On Form - please do touch
Words and Photographs Louise Long
Portland limestone, yellow alabaster, Purbeck Blue. Iranian green onyx, Siena travertine, Carrara marble. Black granite, Serpentine stone, beach pebble.
For any artist working in the medium of stone, On Form is the gold standard for sculptural exhibitions. Materialising every two years in the resplendent grounds, gardens and adjoining St Nicholas Church of Asthall Manor, this is no ordinary biennale. Since 2002, curators Rosie Pearson and Anna Greenacre have nourished and championed this rich and varied art form, culminating in this year’s a display of 384 sculptures, from 31 British sculptors, and nine from overseas.
Upon entering the Manor, two bold Gatehouse finials (Anthony Turner’s permanent fixtures) are the first pieces to catch the attention of visitors. A glance upwards reveals blooming pink alabaster Exotic Fruit, suspended from the canopy of a grand beech. Walking down a narrow path, the house and gardens slowly unfold; flanked by luxurious flowerbeds, drystone walls trailing with roses and lusciously planted natural pools. Soon enough, a side porch sequesters an enchanting cluster of alabaster carved fungi, recalling not merely the intricate textures but with them, the ancient superstitions of these organic forms, inspired by the Dorset countryside. Winding downwards to the river meadow there is Lotte Theunker’s pair of black limestone beads – rough grooves evoking the movement of water – and in the dappled shade of a willow, two giant onyx Earth Fossils by Lucy Unwin, uncovering the intricate veins of marble, a testament to these prehistoric archetypes. The sculptures are dotted around the extensive grounds with care, each with its own space to breath and to be observed.
On Form is a realm beholding the architectural and the organic, the domestic and the mystical. Stone masterpieces can be seen everywhere along the winding pathways; posed in striking lawn compositions, in secluded corners and overgrown riverside paths. Though we might think of stone as a slightly monotonous material, there is striking variation in the works presented. Some pieces hail the innate qualities of stone, such as Sarah Smith’s Ice Age Boulder, a weathered lump of carboniferous limestone, formed in tropical seas in the Yorkshire Dales 300 million years ago. Whilst others probe the physical limits of the medium – none more dazzling than Erika Anfinsen’s Stone Picnic, an enticing outdoor banquet in stone, or Tom Waugh’s Big Takeaway, a playful hyperrealist display of everyday discarded objects, each crumple meticulously wrought from doulting stone.
Wandering in the gardens of Ashtall Manor, it is easy to revel in the velvet translucency and primal rawness of stone. In its myriad tones and temperatures, in the tactile irregularities and densities of shadow. Here each piece has found its place, in a collective celebration of the earth – calling for greater sensitivity to its enduring, yet precious natural resources. Never has this most ancient art form felt more part of the present than at On Form. Please do touch, we are told. So we touch – we feel.
On Form is at Asthall Manor, Oxfordshire, until July 8