I took advantage of the fine weather yesterday to carry out a test installation of the sculpture on its props. This was a very stressful exercise but invaluable as it showed the need for a temporary timber frame to support the work during installation.
The Appearance of the Sculpture
The underlying concept behind ‘Pinned Limb’ is to present to the viewer a ‘future past’ (or perhaps an object of the present projected into the future).
Equally important is that it records a human action and is not simply a rendering of part of a tree in metal. Non-organic materials have been used to ‘rescue’ or mummify, one branch of a tree. The passing of the living organic branch has left the hollow metal wrapping as an imprint of its form.
At the time of compiling the initial competition submission I considered for a long time as to how ‘oblique’ the mummification should be and it is a problem that has taxed me throughout the construction of the full size piece. You will see that I finally resolved to portray a very literal interpretation of the process, summoning in the viewer internal recollections that we all carry with us from Egyptology collections and to some extent the Hollywood horror genre. I really did not want anyone to read the piece simply as a metal portrayal of a branch.
(Back to Hollywood, is the branch, in the same way as a mummy, a beautiful thing made a bit scary, a bit unknown?)
It also seems important that the sculpture does not have the appearance of an overtly self-aware work of contemporary art, but more a three dimensional projection of an image from the future. The corrosion suggested by the Verdigris patination of the copper and bronze positions the origin of the sculpture in the past. As with museums, the presentation of such a decayed object reinforces its apparent ‘value’.
The message is predominately concerning the sustainability of our current civilisation but touches upon more general concerns that we all share about the passage of time and our own lives.
An important aspect of the concept underlying the proposal was that the shape of the supported branch would replicate an actual tree limb of one of the prevailing species for the locality. To this end I visited Broomhill and selected a branch from a tree on the slope above the main area of the site
PHOTO 1 The selected branch at Broomhill
The proposal submission for the sculpture included a 1:10 maquette of the piece fabricated in copper and bronze (see above), the materials for the final work. The competition submission included proposals for the fabrication of the branch over a tubular framework.
On the day that I was notified by Broomhill, there was a raging storm down here in Brighton. Whilst I had considered the structural aspects of ‘Pinned Limb’ at the time of submitting the proposal, this weather pushed those concerns to the front of my mind (and kept me awake most of the night!)
The tree branch that I had selected at Broomhill as a basis for the branch in ‘Pinned Limb’ has several turns, one or two of almost 90 degrees. The framework would have to be designed to share the stresses on the joint at these angles and so bracing in the form of scissor trusses was introduced in these areas.
PHOTO 2 The tubular framework
Fleshing Out the Framework
A series of fixing eyes were soldered to the tubular framework to receive ties for the first layer of sheeting. This initial layer is a heavy gauge bronze mesh bent to reproduce the varying diameters of the branch along its length.
PHOTO 3 Bronze gauze over tubular frame
The First Wrapping
The first layer of the branch’s wrapping comprised a 60 gauge copper mesh secured to the bronze mesh substrate. A seam of stitching was positioned along the top of the branch as it was less likely to be visible in this location. The heavy stitched seam was however in itself quite a powerful form evoking injury, surgery, butchers’ jointing (even perhaps a body-bag), and it remains visible in some places on the sculpture.
PHOTO 4 The initial copper mesh wrapping
In the manner of Ancient Egyptian mummification practices, the wrapped body is secured with windings (bandages). These are the foremost visual clue to the sculpture seeking to project a human intervention rather than a simple portrayal of a natural form, a branch. I chose a literal rendering of the windings to ensure that they were not interpreted as just a part of the fabrication of the sculpture. Only the viewer will know if I was right to take this course.
PHOTO 5 The branch with windings
Visually, the props need to be very slender to accentuate the form of the branch and to make it effectively ‘fly’. Structural stability is achieved by several means:
1.The props are designed to act as a tepee structure, albeit with a broadened apex, where they join the ‘branch’
2.The props are cast into the concrete footings and have a rigid connection to the ground
3.The props have rigid connections to the branch
4.The props will have a solid section throughout
The props for the sculpture were envisaged as being in solid bronze at the time of the original competition proposal. I was concerned that there may be differential patination with the copper windings of the branch, and so decided to sheath them in copper. Investigations also showed that stainless steel had a far higher Young’s Modulus with negligible risk of galvanic corrosion. The rods within the props are therefore stainless steel.
The completion of the covering to the branch highlighted an imbalance in its visual weight. Perhaps not surprisingly, separation of the branch from its trunk causes it to appear a bit unwieldy in its heavier sections. It may be necessary therefore to shorten the branch at its wider end (I seem to recall having to do something similar on the original maquette!).