Sculpture x The Sea Symposium What is Sculpture?

By now we have established that sculpture can be anything and everything. Our hearts and minds are open to all the opportunities that sculpture offers. For all of what we know or understand about sculpture however, we see little of it about. Wisdom, experience and knowledge are not catalysts for its creation. Our ambition which in other cultures serves to launch and sustain a role as sculptor is mocked. Our patron's hands are tied while they contemplate their next trip, to get away.

What is sculpture? Sculpture is largely that thing we wish it might become. It is that thing which has neither been tested nor exploited. It is an unborn thing.

For all of what the twentieth century offered in terms of a life and place for art, for all of the thinking and investment applied, we are miraculously at sea.

The introduction that history offers, to leave us so bereft however, is also a blessing.

Because there is no place for it, it is free to take a form not defined by a role. Because it is not there we are taken aback by it sudden appearance.

The establishment and acceptance of sculpture as a valued commodity weakens it. The power of capitalism is such that it overruns and disempowers any voice louder than its own. Sculpture is that thing which escapes, scot-free.

Sculpture is that thing which has slipped through the cracks to break the armoured wall. Sculpture is the tank making its dawn run; it had no choice but to be made from steel.

Sculpture is a tool to undermine complacency, indifference and greed. Sculpture is what it needs to be to bring all of those undone.

As the times become more oppressive, as the climate's changes stay, we are squeezed. In the eighties free standing sculpture was viewed as 'Turd'. Sculptors were not experimenters, but excrementers. We left our things about. Sculpture was literally perceived to be the waste product not born of a slow and miraculous gestation, but more literally as shit.

The challenge for sculpture is that it be allowed to become the thing that it potentially is. Sculpture is a shape shifter. It is the natural embodiment of the human spirit.

In older cultures sculpture was liberated by representing the faith of the prevailing religion. Its strength grew from intensity of belief. For sculpture to be more than entertainment or decoration or the fatuous illustration of philosophy, it needs to be unrestrained. The potential for sculpture now is that it be allowed to surface and not be adulterated by exposure.

Imagine, moving around outside. Rather than wince and groan at the way in which man exhibits his presence, we should instead, be uplifted. Were there a role for sculpture, there would be a role for a humane architecture. Space was not something measured in dollars per square metre, but by its capacity to accommodate our trust.

The scope for sculpture currently then, is the extent that one can defy the reluctance to exhibit substance both literally and metaphorically. Space is not the thing we're in, but, the thing we break through.

Opportunism for all its sticky association is our stock of trade. To survive is to cross the mountains that divide ideologies which were only placed there were to befuddle us. Philosophies of practice often determine work produced, so that public sculptors are often invited to embrace community art philosophies. The work of teaching sculptors often has an inbuilt nobility. Work made for private collectors can either flatter the collector's taste or be obscure, to identify its pedigree. Much as we imagine our work to arise out of a stable, artist’s intent, it is in fact moulded by the nature of patronage. Rather than be compromised by adapting conflicting values, opportunism serves to iron out those differences. Integrity is shaped by curiosity rather than making sense of the world.

Sculpture also arises out of place. Sydney is not a place for sculpture. Sydneysiders are spoilt by being already sufficiently entertained. We are already blind by an excessive stimulation, by a given beauty in the world. The only scope for sculpture is Pop. Sydney is Pop City. It's PC. Without instantaneousness, work remains invisible. For all of what sculpture can be, it can never be swallowed whole, in a glance, on the run. Sculpture is opposite and an opposition to Sydney.

If material is sometimes intractable and challenging to work with as a consequence, so is Sydney an extension of that intractability. However easy we might make it for ourselves, Sydney, by its nature will bite sculpture on the bum. Any trick we may contrive to cheat that resistance ought to be embraced.

As sculpture still, is an unborn thing, here in Australia, or more particularly in Sydney, its life is not at risk. This thinking time, this moment of conception time should be upheld.

Civilisation serves to present a thing that should be undone. We identify the fact of civilization by the presence of ruins; by the thing which got too big, became a target. The powerful could too easily measure themselves by tearing it apart to imagine themselves inevitably relatively empowered. What is sculpture? Sculpture is the thing we made to deter the command to be silent.

While we continue to ask the question, the real answers are the things we make. The questions remain the mess we leave behind to find refuge in the making.

Sculpture ultimately arises out of the absence of our mediocrity and mortality and the absence of our ongoing failure.

Michael Snape