We got lucky with the weather on our visit to Fulmer Contemporary. After days of drizzly grey sky, the sun came out, adding a honey hued dimension to the beautiful moss coloured woodland and formal gardens where 18 artworks are displayed.
Outdoor sculpture is a rare treat these days. Growing up in the vicinity of Harlow new town, shopping trips as a young girl always included a climb on the various Henry Moore sculptures that were scattered around the precinct. As a result I’m compelled to touch sculpture, I find it seductively tactile whether smooth polished surfaces or rough hewn angles.
Luckily for me the works on display at Fulmer Contemporary are all touchable (they’re Covid safe as appointments are limited). Accompanied by George Marsh of Brooke Benington Gallery who curated the exhibition, we start off with a crumbling tower of aluminium foam blocks by James Balmforth, the edge of which has been blasted with a thermic lance to create a crusty volcanic reaction. Nestled in a glade of lush ferns, ‘Recombination Point’ 2017 has a post apocalyptic presence as though it’s been launched from outer space and landed in the grounds of a Buckinghamshire house.
Continuing our walk through the woodland, next up are two shiny gem coloured steel pieces by Jesse Pollock. Their physicality is immediate – an oversized cider pot and a rickety ladder – but it’s the old English phrases scarred on to the surfaces that intrigue me – ‘Lickpenny’ and ‘Flogging a dead horse’. George explains the artist is fascinated by the British vernacular, particularly in his home of rural Kent.
Further on we encounter, a pair of pewter glasses ‘Twenty Twenty’ 2020, Jemma Egan, hanging from a tree and what appeared to be a pair of underpants discarded in the undergrowth.
It was in fact a bronze piece, ‘Stiff’ 2020 modelled on a pair of pants in the shape of a skull by Leo Fitzmaurice. It made us smile as we recalled our dog walks over lockdown and how bemused we were at the amount of discarded underwear in hedgerows.
George explains that Jemma Egan’s spectacles relate in part to her eyesight deteriorating and the importance that reading glasses took on over lockdown. She’s also interested in how an everyday object such a pair of glasses can be used as a signifier for the passing of time – in TV and theatre, a pair of glasses are often added to an actor to create the universal illusion of ageing.
”Uglifruit’ 2012-19 by Julian Wild is a towering orange sculpture with an angled knot, upon which sits a parasitic lump of bronze, like an organic growth form. This is part of a small series of work where the artist has revisited earlier works with the aim to corrupt and undermine them with the addition of a fungal like presence. It could almost have crawled off ‘Recombination Point’ when it landed from outer space.
Nigel Hall makes an appearance with ‘Passage’ 1995, a corton steel piece whose elegant curves demand to be stroked. George explains that this wing-like work, perched on the banks of a small pond, documents the passing of time, changing throughout the day as the sun moves around, throwing shadows and creating illusions of depth and shape. We spend a while with it and begin to get a sense of its beauty. Its a piece that would be wonderful to live with.
Next on our route is work by one of Brazil’s foremost sculptors, Alexandre Da Cuhna ‘Public Sculpture (Pouff IV)’ 2018, a circular modernist piece which consists of three sections of industrial concrete sewer pipe. Smooth terrazo like edges contrast the rough outer surface. Its a piece you can really interact and engage with, although slightly precarious as the three pieces are not fixed, only their own weight keeps them in place.
‘Red Sentinel’ 2020 and ‘Blue Sentinel’ 2020 by Jack West stand guard under a huge tree like two robot chess pieces. The artist frequently references the virtual world which is evident in the pixelated impact of these two playful characters.
Three tiny futuristic bird boxes (all RSPB approved) by Victor Seaward are positioned high up on huge trees, ‘Thorned Nest’ 2020, ‘Diamond Nest’ 2020 and ‘Fruit Nest’ 2020 are 3D printed works. The artist taught himself to use the software over lock down and investigated the sculptural nests built by African weaver birds. Keen for local birds to take up residence in these digitally formed residences, the RSPB were consulted so that the boxes can function as actual bird boxes.
We nearly miss the next four works as they’re embedded into the ground (and the grass has been growing!). Based on an ongoing project with South African interdisciplinary artist Jessica Doucha, these works by Marco Miehling investigate how artists can work together from distant locations. ‘Sections: ongoing’ 2020 are steel shapes that provide a space for physical performances to take place. The shapes can be reproduced and laser cut in different locations, allowing simultaneous performances to occur across venues in multiple countries.
A small, intricate sculpture ‘No Letting Go’ 2015/20, stands atop a wooden plinth in the shade.. Less immediate than its fellow works, but hugely intriguing,. it’s by Katrin Hanusch. Hanusch is an artist whose work explores the balance between beauty and coarseness, chance and failure. The work is based on a 3D scan of a leaf. During the printing process part of the data was lost, resulting in the loss of a rectangular section of the piece. The partly printed leaf is presented with found twine and a slate block that was discarded by another artist. It’s a delicate, elegant object, a partly manmade creation of chance sitting amongst the early autumn leaves that have fallen from neighbouring trees.
‘Rat Race’ 2020 by Lucy Gregory is a red powder coated steel piece that looks like it could roll across the manicured lawn with the slightest of pushes. I’m tempted but George tells me its not actually designed to roll as the artist enjoys playing with the idea of potential and constraint.
As we come to our last piece in the exhibition, I don’t want it to end! George has given us so much insight into the artists and their work – and its the first exhibition we’ve been to since lockdown. Many of the artists have responded to lockdown in their work – whether making new works or revisiting existing pieces. The notion of time has played a key role as we’ve all sat at home waiting for normality to return and its been interesting to look at that through an artists’ eyes. I’ve also enjoyed the works that utilise everyday and found materials, elevating and impacting their value – as too the artists who have adapted their practice, learning to embrace new technologies or ways of collaborating that overcome the physical boundaries of travel restrictions.
So to end with Simon Allison’s totemic works ‘Spin Cycle IX & X’, 2019 is a treat. Turned from large single section oak pieces, which have been burnt and finished with wax, they appear as two figures in dialogue with each other. The artist brings into question the value of materials, placing the oak pieces on simple pallets which are in fact cast from bronze, elevating their material value. They are highly tactile and beautiful – the wood opens and closes with changes in humidity, revealing glimpses of the natural oak inside.
Contemporary Art Fulmer
Until 24 October 2020
Open by appointment
Contact George Marsh firstname.lastname@example.org