Friday, February 4, 2011

Meet Your Maker: Alex Sanson, Metaform


"Do sculptors see the world differently to the rest of us?"

The answer to that question might indeed be a 'yes' after you glimpse the work of Alex Sanson...

Practicing for the last 20 years, Alex Sanson is a talented sculptor who primarily works with metal. He likes to make it move and do things it shouldn't - emulating human movement..

Left, work from 'the delicate equilibrium of being' by Alex Sanson.

He also brings an 'emotional' element to metal - no easy feat! - revealing the softer, more flexible possibilities of a material that usually perceived as inert, hard and 'masculine'.

Simply put, he makes his pieces 'dance'.

Which is the thesis behind his upcoming show at Stockroom, entitled 'the delicate equilibrium of being'.

Drawing on his "lifelong fascination with movement and pattern," Alex says he has "sought to create work that, despite being mechanical in nature and function, is at once capable of liquid grace and jolting awkwardness. As the human body is also capable of such contradictions, the work playfully references the link between the human body as a physical/emotional entity and the mechanical structure that gives rise to its movement."

Equally at home creating work for galleries or private commissions, Alex is an artist who lives his work, clearly seeing sculptural possibilities where others couldn't/wouldn't/shouldn't. His work is also very beautiful, giving rise to deep, fascinating and affectionate engagement for audiences.

They also look equally at home out there in the wide open spaces of the world, or indoors in art spaces.

Based in Taradale, Victoria, Alex has been working hard getting his new show (literally) into shape for the Stockroom gallery. He kindly takes some time out to preview the show, giving us a glimpse into how he sees the world through sculpture.

Stockroom: What do you love about your job as an artist?

Alex Sanson: Well, everything really,. It’s a real joy and privilege to find inspiration somewhere in the world around me and build on that somehow to create an actual physical manifestation which hopefully provoke delight or pleasure in someone.

Right, 'Small Revolutions' by Alex Sanson.

It can seem a bit indulgent sometimes, having this much fun in my work, but if a piece really works and someone really gets it and enjoys it, it does seem to validate the time and effort and path chosen…

SR: Tell us about your new show - how you would you describe it?

AS: My starting point was to try and create pieces that through their motion, reflect or provoke thoughts of our various physical motions and their associated emotional states, or I suppose more bluntly, to make abstract kinetic sculpture that can induce emotional responses similar to a dancer dancing, someone excited quivering, or someone drunk lurching about. And the primary device with which I chose to do this was by making a variety of pieces which exist in a delicate equilibrium, easily upset, pushed, blown or fiddled with.

I chose this mechanism, partly because it allows many interesting motions, but also much of our motion such as even simply walking is based on a cycle of balance, falling forward, recovering balance again, falling forward…a delicate equilibrium, constantly upset and restored. Physically, this may look like delicate feathers guiding slender steel elements in a breeze, bells making tendrils quiver, heavy steel balls doing loopy graceful pirouettes.

Above, 'Gyre' by Alex Sanson, installed at Yering Estate, Yarra Valley.

SR: And how did you become interested in this particular form of sculpture? Especially the 'kinetic' or motion aspect of it?

AS: I like art that I can get involved with, touch and feel, move and explore. There are so many opportunities for interaction, for a variable form rather than a static one and to engage with people on a different level. I’m also always glad not to be too precious about art, to get it off a pedestal and out from behind barriers and to do away with the ‘do not touch signs’.

Many people find sculpture a hard one to 'empathise' with, as it is often static, made out of hard material.. Yet your work is all about emotion and movement and the human condition..

SR: Did you set out to make sculpture as 'emotive' as other art forms eg film, music - very emotional are easy 'push-button' emotional art forms..

AS: I think initially, I just wanted it make it engaging, for it to be fun, for people to be able to touch the works and have that direct and tactile connection and making them kinetic invites that interaction. I think I find too often that highly conceptual art, while interesting in the moment, can leave me cold, I love the emotional connection, of hearing kids squeal and sometimes even grown-ups making excited noises too. So my typical mediums of steel and abstract shapes are not natural mimics of human states, but if it is possible to create pieces that successfully reflect emotional connections, that is a very enjoyable challenge to take up.

SR: Did you study anatomy or any other related discipline - even unofficially - in order to more understand the 'fluidity' you speak of in relation to the work in your Stockroom show?

AS: Some of my earliest pieces were small mechanical copper marionettes of skeletons and heads and other elements of human anatomy. To build these, I spent a lot of time going through anatomy books and diagrams, taking measurements and looking at the linkages.

Left, kinetic sculpture from 'the delicate art of equilibrium' by Alex Sanson.

And it was at this time too that I was studying physics at uni so had an inclination to interpret the human body as a mechanical system. While it is easy to represent our bodies as a series of independent joints, ball joints in our shoulders, hinges in our elbows etc, where it really gets interesting for me is how movement of one element causes ripple effects through the whole system. And ultimately, why is it that a dancer can look so beautiful when really what we are seeing is just a whole lot of bones and muscle moving about?

SR: What or who inspires you?

AS: It is perhaps a cliché to talk about nature as an inspiration these days but as I look out my window at one of our trees that were planted too close to each other and is now very tall and thin, blowing resiliently in the wind, knobs growing on weak points of branches and forks to reinforce it but others slender, flexible and extraordinarily strong and I find similar examples to this every day and love them.

More conventionally, Alexander Calder is an obvious one, playful engaging and interactive, bold and heavy, but also delicate and beautiful. Also Lee Bontecou for her exquisitely detailed, fragile and intriguing sculpture, David Nash for his gently shaped living tree ‘installations,’ also some of the ‘organic’ architects, Bart Prince, Imre Makovecz, Renzo Piano, for pieces that are flowing curved exciting constructions that still sit lightly and easily in their surrounds.

SR: Do you enjoy creating commissions?

AS: Most of my practice is working on commissions, some sculptural, some more in the design world and many cross over. I have found them to be enormously useful in developing both my creative and technical skills and appreciate the particular challenges they pose. Having to satisfy the creative requirements of another and usually meet a range of site specific conditions generally means working within a set of boundaries that overlaps my normal practice but extends beyond it too. So finding something that works here and still has artistic integrity to me and my own internal visions can be frustrating and challenging but usually very rewarding at the end.

SR: What's the best thing anyone has ever said about your work?

AS: I think I particularly liked seeing a group of teenage school kids come in to look at Small Revolutions (produced by Melbourne Fringe Festival, Federation Square, 2007), all very cool and standoffish, minutes later, completely engaged, dropped all pretensions, discovering all the levers, alternative paths and variations of the installation, and now that they were engaged, taking the time to explore the deeper content.

Above, 'Astrum Major', by Alex Sanson.

Explore Alex Sanson's beautiful work at his Metaform website, and join the Metaform community on Facebook.

Alex Sanson's show 'the delicate equilibrium of being' will exhibit at Stockroom February 19 - March 13, opening Saturday February 19, 4.30-7pm. Stockroom is located at 98 Piper Street, Kyneton, and open Wed - Sun, 10.30-5pm. Phone: (03) 5422 3215.

Words: Megan Spencer. Thanks to Alex Sanson for the interview and images.