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Exhibition Review: Breaking the Mould at Djanogly Gallery

12 November 21 words: Emilia Turner

Breaking the Mould: Sculpture by Women since 1945 makes its way to Djanogly Gallery, surveying foundational works by artists including Barbara Hepworth, Sarah Lucas, and Mona Hatoum, defiantly attempting to reclaim the place women hold in art history...

Breaking the Mould sets itself out in three distinct sections: ‘Figured’, ‘Found’, and ‘Formed’, each contained in their own individual rooms all the while presenting models of a similar nature to one another. Each room offers the viewer insight into post-war sculptures, while simultaneously celebrating the works of female artists.

The first room, ‘Figured’, holds sculptures which explore the human form and approaches to the body. Works from sculptors such as Kim Lim, Permindar Kaur, and Karin Jonzen are presented here, demonstrating a variety of materials and practices. Moving between freestanding and wall-mounted pieces, Breaking the Mould provides us with an eclectic picture of women’s sculpture. Barbara Hepworth’s Reconstruction (1947), for example, displays a drawing of an operating theatre, the work affixed directly to the wall. This was the first work by a sculptor that the Arts Council Collection invested in, in 1947, when it was created by Hepworth. Artist Margaret Organ, talking about Hepworth’s work, explains that there is “no feeling of tense activity; instead, the viewer is lulled by the delicate tracery of pencil lines”. Although this piece may not be considered the most eye-catching compared to the other, more elaborate sculptures on display, the contrast between the intense subject of surgery and the delicacy of the drawing nonetheless draws you in.

The following section, ‘Found’, contains works which references found objects, either used in production or directly incorporated into the work. Fleeting Monument (1985) by Cornelia Parker immediately grabs one’s attention. Made up of miniature Big Ben models all cast from a single mould, in the centre the models are suspended from the ceiling by a wire; the pieces on the outside lie flat on the floor. Positioned in the middle of the room, each fraction of the sculpture seems as though it points towards the viewer. The circular arrangement of Fleeting Monument brings you back again and again; even as you walk away, you are left feeling drawn towards it.

Breaking the Mould is a refreshing look at works solely by female sculptors, something which has been uncommon over past years due to the sexist ideals surrounding sculpture

Susan Collis’ Untitled (Rawl Plugs) (2007) sits quietly in the wall, unnoticed except by the most perceptive of eyes. When walking around each of the other sculptures, it’s easy to miss Collis’ piece due to how small and subtle it is. Made up of four rawl plugs positioned in the wall, the beauty of this sculpture is that from afar it looks to be just a collection of plugs left behind from something mounted on the wall. However, a closer look will allow you to see that the rawl plugs are actually made of brown goldstone and onyx, glittering in the bright lights of the gallery. Although it appears simplistic, it so easily deceives you, its value hidden by its ordinariness.

The final room, exploring ‘Formed’ sculptures, contains works from those such as Mona Hatoum, Wendy Taylor, and Liliane Lijn. There is a focus on minimalist sculptures incorporating materials such as ceramic, paper, colour and light. We are told that minimalism “has provided a particularly rich source of inspiration for women working in sculpture.” Among the sculptures stands Mona Hatoum’s kinetic + and – (1994). This moving piece formed of wood, metal, and sand features a toothed, motorised metal arm rotating on the sand. The arm creates markings in the sand, which is then erased by the other side of the arm, a constant cycle of making and erasing. This evokes the idea of existence and disappearance, a truly mesmerising sculpture to observe. Another notable piece is Inversion (1970) by Wendy Taylor. This piece creates an element of illusion, as an aluminium column appears to be floating, two large chains draped over it. Taylor appears to be challenging the idea of equilibrium, an exploration of science and its apparent ability to defy gravity.

Breaking the Mould is a refreshing look at works solely by female sculptors, something which has been uncommon over past years due to the sexist ideals surrounding sculpture. Not only is this a chance to experience works held within the Art Council’s vast collection, it’s an opportunity to learn more about post-war British sculpture by women. By celebrating these works by women, hopefully an interest in exploring other typically bypassed or ignored works is galvanised.

Breaking the Mould is currently on view at Djanogly Gallery until Sunday 9 January. The exhibition is free to the public.

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