The materials and mechanics of Will Cruickshank
Words Vilma Paasivaara
A new body of work by Will Cruickshank is currently on show at the Aspex gallery in the harbour of Portsmouth. Comprising of sculptural pieces in a variety of materials as well as woven wall hangings this quiet exhibition, titled Push and Pull, invites the visitors to walk amongst the pieces and contemplate on their tactile surfaces.
Cruickshank began to work on the pieces around two and a half years ago when he moved to Silo studios in Essex. There, he has built an array of machines which he operates to create his increasingly large work. ‘I really wanted to build some studio based work,’ he explains. ‘I think I just had the space to make things big and I’ve not really had that for a long time.’ A video in the gallery’s cafe space shows images of his process and he also shares his practice actively on Instagram, where you can see snapshots of his studio, work in progress as well as clips of his machines in action.
It is the interactions between maker, material and machine that have given the exhibition its name. ‘You have the three things, you have the machine who knows what it wants to do or has loads of these kinds of idiosyncrasies and then you have the material which has its own things that it wants to do and then you’ve got me with an idea, maybe. It is this sort of triangle with one thing leading and the other two following and often it doesn’t feel like it’s me,’ Cruickshank says. Though to some the name might express a tension or even a rivalry between the three, for the artist it is something much more gentle; a nurturing collaboration where each player is allowed to take the lead in their turn. ‘Tension comes when you are too set on an idea or on what you want. I think it is best if you are attentive to the things that are happening, it’s a very different process.’
The pieces in the exhibition are scattered in the minimal yet warm gallery space with plenty of room for visitors to walk around them, get up close or admire them from a distance. Some of them are grouped together, like the two wooden pieces, Three handles, one spout and Six handles, one spout, which stand as a pair. The objective of these more simple works seems to almost be to highlight the detail and complexity of the other pieces. The woven wallhangings present different prisms of colour, carefully created by organising and interweaving threads in a large spectrum of shades. A smaller lino mono print echoes these larger pieces with its similar colourful pattern, but this time on a two-dimensional surface. The most intriguing surfaces, however, are created by the mix of concrete and thread which is used in the majority of the sculptural pieces in the show. The pastel-y colours and the fuzziness of the threads set against the hardness of the concrete make these weighty pieces into something playful, something you’d want to touch – despite the sign that forbids it.
This juxtaposition of materials, though born out of a series of experiments, was intentional. ‘They’re strange things to touch because they are soft and hard, and cold and warm at the same time so they are sort of hard to place,’ Cruickshank says in response to my tactile yearnings. The material was born out of an initial idea to create plinths for the pieces from concrete. Eventually, the cuts of thread that had been left over from the weavings and littered the studio floor made their way into the mix. ‘It’s been an evolution sort of just trying to be really engaged with what is happening and not be to set on an outcome,’ he says.
If material research is one of the core aspects of Cruickshank’s practice, so is the use of machinery. ‘I’ve always had an interest in mechanics,’ he explains, ‘but it’s a very Victorian mechanics that I understand.’ The major break with his previous exhibitions is that this time only the end result is on display, there are no kinetic or participatory parts. Now he says that the mechanical part feels more private, something he prefers to keep in his studio. As captivating as the machines he builds can be the exhibition seems stronger without them. There is nothing to distract you from the pieces themselves.
Now that he has seen this new work on display, Cruickshank says he wants to continue exploring the materials and the processes he has developed along the way. Though the exhibition is the result of two years of hard work it seems less like an endpoint now than it did at the beginning of the process. ‘I’m really excited,’ Cruickshank says, ‘I’m still experimenting with it [the concrete and thread mixture] but I’m realising I can actually go quite thin and make it very delicate and make it structurally quite strong. Engaging with the properties, what happens when you’re working with it and what happens after. We’ll see where that ends up.’