I can guarantee in every interview I do for press or radio or TV or in every talk I do for any audience, someone is going to ask “where did the idea come from?”. It’s a fair enough question. Most people see art as an end product arrived at but some crazy magic. I usually give them a short answer about a particular piece, but in reality the answer is never a short one or a simple one.
The thought process part of any project is probably the biggest and most important bit. Long before pencil hits the paper or words go down on a page, there’s days, weeks or months even of thinking through the ideas. Mulling them over. Refining them. Interrogating them. Pulling them apart and then slowly putting them back together again.
The thought process for this project started last year when I was first approached about the idea. Once we’d got round to the idea that I’d actually be able to create a new work from this opportunity (it’s something I always try to do – and part of the process of this project is showing how new work doesn’t always start off as a new work commission) I then had to start thinking about what would be possible in the timescale and budget.
There were a few ideas bouncing around my head for months for this project, but I deliberately held off honing in on some until I’d met the group of artists, the team at the library and seen the 5th size books themselves. It was important that whatever I did, those were the key elements that would shape the the project.
The next step was to arrange a look around the library building to get a better idea of the scope of the building itself. Back at the end of July I did my first full site visit, looking around the building. Looking at the public spaces as well as the ‘behind the scenes’ areas. I wanted to get a feel for both the volumes within those spaces, but also to understand how the building functioned. To get a sense of narrative to hold a piece together. The site visit also touched on a few of the practicalities of installing temporary works within the various spaces. At this point it was decided that the installations themselves would be very temporary and in position only at night after the library closed. Almost a secret existence so the only clue as to their ever existing was through the photographs. With photography being a capture of light over a defined moment in time.
At the back of my mind at this point were the dolls of Hans Bellmer. I remember seeing those images in an exhibition of photography and surrealism as a student in London. I remembered the lifeless, pale forms within domestic locations and how just their presence transformed the overall image into something unsettling.
Obviously that’s not how they actually were, it’s just how I remembered them, but that’s where the spark of an idea came from.
As I played about with the ideas in my head I was looking at how the inflatable pieces would describe voids and space. I’ve recently been exploring similar ideas in the gardens of a country house in the Scottish Borders.
There’s something about large inflatable forms within defined spaces. In someways there’s similar elements in Christo’s ‘Big Air Package’ at the Oberhausen Gasometer in 2013 and Anish Kapoor’s ‘Monumenta’ at the Grande Palais in Paris – both of which I’d visited at the time.
I use these solely as examples or reference points for others. In reality, the idea of filling a space comes from a childhood memory of blowing up a balloon inside a toilet roll tube until it spills out both ends, and growing apples in wooden moulds to get square apples.
I don’t really go to see other artists work that much. I find my work is much more inspired by landscape, architecture, engineering problems, photography, stories and people among other things. Occasionally I’ll go and see specific exhibitions or works. I went to see the Christo and Kapoor pieces to experience their scale in much the same way I enjoy the scale of my own work.When I’m busy with projects or immersed in a particularly big piece I deliberately avoid going to see other peoples art. Sometimes I just need to concentrate on my own thoughts and processes and that’s all the art I need.
A couple of weeks ago I did a little test piece. I wanted to check that it works the way I was expecting it to, gauge the scale and brightness of the light. I also wanted to check all the logistics and site technicalities – are the plug sockets nearby? will they handle the power consumption? how easy is it to navigate the building out of hours? So I built a little 3m high cylinder from some leftover pieces I had kicking around the studio. I used a small extractor fan from a builders merchants to inflate it as my bigger fans are a bit noisy for indoor use. There’s something about libraries that make you want to be quiet all the time – even out of hours. The light was from a single LED security light.
As a test I think it worked very well. The light was just enough for the space and the quality of the light was pretty close to what I was after. There’s a few changes I’ll make to the set-up. I’ll probably need more light inside the shapes if the space is much bigger. I need to put some more access openings in the inflatable so I can get to the lights from the front of the piece, as when it’s inflated to fill a space there’s no way round the back to turn the lights on or off. I’ll also use some additional lights around the space to help with the context of the location and make it a more interesting image.