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AP1: Practical research - Metal/Plaster Workshop

Whilst developing my work I have recently experimented with working in the metal workshop. This was quite a challenging process as metal is a material I do not have much experience with, however with my interest in urban environments, brutalism and urban detritus I was interested to explore a material that visually linked with my interests.

Testing display:

After creating a series of concrete slab stones, I was interested in finding a format of display which would help elevate the pieces and unify each piece whilst avoiding literal historical art formats of display striving for something more unique and contemporary.

I began testing various options for display for the concrete slabs, however from the start I knew that I wanted these pieces to be floor sculptures with the ability to be walked around by visitors and seen at multiple angles.

I started by using thin round pieces of steel to prop the piece up at an angle however this appeared too similar to a picture frame, and the metal looked very disconnected due to the clean and slender material.

I found that using the angle iron and the steel box pieces were much more effective as this provided a dirtier and chunkier, stronger looking support. It also felt quite industrial, as if these pieces were just excavated or demolished from a construction site. I quite liked the jarring nature between the almost alien looking, ancient fossil like surface of the concrete and the very industrial iron.

After testing various compositions I felt that the pieces were very disconnected by using individual pieces of iron stands, causing each piece to seem like separate artworks. As I wanted the pieces to be part of a series and read as one work, I decided to weld together the iron to create 1 connected form.


The choice of welding was one that connected well to the urban aesthetic of the artworks. As the concrete slab stones appear almost prehistoric, and concrete itself referencing back to Roman construction - the metal added a more timely quality and cemented the pieces in a more modern urban landscape.

However, once the pieces had been welded I found that the stone slabs did not fit into the same aesthetic. With the pieces having such geometry with smooth straight lines it seemed jarring against my interest in the fragmented forms I was creating. As such I tested chiselling the pieces to create more natural shapes.

It was great to learn processes of stone carving. I used a test block of concrete to trial various tools, from different sized chisels, to tooth edged chisels that created patterned lines. I also tested hammering edges with a textured metal hammer but this was too uncontrollable and caused the edges to become crumbly. I also tested a wire brush to create textures however, this appeared too unnatural and left overly prominent lines. I settled on using a small chisel as this was more controllable and allowed me to break away fractured pieces which produced more angular breaks that gave the appearance of natural stone formations.

I found this to be very successful as it creates much more aesthetically interesting shapes, drawing more attention to the fragmented outlines. As well as this it is disguises how they have been produced. The straight edges meant the pieces were easily read as cast objects direct from a mould, however, the more natural and random shape appears less controlled, as if they have been sculpted from a solid rather than cast. This process of discussing the artist production and making the viewer question the material and production - ask whether the pieces are original found objects or fabricated - is something I am interested in exploring.

The fragmented shapes also fit more into the metal frame display, however, they still felt disconnected and awkwardly sat and were propped against the frame. I did like the urban, industrial quality to the metal, but I did not like the connection to warzones and tank traps. It was read too much as a protective barrier from a warzone which made the piece too political which I wanted to avoid.

However, this felt a very important step forwards, as I was beginning to consider how the pieces functioned and sat in space - how they would be encountered - if it was floor based - walked around - seen from multiple angles. Considering how the pieces were held - if they required a stand - plinth - support? These were all important observations and allowed me to question their connection to other works.

Testing the display

After evaluating my work I found that I was not being playful enough - the work was becoming too methodical - I wanted to play more with the materials - see how the work would sit in different contexts.

Being interested in Media Archaeology, processes of archiving and the idea of my sculptures being these uncovered artefacts I began by testing the pieces displayed on sand. I used the plastic aprons as a base to hold the sand in place. It was useful seeing how the pieces reacted against the surface - I played with embedding them, burring, stacking, placing other contrasting objects underneath such as coal/stones/metal to act as supports. It was all very process driven - being interested in the materials, textures, clashing surfaces and textures and the way that different objects balanced and existed in space. However, I felt that the sand was too literal.

I began playing more with the materials - by chance I found that the plastic aprons became part of the work as well - I enjoyed the fluid, flowing nature of the fabric - as well as its connection to artistic production and process. These became a platform for the works to be displayed upon. I utilised older sculptures - the polystyrene coated in concrete as an additional platform - as these were a lot larger, chunkier and solid.

I also played with using clamps as a support device, allowing the concrete slabs to be lifted and held at specific angles. This felt like a positive jump from using the welded metal as a support to something more jarring and visually confusing but still linked to process and artistic production.

Lastly I incorporated barrelled glass, playing with pouring over the different surfaces, also using it as a support on its own - creating obelisks out of the slabs. I enjoyed how the glass appeared like precious gemstones - linking to the theme of the work being culturally significant artefacts or precious ornaments. It also continues the trompe l'oeil technique within the work, attempting the misdirect the viewer.

I also played with the different locations of the pieces, wrapping them in plastic bags or folded sheets, holding them in clamps or placing them into the forge. Whilst many of these did not work is was a much needed break from a very structured and methodical approach to just see how the work would sit and correspond to a change in location.

The works feel much more successful when combined with additional materials. I also feel like the work has become much more of a reflection on processes and activities

  • containing

  • placing

  • wrapping

  • folding

  • covering

  • piling

  • supporting

  • breaking

  • disrupting

  • bagging

  • cascading

  • flowing

  • stacking

Metal hook fixings:

Another metalwork process I explored was a fixing for displaying one of my slab stones hanging on the wall, referencing the way in which historical artefacts are hung within the museum.

Creating the hooks was a very enjoyable but precise task. There was a lot of testing and trial and error in figuring out the size and length of the hook, having to change the measurements to allow for more space for the screws for example.

This was a great process for learning how to use a variety of new tools and machines, using a metal punch to mark the screw holes to using a metal drill, ensuring to oil the area to allow less tension and heat build-up while drilling through the metal.

When it came to preparing the piece to bend, I sued the hack saw the cut small indents where I had measured for each bend. These were taking from the thickness of the material, and was then widened using a v shaped metal file and then smoothed with a round file to create a softer area for the metal to be bent.

The final process was using the metal bending machine, placing the pieces precisely to allow the bend to be aligned correctly as well as bending the material slowly at intervals so as to not put too much strain onto the metal. I also had to be careful to not bend the piece too far so that it would still fit around the slab. After creating one of the hooks I found that all 4 hooks would have to be unique as the surface of the slab was inconsistent. However, I was very pleased by the final result as it provided a strong fixing whilst also giving an attractive aesthetic, as the rusted metal gave a contrast to the cold grey plaster and allowed the piece to appear more contemporary.


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