Last year, The Sculpture Project set out on an exciting journey with the unveiling of the numbered edition of the sculpture Aluna, by the internationally renowned artist Ann Wolff, whose glass sculptures had already attracted a lot of attention. The sand casting gave every copy of Aluna its own unique character, with traces left by the mould and the cooling and solidifying of the material. The creation process itself became a sign of life. Ann Wolff’s creation attracted an enormous amount of interest, and the edition sold out in just a few days.
The success of the first sculpture was a real boost to Byarums Bruk, who had taken the initiative in setting up The Sculpture Project. They contacted Britt-Ingrid Persson – usually known as BIP – since her designs were particularly well suited to sand-casting. Her artistic creations are characterised by simplicity, abstraction and focus. There is a clear harmony between the different parts of her sculptures. They project a sense of rhythmical movement, radiating energy and focus. ”I am particularly keen on 3-dimensional design”, she explains, and continues: “I’ve always been drawn to concepts like rhythm, interference and limits”. There is true continuity in her artistic expression.
BIP has many years’ experience of working in a number of materials, such as clay, concrete, latex foam and bronze, using at least as many techniques. But aluminium was something completely new. The manufacturing process was explained to her at Byarums Bruk. Like all other techniques, it has its opportunities and limitations. Angles and release must be taken into consideration, to ensure that the sculpture does not get stuck in the mould. This also dictates the maximum size of the work of art.
The first model she produced worked well, but she was not happy with its rhythm. The second attempt was more successful. And now, the sculpture, which goes under the working name Girl with a braid, is finally finished. Its formal title is Plexus, the Latin word for braid.
The work is characterised by the rhythm and twist of braided hair, as well as the pleated garment covering the chest. There is a hint of two small breasts under the folds. BIP stresses that most of her sculptures to date have been gender neutral to underline that the messages they send are aimed at everyone. But this time, the sculpture is clearly a young girl.
The empty space between the hairline and the shoulder is also significant. The contour – the space – can be interpreted as a face looking down in contemplation, slightly turned to the side. This tiny hint of movement makes quite an impact. There is a genuine exchange between the observer and the girl.
The repetitive, rhythmical, vertical pleats of the garment emphasises the upwards and downwards direction, in a real interplay with the pacey energy of the braid. Stationary objects, as we know, can convey a sense of movement. As we look, our gaze moves. Our other senses also perceive rhythm and direction. Our perceptiveness starts to develop even in our mothers’ wombs. How we later interpret a gesture is, of course, a product of cultural conditioning.
BIP’s choice to let the braid play a central role in the sculpture is not a coincidence. Three active elements form a helix in both the braid and in a DNA molecule. She has a long-standing relationship with the figure three: three as in sky, earth and water, and as in body, soul and spirit. And the interest in the significance of a helix to everything that moves became evident early in her artistry. “Everything that has to be as strong as possible, space-saving and flexible seems to use the helix as its basic principle”, she explained to Elisabeth Rasch, who herself has a Ph. D. in art and was working at the time for the Museum of Västerbotten. The interview featured in a book published in connection with the major individual exhibition by BIP in the northern Swedish town of Umeå in 2004.
Around 1990, as part of the GenEtik project, BIP worked in partnership with natural scientists. Like a braid, DNA is, after all, a helix. But the helix can also be interpreted as a metaphor for the winding ways of life. To quote BIP, ”our life journey often returns to the starting point, which then also becomes the starting point of a new journey with the experience of past journeys in our luggage”.
For the philosopher Aristotle, it was the form of things that gives them their meaning and name. Formless matter is transformed into physical objects and phenomenon by form. Form is the significant element. Content was not something that Aristotle considered – interest in this concept did not emerge until the 18th Century. But, according to BIP, an artist cannot make a dist-inction between content and form.
BIP’s world of design is loaded with significance and characterised by a desire for precise formulation. She is interested in concealed states and phenomena in society, things that hide beneath the surface. She can absorb herself in these things for a long time. She often returns to them later, to approach them in a new way. She plays with different models of interpretation, tries to formulate herself better and more clearly. The sculptures are her way of communicating and carrying on a dialogue with the world around her.
Often, she sharply reminds us of our failings and the lack of ethics which poses a threat to the survival of our planet and the human race. But rather than being condemnatory, her moral stance takes a strikingly humorous form. Her analytical ability acts as a survival strategy, as do her wonder at and fascination for the survival instinct of life and the natural world. In the late 1970s, she expressed this in her sculptures of sprouts, while around 1990, it took the form of the DNA helix.
She maintains that she has been conservative in her choice of material. “For a long time – maybe too long – I used only white clay. Its whiteness was like a blank page, it was set to zero and provided the opportunity I needed to formulate myself. But as the white clay sculptures grew in size, they no longer fitted in the oven, even though I cut them in half before firing and then pieced them together again. But the joints were far too obvious. So I started to work in concrete, instead. I discovered foam latex by accident, and this proved to be a fantastic material to work in. I could use a scalpel to cut out the shapes I wanted”, she says, and continues: “All materials have a built-in challenge which you have to overcome. But sometimes the challenge lies in the material being too pliable. It is easy to take advantage of chance occurrences when working in clay. But I have a need for precision. Slow progress suits me. I want to be able to manage the processes I work with myself. Handcrafting is a back-and-forth communication between brain, thought and heart. Handcrafting provides scope for the essential meditative perspective in the creative process.”
Her ability to communicate thoughts and clearly illustrate universal problems has been clearly demonstrated in 30 or more works of public art and a long series of exhibitions. Her sculptures have frequently touched on issues associated with power and relationships. For some years, for example, Amnesty International used her large stoneware sculpture Muskelhjärna (Muscle Brain), which was part of the Activity/Passivity group from 1976, in their campaign against torture and violence. The metre-high sculpture shows a face from which two muscular arms grow. But rather than doing some-thing, the arms are crossed over the eyes. Crossed arms are a sign that someone is unwilling to become involved. When they also hide the eyes, they signify indifference, unapproachability and disassociation. BIP’s sculptures are existential in the most fundamental meaning of the word. She uses them to tell a story and explain something. She makes us see, and achieves this by letting her “images” visualise lightness, heaviness, power, cogitation, action. Never listless or tentative, but always sharp, clear and precise.
Since the sculpture Plexus will be produced as a series, it will be available to the general public and public institutions. BIP says that, despite being something of a lone wolf, she has really enjoyed working as part of a team and learning a new technique.
We are sitting in her studio workshop at Kungsholmsstrand in Stockholm, the same premises where she started work after finishing her studies at the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design. She had initially studied pottery, then moved to the Art Teacher Institute, only to later return to the Department of Advanced Industrial Art (HKS) for ceramics. On graduating, she was awarded a grant, which meant that she had access to a room of her own at the school for a full year, something she remembers fondly. In 1966, she took over her teacher’s, the sculptor Olle Adrin’s, studio.
This is where we are having our chat. The shelves are loaded with sculptures. I can see recurring themes, but with slight variations. The walls are hung with drawings which she uses as rhythmical exercises for the eyes. The eye has to decide whether it is good and right. I am looking at a drawing of a cloudberry, with the clusters of small, juicy, fully-formed parts which make up this berry. BIP grew up in the village of Gunnarn in southern Lapland, with its scented marshlands, pine forests, vast landscape and diverse fauna. A better teacher of form than nature itself is difficult to find.
BIP has participated in several Collection Exhibitions and are represented in Public Collections at for exemple Moderna Museet, Nationalmuseum and Röhsska Museet. For more information, download our press kit.
Text: Kerstin Wickman, Professor Emeritus in Design and Craft History.
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