From an LED-lit, spaceship-like structure, to a supersized picture frame, and carvings inspired by the history of Salford’s Orstall Hall; the Irwell Sculpture Trail has bought striking and occasionally challenging work to the North West since 1993.
Snaking from Bacup (Lancashire) to Salford Quays, the Trail, which has achieved the status of England’s largest public art scheme, is marking its 25th anniversary this year with – among other activity – a commission by Brass Art collective. The result, Brass Art: that-which-is-not, mixes past and present, galleries and public art spaces, and fantasy and reality.
When entering the space in which the work is presented at Bury Art Museum and Sculpture Centre, perhaps the first thing you notice is the atmospheric lighting that Brass Art has used to bathe the 19th century arches of the gallery. This sets the scene for the ideas behind the wider exhibition by uniting historical architecture and contemporary works, and playfully echoing the nature of celebrating an arts institution’s anniversary, where heritage, present and future come into focus.
This blending of time appears directly in ‘Click (after Hogarth)’ (2018), which animates a gesture inspired by William Hogarth’s ‘The Rake’s Progress’ (1735) in argon – a material almost synonymous with modern cityscapes. Similarly, ‘Kissing Pinks’ (2018) and ‘Felt (After Cowper)’ (2018) both feature disembodied hands that deceptively resemble classical sculptures but were produced through the mode of 3D printing. Here, there is not only ambiguity time, but a liminal sense of still sculpture that evokes movement. Hands mimic expressive gestures, while accompanying fluid glass shapes further imitate captured movement.
Liminality is likewise present in the works ‘From the Tower Falls Shadow’ (2018) and ‘Still Life No.2’ (2018) that offer reflections of the Trail, transformed landscapes and the nature of sculpture itself. Brass Art took inspiration for these pieces from a souvenir replica of an ancient pagoda in China that was destroyed years ago. Such inspiration seems appropriate for celebrating the anniversary of a sculpture trail, since pagodas are one of the earliest forms of outdoor sculpture: a tradition that the Irwell Sculpture Trail continues all this time later.
It’s not easy to spot the work which is most overtly referential to the pagoda in its title, ‘From the Tower Falls Shadow’ (2018), but as light moves around the gallery, it illuminates the text-based piece, which acts as a counterpart to its argon sibling at Bury Metrolink Station. This creates a dialogue between the Trail, the gallery, and ironically, considering the traditions verisimilitude in sculpture, the pagoda, that-which-is-not.
Shadow-play continues in ‘Still Life No.2’: a scene constructed from plastic, 3D-printed miniature figures and the pagoda souvenir itself, positioned on a table circled by lights that cast a fantastical scene onto the gallery walls. Momentarily, the destroyed pagoda takes its place within a landscape, suggesting the potential of alternate landscapes to include future imagined wonders.
In their ambiguous works, Brass Art evoke the Irwell Sculpture Trail through the exhibition’s themes and construct fantastical scenes hinting at the potential of the form that the Trail is dedicated to and what may be conjured onto it in the future.