With my work being very process driven, engaged with materiality and a play with materials, I was immediately interested in the material of concrete - both as something architectural, supporting, hard, utilitarian, brutalist - but also from an aesthetic perspective - from the colours, textures, liquid and solid states.
As I have worked with concrete before I wanted to look at the work of other contemporary artists who use the material....
Victor Seaward, is a sculptor based in London who incorporates concrete with inlaid materials, 3D printed objects and motorised components. This artist is a great reference for their play with materials and approach to making in terms of technical skill and process heavy methods. Their clean aesthetic is also very inspiring.
Seaward's practice revolves around an interest in the agency of things, looking at visual culture in relation to material history. There is a juxtaposition between the materials he uses such as functional materials like concrete with recreations of historically significant artefacts like well known busts or arrowheads, with the addition of modern technology like 3D printing or laser projection. His work seeks to expose how how social and cultural groups formulate their own meaning for materials. - interest in visual culture
Concrete is something that permeates the urban environment: it shelters us, protects us, and allows for transformative infrastructure. Yet despite its inherent utilitarianism, it retains a very alluring materiality, a cold muteness that I try and exploit (Victor Seaward, 2022).
Everything and Nothing, 2018, Shelves: Mild steel, perspex, internal LED lighting, Objects
This work is incredibly minimal and precious - almost clinical in its arrangement. Seawards practice is very engaged with arranging and modes of display. The objects are very disparate - ranging from consumer culture to art history to others like appear like artefacts from a museum (in the case of the flint arrow heads, all 3D printed). This allows the work to question authorship - it is hard to tell what is made by hand and if something is organic or produced through 3D printing. Authorship is even further questioned with the actual function of a 3D printer, with this process offering accurate and realistic technological reproducibility - almost making the role of the artists unneeded.
Seaward is also a beneficial reference for his use of curation, with the format he uses to collate his objects as well as its use of light. Seaward described how he sees these illuminated shelves as 'incubators for objects' suggesting a liveliness to the objects and a level of nurture and care for his collection. Every aspect of the works are extremely well made and look like they serve a purpose. The visual choice of displaying these objects in this way also link to the role of still life - with reference to painting tropes - however this 3D rendition encapsulates these objects in stasis, where they appear loaded or 'charged' but have no apparent use other than aesthetic. All of these aspects help finalise the objects and build a cohesion between them. The use of vitrines alludes to methods of museology however there is a more contemporary spin, with the sleek design, colour and material use the shelves almost have more of an advertisement or domestic aesthetic to them that is quite jarring. The use of light is a useful curatorial device to help pinpoint the viewers gaze but also become part of the work. This can be a good source of inspiration for how I could incorporate lighting within my own work - how might this change or enhance the presentation of my own objects? Placing the objects in the vitrines the artist has described as allowing them to gain some kind of new artistic agency - seen as valuable. Taking mundane objects and transforming them into aesthetically pleasing forms through 'the act of enclosure and display' (Victor Seaward, 2022).
There are ideas and methods of collecting explored in the way various objects and materials are joined together. Recalls back to artists such as Henry Moore and his interest in collecting flint, bones and geological objects. Forming personal archives.
The use of traditional sculptural methods such as concrete casting clashes with the digital and contemporary process of 3D printing. The subject matter of flint arrowheads also makes an interesting exploration of past and proposes alternative histories. It causes the viewer to question the reality of the objects as their is a confusion in identifying material use.
Etruscan marbles, medieval polychrome wood figures, renaissance bronzes, Neolithic vessels. All these ancient things have a time-stained authenticity that is impossible to replicate other than through centuries of ageing – and they all seem to have so much information embedded within their materiality. I found that very inspiring. - Victor Seaward
Taking inspiration from pre-existing culturally and historically significant objects - interest in the materiality of age - the aesthetics of age. These appears as an inspiration for his inclusion of objects that speak to different periods in time.
Outlines Roughly the Size of a Suit
Two Person show with Luke Burton, curated by William Gustafsson
Union Gallery, London | February 2019
Common Flax, cast concrete panel with inlaid acrylic and cement chip terrazzo, 23.5 x 16 cm
There is also an element of the unknown with his sculptures - a level of mystery as the viewer is left questioning what the objects are - whether they are found or fabricated as they feel almost alien set in formal shelving and vitrines. A key element in his practice are 'concrete paintings' - with the work being process driven and an exploration of materiality, the individual paintings appear like separate investigations into the surface of concrete.
Some of these concrete paintings incorporate a process of inlaying materials like metal and acrylic as well as terrazzo shards - exploits the textures, form and design of concrete. There are also more figurative imagery within the concrete which appears quite jarring - they appear out of place trapped with the surface of the concrete.
Atlantic Salmon, 2018, cast concrete panel with inlaid acrylic and polar marble terrazzo, 23.5 x 16 cm
There is also something very architectural within his work - with these concrete painting appearing like some kind of architectural motif for a building exterior. - the use of terrazzo grounds many of these pieces in the architectural - with this being a process once very luxurious, being used within buildings for flooring or tiling. The terrazzo within his works are very intimate, small and delicate which is a direct deviation to those displayed in architecture and instead is able to function differently, taking on more of a painterly aesthetic.
Developed 18th Century Venice
Decorative flooring method
Once very luxurious
Resin terrazzo became a very cheap cladding option in the 60's - provided a decorative, cheap by waterproof design - fades or yellows over time
Now become very commonplace and cheap
Appears in shopping centres and train stations
Themes in Work:
Relationship to pattern
Materiality and process
Reference to contemporary or historical material
Traceability within history
Visual language and culture
History of imagery and object
use of texture – layering effects on concrete – patterns and form -
Interesting process of casting inlays – could test out different materials/colours as well as solid forms or outlines – can use laser cutting to produce shapes inspired by my own archive of found objects
The physical objects and the making process have a lot of historical reference but again with a contemporary spin.
Early Neolithic uses of terrazzo - used burnt lime and clay - coloured red with ochre and polished - embedded crushed limestone which produced a mottled textured pattern in flooring of Neolithic buildings. for example the 'Terrazzo Tiled' building in Çayönü, Eastern Turkey is one of the oldest examples of a terrazzo flooring which would have been of great significance and aesthetic beauty.
The 'Terrazzo Tiled' building in Çayönü, Eastern Turkey
As well as the aesthetic qualities, the floors are 15% lime and almost impenetrable to moisture, allowing the buildings to be incredibly durable. It is fascinating to explore the archaeology and history of the material - looking at the physical qualities and how this can be related to an arts practice - as this material history is ever present in the use of terrazzo.
Technology and Concrete
Eau De Vie, 2018, moss from the tomb of Karl Marx growing on cast concrete panel, water pump with 3D printed case, aluminium bottle, tap water, led spotlight, mild steel armature, digital quartic timer
Another aspect of Seawards work are concrete slab stones that marry a kinetic process to disrupt the surface. They appear very clinical and scientific, like an experiment. Engaged with creating a gradually enacting process. It is interesting how elements of motion are captured such as a water pump - giving the artwork a sense of activity.
The qualities of the animal kingdom have long inspired the design of materials and machines through bio-mimetics, as the materiality of technology is bio/geo-logical and nature is fully intertwined in processes of both its production and consumption. The nature of transmutation sees the technological artefact becoming the philosopher’s stone - the archetypal symbol of alchemy - turning base metals and minerals into a new gold (Victor Seaward, 2022).
Linking the evolution of technology - from a primitive tool to machines - processes of change. Reference to alchemy - way of changing something from one state to the other - can be seen within his work - how he is able to take existing object and transform them into a different state through processes like 3D printing.
My own experiments
Learning terrazzo processes:
After researching into the history of terrazzo I found myself encountering more examples within the urban environment around me. I took some images of terrazzo floor tiles I came across on walks to work. Using these photos I attempted to replicate the colours by mixing up plaster playing with pigments. It was helpful to understand how the colour would change once the plaster was added as it become much paler. However, once they were cast I found that some of the pigment had not dissolved. If I was to do this again I should have dissolved the pigment in water first before adding the plaster and it would also give more time to test the colour. I also found that the plaster casts I had made were quite thick and proved more difficult to break into fragments.
Once I achieved this I separated out all the colours into pots, making a range of sizes to provide a more natural result.
For the first test I used a plastic container lid as a mould, placing the terrazzo pieces onto the surface and pouring the plaster on top. However, I found that the weight of the plaster caused the formation of terrazzo to move and once set there were large air bubbles where the plaster was unable to reach between pieces. I found out later on that this may have been successful if I had soaked the plaster chunks in water as it would have provided more weight to the pieces, preventing them from moving as much.
For the second test I folded the terrazzo fragments into the plaster and then poured it into the mould. This was a must cleaner cast with no air bubbled, however it meant that I had to sand down the surface to expose the terrazzo fragments, although actual marble terrazzo goes through a process of grinding to expose the fragments.
As the second test proved successful I moved onto casting a much larger slab stone. I created a mould out of melamine and mixed a much larger quantity of plaster. For the terrazzo hear I was more precise on the range of colours I wanted to use. From the previous test I found that some colours looked more unnatural or unbalanced, and that there needed to be less black as it was too overwhelming. As I made this cast I found that I used Alpha plaster instead of the usual Beta plaster I had been working with. This meant that it began to set much faster than I was expecting, meaning that the pigment was not entirely mixed in with the plaster and there was less time to remove air bubbles. After taking out the mould I found that the one corner had a marbling where the grey pigment had not mixed completely. Thankfully, the amount of air holes was quite minor. I found that the alpha plaster was a lot denser and stronger than beta plaster, and interestingly had a very high chiming acoustic resonance when tapped. This immediately gave me the idea of combining some kind of element that may exploit the acoustic quality of the piece.
To grind down the surface of the plaster I first tested some wet sanding, however, I immediately found that this was too abrasive, causing scratches. Instead I decided to use a scouring sponge, gentry rubbing the piece in warm water in circular motions. This gradually revealed the terrazzo and smoothed the surface. As I was not pleased with the marbled edge, as well as wanting to move away from creating work that was so restrained to a geometric cast, I decided to chip away at the corner, taking a mallet to the edge. With the density of the plaster it allowed for a very clean break which created a much more interesting fragmented form.
DATEAGLE ART. 2022. Victor Seaward. [online] Available at: <https://dateagle.art/victor-seaward-interview/> [Accessed 10 March 2022].