Liverpool Biennial 2010: Tony Cragg in The Well at Liverpool Cathedral.

Window almost overlooking The Well at Liverpool Cathedral

Art Unlike Danica Dakic, I’ve known Tony Cragg’s work for years. Our original encounter was during my time at the study centre in the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds were I remember cataloguing his latest exhibition catalogues (the centre collected volumes related to sculpture and only sculpture). However huge these books were (and some of them were large enough that they could not fit properly on the shelves) it wasn’t until I saw the work later, in situ at sculpture parks and in art galleries I understood what it was that I found so attractive, other than the determination to produce sculpture which can’t easily be quantified or described.

Cragg has the ability to produce solid, usually abstract objects which illogically also contain an element of movement in a way that rarely seems artificial. To steal a quote out of context from his wiki page, he says himself he want the “material to have a dynamic, to push and move and grow.” To stand in their presence is to find yourself in one of those scenes in Heroes when Hiro stops time and shows off by ducking under some spilt coffee. The three masses in the well at the cathedral below the Tracy Emin neon-sign are perfect examples (and even if you have the Biennial catalogue you’ll have to see them yourself, they’re not the three published therein even though they’re labelled as such).

All are abstract shapes. Here is an attempt to describe them. I’m Alive is a cone form making a dash for freedom like something from an early PiXAR demo. Wooden Crystal looks like a tower of rolos on a turntable in a stage of collapse. My favourite, Big Head could only by mimicked by a smaller human bonce if its features were jumbled up in a contoured restaurant window behind which someone is hold a piece of paper (probably the waiter with the tab for the alcohol which would also need to be consumed to get blurriness of the image just right). Nope, that didn’t work. Um, a sculpture of a human head made from frozen milk which is thawing. No. Oh, you will just have to go and see them for yourself (see above).

The same cathedral guide who explained all the tables also mentioned the sculptures to me and said that they’d been given instructions by the artist not to allow them to be touched which is ironic given the title of this season’s Biennial. Chosen because they’ve been produced in materials that contrast with the stone of the building, the smooth fibreglass (Big Head), wood (Wooden Crystal, obviously), carbon and kevlar (I’m Alive) exteriors have an otherworldly quality. They are very tactile. After years of working in and out of art galleries, I can rarely touch anything artistic, even if I’m allowed to, but I did see other visitors still furtively laying their fingers on the surface, or in the case of one bloke given a slight wrap of the knuckle to see if they’re hollow. It's quite a challenge.

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