Alexandra Bircken’s Mammal, was a site–specific sculptural work, directly responding to the gallery’s distinctive architecture, where Bircken reimagined the vaulted ceiling as a cavernous, upturned ship’s hull. Working with master boat builders to replicate shipbuilding methods, the artist constructed three imposing bowed beams carved from a single oak tree, echoing the arches of the ceiling.
Traversing the gallery space, the beams intersected with the existing architecture to create a spiral - a deceptively simple gesture that wholly capsizes the architecture of the gallery. Concise and austere, Mammal is equally suggestive of organic, bone–like structures, producing a material landscape which recalls a vast carcass.
Bircken’s use of materials is often broadly discussed in terms of its relationship to craft. However, in this new work the artist’s affinity for the handmade is tempered by the large–scale, engineered formation of these structures. Confronting these competing tendencies, repetition and uniformity give way to the haptic qualities of the oak. Traces of the hand, from careful repairs, knots and voids to pencil annotations and surface abrasions, cumulatively record both physical labour and the biography of the object.
Mammal extends from Bircken’s first solo presentation at Studio Voltaire (2011), in which one large scale mirrored floor work correspondingly produced a formal and physical reflection of the gallery’s ceiling. Bircken has frequently made use of mirrors and mirroring as a central strategy and this new commission continues the artist’s meditation on sculptural space, constructing a new and unexpected architecture.
Lead Supporters: Emma & Frederick Goltz and Valeria & Gregorio Napoleone.
Supporters: Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen and Henry Moore Foundation.
With additional support from Herald St, London.
Special thanks to Mike Tupper and the International Boatbuilding Training College, Lowestoft.