Bill Saunders: Side Steps These Ferried Measures Rise, 30 June – 24 September 2017, MAC, Belfast


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.

…both (the door and what came through), 2017, mixed media, detail


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.

1 day ago – Uploaded by TheMACBelfast

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 //

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.


About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
This entry was posted in essay, review and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Bill Saunders: Side Steps These Ferried Measures Rise, 30 June – 24 September 2017, MAC, Belfast

  1. Chris Wilson says:

    Slavka, very beautiful, and Bill, congratulations

    Liked by 1 person

  2. johnmedici says:

    It is obvious the installation inhabits a ‘sunken’ room and it presents dimensions – architectural features such as it’s oppressive cube scale – not a literal cube – itself a distortion of space also spoilt enormously by shocking lighting arrangement. Such a space is then license to include a reduction – for that is all it is of assorted sculptural non cultural pieces with borrowed states of period. Poverishment is without any, any context here whereas the orderly ness of past actors gave it infinite period statement – Giacometti Beuys as reverent to arts involvement in life – this and your ‘take’ on it – an outpouring of un connection to the work is quite misleading if not entirely mis perceived. You have a tutorial cataloging approach not a critical one.


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