The Wilderness Tower
The Wilderness Tower has been commissioned by Adam Williams Design to sit in the land surrounding their Somerset studios. The sculpture will be located at Glastonbury Heath marshes, renowned for its peat production and spectacular wildlife habitat. Close by is an RSPB reserve which is home to an abundance of rare and indigenous birds.
In discussion with Adam Williams, we decided to have a practical purpose for the artwork, turning it into a viewing platform for wildlife. The structure draws inspiration from the surrounding agricultural architecture such as water towers and bird hides and maintains a strong connection to the local environment.
In addition to referencing the local vernacular, I wanted to include my interest in geometric design and its connection to nature and landscape. The structure employs a staggered and repeated decagonal shape found in natural forms such as flower petals and the patterns of cracks in the earth. The decagon also appears in many architectural monuments I admire, including the magnificent Tomb Towers in Iran, Brutalist architecture, and the eighteenth-century British folly.
Ventures Academy Public Art Commission
Collaboration with Colin Higginson.
Commissioned by Bristol City Council for Ventures Academy in Bristol.
Our response to the commission is to create sculptures and installations that stimulate play-led learning; resulting in work that responds to the built environment and encourages participation for the communities that inhabit and visit the school. Our concept draws on the ideas of curiosity and play being the seeds of creativity and learning. With this in mind, we want to develop an environment that inspires a sense of wonder and exploration and is visually stimulating with tactile and sensory elements. Equally, we want to create an environment that has a strong sense of design and consistency.
We have focussed on the links between natural and human-made structures, particularly natural shapes found in rocks and crystals that have active sculptural elements. Engaging children in the interaction with shapes and forms are part of early learning and has been shown to enhance performance on tasks such as mathematical calculations and language development (Gibbs, 2005, p.193).
Located at Heatherton Park Studios, Bradford On Tone, Somerset, TA4 1EU. Viewing available on request (see contact page).
When I was asked to create an installation on the Somerset Levels, the image of a watchtower came immediately to mind. The thought of rising above the flatness of the landscape and observing the surrounding area was very appealing. Watchtowers hold a fascination for me and have appeared in my work before, albeit in a scaled-down, model form. I like the inherent contradiction in its purpose – the sense of power through surveillance contrasted with its inhabitant’s isolation and loneliness.
Perched on scaffolding stilts the main body of the installation is made from a timber frame and clad in reclaimed corrugated metal sheeting – a material used widely in the local area. I wanted this surface to be a form of camouflage that blends in with the industrial architecture close by - encouraging the viewer to happen across the artwork, drawn in by its ambiguous strangeness, rather than be confronted by an obvious sculptural statement.
At first glance, the structure could be mistaken for a building with some agricultural purpose; a storage silo perhaps, or a water tower. However, on closer inspection, I wanted the sculptural qualities to become evident with the referencing of modernist design and in particular brutalist architecture – a movement I much admire for its monumental forms and artistic integrity. The structure also draws upon the industrial landscape photographs of Bernd and Hilla Becher, whose images transform utilitarian buildings into unique sculptural objects.
As with my previous architecturally inspired sculptures, I decided not to include windows in the structure, preferring to create a sense of intrigue and slight unease at the thought of what happens within. The artwork is accessed by ladder from below, leading the viewer into a small dark room, lit only by narrow slits in the roof illuminating a sculpture of a watchtower on the boarded floor beneath. I wanted this experience to be like visiting the mind of the artist and seeing the original idea within.
On entering the installation, the viewer is extracted from the expansive landscape outside into a dark, meditative interior. Switching focus from the natural world to the imaginative possibilities of a gallery inside a sculpture.