Hepworth Prize for Sculpture 2018 Hair with Lover’s Locks, Glass Flutes and a Burning World
Custom incident tape? To verify. Tongue-shaped concrete casts? To verify. Reinforcing bar? Padlocks? Pennies? Peepholes? Crushed books printed in absurd Neanderthal language? Security labels? All present and correct. Yes: it’s Michael Dean, who does his job at Hepworth Wakefield as one of five nominees for this year’s Hepworth Sculpture Award. Dean’s work tends to do best when he has a whole space to himself, like here, in which to create a little Dean world with From or for LOL (2018). This one finds him in amorous apology mode – the incident tape surrounding this room reads ‘sorry’, overlapping stickers like urban debris gush out of a mutilated stream of ‘I love you’. Paired frame hearts are bristling with locks of lovers.
Now in its second edition, the biennial Hepworth Prize, along with the museum that houses it – The Hepworth Wakefield in West Yorkshire – is named in honor of Barbara Hepworth. Awarded to a British or British sculptor at any stage of his career deemed to have made “a significant contribution to the development of contemporary sculpture”, the Prize has the intrinsic characteristic of pitting the old guard against the young cops: the latest edition was won by Helen Marten (born 1985), out of the selection group which included Phyllida Barlow (born 1944). This edition pits the eminent Mona Hatoum (born in 1952) against artists as young as Magali Reus (born in 1981).
Rebar and concrete also appear in the quartet of elegant but deadly works by London-based Palestinian artist Hatoum, which together suggest a world on fire in a conflict over the depletion of natural resources. The rebar holds together Orbital (2018), a rubble-strewn globe evoking both the rubble of conflict and the hastily erected reinforced concrete barricades in conflict zones. Next to it, another sphere – the glowing red world map of Hot spot (Stand) (2018) – and an oily circular ‘pool’ of beads Turbulence (Black) (2018). An old surgical cabinet contains pretty Murano glass shapes which, on closer inspection, turn out to be pomegranates.
In the adjacent London-based gallery, Kuala Lumpur-born Phillip Lai, who has taught at Goldsmiths since 2001, presents three bodies of work playing with ideas of mass production, creativity and value. Stacks of brightly colored polyurethane bowls interwoven with foam rubber sheets and coated with cement might be construction debris, but they were all molded and poured by hand. The guest loves the host in a way like no other (2016) is a long, immaculate brushed steel worktop with shiny indentations and two large vessels resembling oversized Turkish coffeemakers: the formal language is that of high-end catering – maybe we are in the kitchen a chic hotel? – but the forms are mysteriously functionless. On the floor, a pile of clothing fabric (or maybe real clothing) is sandwiched under a panel with a round opening like a giant tissue dispenser: again, language is functional, but function is. -even opaque.
Magali Reus also plays with the language of machines and mass production, with two bodies of work: “Sentinel” borrowing materials and forms from fire-fighting devices, and “Dearest” from scales and clinical devices. The materials, in particular powdered metal and fiberglass, take on a utilitarian and industrial aspect thanks to the choice of a deafening color palette: ivory, beige, army blue. The “Dearest” sculptures are also dandies of sorts – each takes off an oversized fiberglass hat and makes an offering, be it wine, gasoline, or other weirder items. Reus’s production has a sort of otherworldly cleanliness that suggests the absence of any kind of human intervention, but everything is meticulously crafted, from the custom-woven fire hoses to the little ‘matchboxes’ offering special features. ‘start a fire for them to put out.
After all this suggestion of violence, and accents of industrial production and waste, Cerith Wyn Evans Compositions for 37 flutes (in two parts) (2018) is a refreshing piece of ethereal whimsy. Two suspended organ pumps breathe in the surrounding air like translucent life forms (or perhaps medical paraphernalia) then exhale through glass flutes arranged in two stars. Drawing on references such as the Aeolian harp – an instrument played by the wind – and Proust’s description of jets of water passing through a fountain, the work has a dismal creature presence, emitting a noise more similar to a moan than to music.
While all feature new commissions, the exhibits here appear to be familiar territory for the artists in question: a testament in itself to the entirely distinct and individual sculptural languages each has developed. It’s a strong selection: I don’t envy the jury.
“The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture” runs at Hepworth Wakefield until January 20, 2019. The winner will be announced on November 15, 2018.
Mona Hatoum, Hot Spot (stand), 2018, ‘The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture’, Hepworth Wakefield, 2018, installation view. Courtesy of: Hepworth Wakefield; photograph: David Lindsay