – means that material things change from what they were at first. It’s in the very nature of things to form themselves and it’s in our human nature to grasp and re-shape them, thereby also making something new.
As we think actively and act consciously, we can trace and track how things are transformed and we along with them. We can feel the very emotions and sensations of others. No, it’s not true that our senses separate us from the world. We constantly connect with it. When we do this through the practice of others, we see the world differently, and anew. That’s not magic, it’s art.
This might just be the best way to understand how the world is shaped and how we shape it. It can also help us explore Caroline Pick’s artistic evolution and what she has to say to us.
Home movie link: https://vimeo.com/389555341 password: goodfilm2020
Artists in Quarantine series
- Michele del Campo: A silver lining for a scary time
- Frances Aviva Blane: Virus – dimensions unknown
- Peter Clossick: Mind games under lockdown
- David Downes: The Covids are coming
- Richard Walker: The chess piece logic of Cuckooland
- Caroline Pick: A sense of liberation
- Julie Held: Aching
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