Bill Saunders named the sculptural assemblage on the floor “…pool (floor and counting).
From this angle it looks like a headless protective clothing of an explorer placed here by a tide that got muddled in arranging the other end.
In a clear confidence that Arte Povera still confidently belongs to contemporary ways of making art objects, Saunders caresses each part like a dedicated craftsman who loves hand tools.
The Sunken Gallery has an identity. Away from the other exhibition spaces higher up in MAC’s building it more often than not, punched above its size. This time it brought to the public an unknown to them an artist who is cherished by his former students, as artists’ artist. Saunders is more like a renaissance sculptor by insisting on well made objects, that do not suffer vertigo of from knowing what they are. If you sense any traces of anxiety it is about knowing of two solutions but having to select one. Quantum indeterminacy – they call it. Whereas the resulting object is imbued with all the faith and confidence of being lovingly made.
Saunders chose for this one an old used milking stool ,seat and step in one, item used all over Europe, in every kitchen, there was one. It is placed in the centre of the row of newer followers made just during preparation for this exhibition. The rhythm of the display is simply charming – it forbids the boredom of a supermarket shelf – it animates the company of sculptural objects, each colourfully individual, yet capable of harmony with others.
On the other side of the room Saunders used that “supermarket shelf” – quite well, however, it introduced a straight like not the playful skipping up and down. Saunders softens it by adding a special tray with a very secret code in a variety of coloured rectangles(holding two grey figures). Humour is invited to topple one and make the other on far right look like being drunk.
The central two morph easily into characters evoking memory of those drawn by H Daumier (1808 -1879) These two are in a conversation. Not the Sacra conversazione rather something streetwise.
They have a strong narrative power – able to change role and relationship and character.
Saunders has intensified the ability to recycle discarded materials in two ways: first, he selects the material he had in the studio he left earlier with whatever he found in the new studio on arrival. Severe recycling may follow.
The selection is not yet free from self- forming action when his will is divided by several possible solutions.
He revives the aesthetic of Arte Povera for here and now, when global changes in environment are part of our concern about habitability of the planet.
The assemblages and records of found and traced patterns, for example, the rubbings of the floor in his studio, move Walter Benjamin’s sketching of ” optical unconscious” up to the modernists irrepressible sense of delinquency vis a vis aesthetic norms. The composition is about as firm as clouds on the sky – but as they the floor pattern is given the same power to astonish or at least surprise.
Saunders does not shy away from the surreal – as confirmed by the title of his exhibition, and by interpenetration of the found by the selected ( I sense an analogy between this method and Benjamin’s interpenetration of body and image in his essay “Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia” ,1929 )
The installation is faultless, both from the point of view of each exhibit, and from the point of view of the viewer. Possibly, the floor piece is too optically heavy for this space.
The display can be thought of as a hall of mirrors in which the individual can be surprised by the reflection of a multifaceted self. The objects approach the viewer with a question akin this one: ” and what would you have done with this old newsprint, with old paper bags, bits of concrete, remnants of glass sheet, thrown away cut outs etc.”
The MAC make video recording Meet the artist related to exhibitions.
Presenting the first major institutional exhibition by Belfast based artist Bill Saunders, who works primarily in ..
Saunders in his studio: In the foreground parts of wall high relief, and floor installation; on the wall some of the drawings – all part of the current exhibition.
In the right hand side corner of the Sunken Gallery a line meets another and supports a kind of semaphore.
It stands out not by how it is made, but how it looks, what kind of visual thought it either embodies or haphazardly inspire. Clarity and pink together with parallels and right angles while different from the suitably expressive closed forms of other exhibits disarms any feeling of damaging conflict by its fit on the wall and the corner. As if in an embrace powerful to remove animosity, it extends the virtues of difference to being similarly confident and quiet as the rest. Maybe not quiet, more like the artist who embraces all that others may find conflicting.
A choice of metier not at variance with the method of picking up and responding but with the weight and volume of the rest of the exhibits who favour a closed form. (even if protrusions are welcome)
Yet, the shallow relief – drawing does neither clash with the mass of each of the chubby small sculptures, nor does it lose the right to belong and share the enigma of the common ground which Saunders – in the MAC video Meet the artist – links to the association with the name of space,the Sunken gallery. He associates sinking with rising out of water.
This minimalist, modernist lean “drawing on the wall” evokes the optical illusion that a vertical bends under the water surface. Saunders asks the right angle not only to dance, but also to sing. This imagined whisper is inescapable when viewing in situ. It also beautifully holds its own in comparison with well established similar sculptures. e.g. Personages by David Smith.
Saunders responsiveness involves the self-forming action, when our will is divided and we arrive at a solution that rules out all others. Not only this process aligns with the chaotic amplification that runs the world, it also protects the visual thought as mute poetry. Not all contemporary visual art achieves and trusts that. More often than not, artists hide their possible courage behind up-your-face narrative, even sound and text.
Compare Saunders rhythmical call for attention ( akin birds calling mates) with somewhat heavy didactics of another stick like sculpture (more like a tree trunk, which carries its own wonders)
Haegue Young (Korea) exhibiting this installation at Graz Kunsthaus. (Accessed on //www.museum-joanneum.at/kunsthaus-graz/ausstellungen/ausstellungen/events/event/5533/haegue-yang)
The anthropocentric principle adds here a narrative tenor ( imagined gathering and conversation) masking thus the beauty of the found part of the tree. Otakar Hostinsky would defend its superior beauty with a claim, as do I, that our aesthetic sensitivity is born from experiences in and with nature.
Saunders manages to revive that aesthetics with machine made sticks and cut out, and rigid Pythagorian principle as well as with handmade forms. Quite an achievement to make it this poetic.
Images courtesy the MAC and Simon Mills. With heartfelt thanks to Hugh Mulholland.