Commissioned Text: Rosy Head on Folds

January 2017

Fold of Two

by Rosy Head

Between our hands and the stuff beneath the surface - Laura Wilson’s work mediates between matter, at a base level, but also at a level that reignites the social in a powerful way. For Wilson the material world is a carrier of knowledge, a vital communicator at the core of human experience and cultural meaning. Her sculptural mediums, both in research and production, are those moments at which systems of knowledge and matter meet and act on each other to produce material form. As the immaterial collides with the material - a space, an armature and a pair of warm hands - histories and geographies of active information emerge as aesthetic and structural elements, the scaled object reasserts our own presence, and the performance begins. This isn’t about abstraction but communication.

Wilson’s commission, Folds, for SPACE, is at once a set of sculptural objects and an act of intervention. Masses of stone, dough, wood, the artist and two expert stonemasons who trained at the Building Crafts College in Stratford - a trio of corroborators – are installed in the gallery, implicated in each other through their associated behaviours. The stone sits solid on its workbench: the history of sculpted torsos and architectural motifs linger around its mass of calcium carbonate matter. It is a multidirectional layer-less lump of ‘freestone’, and can be sculpted in any direction like the dough. The dough is modified, scaled-up to the size of the torso, yeast depleted and extra salty. It drapes and moves, acted on by gravity, working around the armatures, until it reaches spatial equilibrium. Other invisible forces are in play. Oxygen, warm breath, and bacteria on both sides of the interface stimulate an outer skin to form, and inner processes to metabolise. As its folds set, decomposition and carving begin.

The folds of the dough are carved into the stone: the transference of one material world into the realm of another. As Wilson learns her craft, information passes between the three bodies - dough, stone, and artist - transposed and inscribed into the structures of different matter. Matter here is active. Embodied within the molecules are both histories and potentials, invisible and unfinished trajectories. These are sculptural objects that cannever quite be fully described. Their surfaces fluctuate between one set of knowledge and another - casting, forming, cutting, draping, cleaning, carving - the moments when things change state, and where our cultural and social futures reside. Their solid bodies are kept in constant transformation between what is allowed to propagate, and what may be discarded and lost forever.

Replication, decomposition. Slippage. Each fold manifests a continuity of knowledge, but also a difference, without which only sameness would occur. Temporal two-fold, the fold of two. Two different masses, both materially rough and refined. We are always between things. Being between. There is a temporal asymmetry, things change and evolve over different timeframes. Young flour and old stone, social histories and plastic velocities, layer into a temporal structure over the duration of the exhibition. Invisible forces hold material form, for seconds or less, or millennia or more. Recalcitrant and left to their own devices, each material mass will follow certain tendencies, but this is an ecosystem - a social system - that must work between established and vernacular powers.

Multifarious sensibilities are at play here. Each material object can be seen to embody a specific set of rituals and knowledge, and the technicalities of the material run in parallel to the social act. They are simultaneously technical products and fundamental effects, both the instrument and the state of mind. We ‘see it’, but as time goes on, we ‘see it as’, through an endless list of transference and movement. It is at these places where tensions manifest that systems communicate with one another. When there is non-equilibrium, new threads of communication can allow new orders to arise.

Within this field of displacement - of matter, ideas and value systems - we witness the transformation of things into other things. Coordinates of space and time shift. Rather than separate time and space, movement and thought, Wilson reveals a mutually dependent relationship, and even goes one step further: matter itself must be imbued with it. As blocks of space-time, each material object has evolutionary potential. As the physical and imaginative properties of the materials are transposed, some structures disappear but others reappear. In this context, matter becomes dynamic and historical, each change of state politicised through a reading of myriad timescales that act to support our cultural memories.

The act of intervention during the exhibition implicates the entire space of the gallery within this field. For Wilson, the spaces in which her works unfold are important characters themselves. Productive landscapes of bitumen, brick and bread, as well as art, are environments constantly involved in processes of material reorganisation. Moving between the scale of object and environment, the work offers a visual rhetoric that allows for a slowness of gaze, counter to the pace of technological innovation. The rhythms of cultural evolution are allowed to come back into play. What evolve over the time of the exhibition are the myth, memory and meaning in material existence: the social underpinnings of matter.

A doughy doorstop edges its way out into the public realm, while others travel further afield - to Yeast Bakery on Westgate Street, the Building Crafts College in Stratford, the HSS Hire office on Mare Street, and even back to the quarry in Dorset. These new tools insert themselves into the network of productive sites that made the work possible. Propagation goes both ways, the fold of two. Outside and inside, the twisted torsos, erroneously edible and anthropomorphic, can’t help but initiate processes of metabolism in their own damp cores and, through warm association, of our own saliva: they gesture to us to act. Methods of material disjuncture - mis-use, displacement, movement, with a slight edge of humour – offer a resistance to the status quo, and we can still play a part.

It is of course through Wilson’s personal encounters and collaborations, in this instance with specialist stonemasons and bakers, that our material correspondence emerges. Dough is a live material - that comes even more alive through contact with our own yeasty skin. Between our work as social beings, and that activity subsisting below the surfaces of all matter, is the metabolic propensity for continuity and variation - the material agency of all things. The properties of material substrates are inseparable from the social mind. 


Rosy Head is an artist and writer. With a background in physics, architecture and film (Cambridge University, Royal College of Art, and UCL), she works with artists, filmmakers, curators and cultural organisations in a strategic and advisory role. She has taught at the RCA since 2009, and until 2016 was Senior Tutor in the Architecture department.