Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2011
H 30.5 W 22.9 D 24.4cm
H 30.5 W 22.9 D 24.4cm
H 35.6 W 25.4 D 27.9cm
Ricky Swallow’s work operates in a space between the real and un-real, offering us finely wrought, beautifully constructed and often deceptive depictions of objects from the everyday world. They draw upon the twin obsession of the observant artist and collector coupled with a hyper-craftsman’s drive and fastidious attention to detail. Swallow’s work often builds itself around simple binaries; hard/soft, permanent/impermanent, light/heavy. His work also engages with the traditions of sculpture and the parallel dialogue – another binary – between art and craft.
Like other artists interested in the bringing together of disparate objects, the ‘art’ often exists in the transmutation of something from the margins – a cardboard target, a balloon – into something that could be called ‘art’. Caravan is a recasting of two objects that appear to have no place being brought together. The first form is that of a balloon. We think of a balloon as being light as air, delicate, a captured breath. It is also something ephemeral, it can pop or sag, eventually it will fall apart, but not this balloon as it is cast in bronze.
The second components are a cluster of bronze barnacles that are affixed to the balloon’s surface. Barnacles are arthropods living within a shell enclosures that they build up around themselves from a larval stage. Unlike a snail or hermit crab, they are fixed − their shell is no caravan, instead it is a rock-solid home.
Sheer incongruity sits at the heart of this work: what are barnacles doing attached to a balloon? Why is a balloon cast in bronze, a material more closely associated with public statuary and civic importance? Touching the floor lightly, the barnacles find their new homes on a solid breath and the balloons sit like full and swollen monuments of heavy air.
When I made this work I was thinking about both a formally strange combination of elements and also a kind of collapse of two ideas of time, the temporal event or sculptural occasion of the balloon taken over by the slow-forming barnacles. It’s a motif that I’ve worked with in the past, a stubborn object from the perspective of past works and personal history… on the coast it seems like you can judge a structure’s timeline by its barnacle count. Caravan represents a sort of hardened or fused time in which an impermanent or temporary set of forms become capable of outliving the people and events they were created to signal. Balloons are formed in a minute of our time and attached to structures, fences, awnings, letter boxes to signal and specify an occasion. Within this sculpture the balloons seem lost or detached from any occasion, moored to the floor by their weight and altered materiality, thus allowing the barnacles the opportunity to populate the surface. A crystallised solution.
It’s also a sculpture in which the strange formal nature of the combination produces something uncomfortable for me. A narrative free ‘thing-ness’ which leads me to think that the act of physically producing the work may be the closest thing I have to talking about it appropriately. Because it’s a work that is created unique in wax each time, it involves my time at a table with wax balloon forms and a pile of cast barnacles. The wax barnacles are chosen, trimmed and attached to the surface…composed to an appeasing rhythm, both on each balloon and balanced across all three. The work then undergoes a set of elaborate and alchemical stages to appear in bronze; technical feats which are performed at the foundry by a more experienced hand than mine-when I’m next involved in the work it’s in bronze and semi polished-a permanent double of the wax I originally worked on. In applying the final surface to the bronze, nursing each form and near polishing and highlighting its surface to the desired degree- something has happened, something’s occurred and changed without too much thinking. For me sculpture is a process of abbreviation toward a resolved object which in the end lives its own time out in space-independent of the hands and ideas necessary to create it.
pp. 68-69 'The Bricoleur’ National Gallery Victoria, Melbourne, 2009 publication. Solo Exhibition.
Caravan represents a sort of hardened or fused time in which an impermanent or temporary set of forms become capable of outliving the people and events they were created to signal.
Ricky Swallow, 2011