Anna Spearman’s solo exhibition, ‘Loose Parts’, was on view from 29 June to 30 July at Roscommon Arts Centre, the site for which the work was commissioned. ‘Loose Parts’ is a thoroughly absorbing exhibition, featuring sculptural objects that are both strange and familiar in equal measure. How can this disparate array of shapes, textures, materials and colours achieve its playful coherence? Each individual piece (all untitled) has its own personality as it were, and a uniqueness that draws the viewer into an imaginative relationship with it. When I put this to the artist and the curator, they tell me about their mutual interest in the co-existence of humans and material objects, and how this relationship has the potential for creativity and the production of new knowledge.
Naomi Draper, artist and current curator-in-residence at Roscommon Arts Centre, invited Anna to create works for an exhibition specific to the venue. The commission is a reflection of Naomi’s research interest in the relationship between humans and objects, and the role of imaginative play as a generative process. The artist and curator share common ground here. Anna’s work is open-ended and responsive to the physical space and to the materials she works with. Both describe the collaboration as exciting and exploratory, likening it to a conversation.
Anna created some of the works in situ at RAC, or modified others there, having familiarised herself with the exhibition space over a period of time. The positioning of the pieces involved artist and curator literally playing around with the objects within the space. There is nothing fixed or final regarding the works or their placement in the gallery. This demonstrates an interesting cohesion between the artworks and the installation process. Ultimately the exhibition’s curation involved a triadic relationship between the sculptural objects, the artist and the curator.
The works, just like the materials used by the artist to make them, have a relationship with the environment in which they are placed. Naomi speaks about the sculptural objects having become active participants in the curatorial process. For Anna and indeed for Naomi as well, there is a lack of finality and an impermanence at play here – these works retain the potential to change and will have different future manifestations.
The use of ordinary everyday objects is not at all new in the art world, and I wonder if ‘Loose Parts’ aims to continue the project of conceptual artists and the idea of the ‘readymade’. Hardly, because the art works here are transformations that bear little resemblance to their original state.
Anna resists categorising her work and does not imbue it with connotational meaning or ideological significance. She does, however, acknowledge the interplay between internal and external reality, as psychoanalyst Melanie Klein would have it, and is entirely happy that the works may have symbolic qualities for the viewer. As we live in a culture and an environment that is awash with objects, it is inevitable that they have become used as artistic material. We are also culturally primed to become attached to objects and things. Interestingly, Anna states that she prefers to work with materials and objects that she is detached from, and which have no significance for her beyond their value as media for her art. Using familiar materials gets in the way of her creative process.
The exhibition title, ‘Loose Parts’, is a reference to the term coined by British painter and sculptor, Simon Nicholson, to describe how children creatively use available objects in imaginative play, and the value of this for their development. The materials and objects used by the artist to create the artworks are the ‘loose parts’ of the exhibition title – everyday, ordinary things that are readily available. These include polythene, faux fur, leatherette, cork, rubber, beeswax, quilted cloth, oilcloth, fabric, plywood, plastic tape, paper and papier-mâché. These are transformed into sculptural objects by Anna, who works in a responsive, non-deterministic way. Her abstract formations evolve rather than develop according to a fixed plan, the artist tells me. They are not ‘finished’ and may be dismantled and reconfigured in another context. This impermanence and lack of finality is central to the artist’s work.
The sense of spontaneity and playfulness in ‘Loose Parts’ belies the artist’s deep reflexivity and seriousness of purpose. Anna tells me her practice involves an initial urgency and intuitiveness. It also includes doing fine work that is painstaking and slow, resulting in pieces that are carefully crafted. The artist’s re-working of the materials, which are draped, moulded, stacked, bear traces of her physical exertion, as well as her imaginative engagement.
Playfulness meets precision, resulting in works that provoke scrutiny, and have rich textural qualities that require one to resist the temptation to touch and play with them. To experience the exhibition, is to experience the interplay between inanimate objects and the human imagination. ‘Loose Parts’ is a beautiful and carefully imagined exhibition; at its most fundamental, it is about the artistic process of production and making, and its potential to generate curiosity and wonder.
Mary Flanagan is a writer based in County Roscommon.