The series of installations that became known as Conurbation began life, as most things do, on my studio floor.
I had amassed several sacks full of assorted plastic junk picked up during my daily commute across Norwich, and felt it was high-time that I sorted through them all.
Early on, it was quite evident that the majority of pieces were black, so I laid these out separately on the light grey floor and was immediately intrigued by the pattern this created.
When I first took this idea out of the studio, it was to be part of a local exhibition entitled Convergence in the spring of 2014. I’d managed to gather many more black pieces by then as, I guess, I was specifically looking for them.
At this time, I wasn’t thinking much further than simply generating an interesting pattern or drawing on the gallery floor. I did notice, however, that quite a few people did tend to linger around the work, pointing out various individual pieces that they seemed to recognise, or not, as the case may be.
During summer of that year, I had chance to exhibit at the Norwich Forum, although I was expressly told that any sculptural work must be placed on a plinth.
By now I was beginning to see the work as an actual Cityscape rather than just a pleasant pattern. The towers created by balancing silver bolts on top of one another gave the impression, I felt, of CCTV cameras constantly watching everything happening below.
The installation was positioned right in the middle of a wide space, so people would notice it from afar, being captivated enough to wander over for a closer look. In all my installation work I endeavour to maintain intrigue when it is seen from any distance.
There was no doubt that I had definitely been thinking along the lines of creating a city for these exhibitions as it was when I came up with the title “Conurbation”.
From my experience living in large cities, I know they are never flat. They fit into the available landscape. The floor of the Undercroft was essentially flat, so the use of small plinths dotted around enabled me to create height that wasn’t there before.
The following year saw me continue to exhibit with the same basic idea, but with notable modifications. The two exhibitions where this work was built were both in the same long, dark, underground space known as the Undercroft. Plinths weren’t required here, but I introduced several black pieces of wood raised up on bricks and table legs.
In this way I was able to feed some pieces underneath the black “floating” plinths, simply giving the whole structure so much more vitality.
I was also attracted to the fact that although some pieces remained on the light-coloured floor, others were placed on plain black surfaces and yet did not disappear.
The second prominent difference between these two exhibitions and those previous, was that I started combining some pieces together…mainly by balancing them on top of each other. This gave rise to towers as well as figurative structures, effigies appearing on distant hillsides.
With the City, as well as the word Conurbation, at the forefront of my mind during construction, I found myself setting up the plinths first, forming the general shape of the whole work. Then I was building small “settlements” around the place that, over the course of the whole exhibition, grew, spread out and joined up. Many of my installations since have existed in a state of constant change, evolution.
In January 2016, I volunteered to be subject to a Studio Holders’ Critique. My half-hearted, somewhat lazy, attempt to recreate a recent version of Conurbation in my studio was completely ripped to shreds.
After this, I bagged up all my black plastic pieces and stored them under a table in the corner of my studio.
However, I continued to collect more and more black plastic pieces, but these I simply shoved in on top of the Horde, so to speak.
It wasn’t until the beginning of 2019, when I finally decided to drag them all out again. I’ve never been entirely sure what prompted me to do this, at that time, but I have always been a firm believer in the cyclical nature of Art, and I find revisiting older artworks to be highly beneficial to my practice as a whole.
Conurbation Cocoon began in my hands before being hung up from the ceiling. The idea of a cocoon came to me quite quickly, so I continued to attach progressively more pieces whilst the work was hanging there.
In the interim I had been using plenty of fishing wire in the construction of my other installations and was collecting and reusing it wherever possible.
I created several small cocoons before concentrating on the single one that currently hangs in my studio. In recent years, when setting up installations, I always seem to be drawn to the most awkward areas of any exhibition space. It was important for me to build these structures as they hung simply for the physical difficulties this posed. The pieces were randomly and delicately tied together…not regularly or thoroughly and certainly not machine-like.
Hung from the ceiling it became ever more Cocoon like…almost alive, yet dormant. Pieces frequently fell off and were reattached, they moved around as threads were tightened, those threads snapped often, the whole structure crashed to the ground several times before being bodily shoved back up again, it was manhandled down 4 flights of stairs to be displayed in the Studio Holders Show, and manhandled back up again.
Whilst the Cocoon was evolving in my studio, I remembered a fascination I had with the world of Pareidolia, back during my MA, often picking out grim faces within the structure itself.
When I bundled the Cocoon into my car on the way to the Singular, Special and Strange exhibition at St Margaret’s Church in October, 2019, I found that there wasn’t anywhere that I would be able to hang it from.
I decided then to turn it into a free-standing sculpture, using the bamboo to raise it off the ground. I needed to physically wrestle with the work in order for it to balance on the sticks, but, in this way, the once dormant structure suddenly sprang to life…
It is good to contemplate the fact that all these pieces were created in a factory and have served their primary purpose for a time. They were then discarded or lost having become broken or deemed useless. In my own way, I have extended the life of these objects…and continue to do so, again and again.
To possibly wedge it into a corner, I tried skewering it with bamboo canes. This didn’t work that well, as I was adamant that people ought to be able to walk completely around the structure, getting close enough to see individual pieces.
The Beast has once again been tamed and now hangs dormant back in the studio.
Who can tell?