Yorkshire gears up for new sculpture festival

Yorkshire gears up for new sculpture festival

The inaugural edition of Yorkshire Sculpture International takes place across four major institutions in Leeds and Wakefield

It is no coincidence that modern British sculpture was raised on strong tea and Yorkshire pudding. From Henry Moore to Barbara Hepworth, Anthony Caro to Phyllida Barlow, the 20th-century sculptural force of this region issued from the pounding heart of the art schools, welded by lineages of materiality and mentorship. Now well into the 21st century, the county’s major art institutions are to be rabble-roused by a new festival of sculpture, Yorkshire Sculpture International (YSI), presenting one hundred days of sculptural song and dance.

With presentations from 18 international artists, outdoor commissions, talks and associated programmes, embarking on the festival programme is not unlike a lesson in the art of lost-wax casting, confounding with endless processes of filling and draining, melting and recasting. For starters, the designated ‘Sculpture Triangle’ spans a fiesty foursome of locations: Leeds Art Gallery, Henry Moore Institute, The Hepworth Wakefield and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

three of four, 2019, by Ayşe Erkmen, installation view at Leeds Art Gallery, commissioned for Yorkshire Sculpture International. Photography: Jerry Hardman-Jones

The pinnacle is found at the Hepworth: in Jamaican-Canadian artist Tau Lewis’ unsettling aquatic textile collages – advocates for ancestors lost to threadbare black histories; Nairy Baghramian’s intellectually laboured Maintainers, yielding polished wax and aluminium in co-dependency; and Rosanne Robertson’s exposition of the fluidity of queer bodies through haiku-like 1-minute looped films, Stone (Butch) and Pissing (YSP Bothy Gallery). And tempering the political with the spiritual, Wolfgang Laib’s pulsating grid of hand-sized rice ‘mountains’, exalting a humble truth to materials.

Ignited by Barlow’s observation that sculpture is ‘the most anthropological of the art forms’, the inaugural edition of YSI reveals the human impulse to connect with objects is more sentient than ever. Rashid Johnson’s Shea Butter Three Ways (Henry Moore Institute) is a luxurious study of the material coaxed into a three-phase installation, as tactile as it is aromatic. Meanwhile, the question of architectural anthropology is raised by Kimsooja’s quixotic installation of light and mirrors in Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s historic chapel, as well as Ayşe Erkmen’s site-specific installation, three of four, a floor-to-ceiling extension of the recently rediscovered vaulted glass roof of Leed Art Gallery’s Central Court.

Fulfilling its calling card ‘to inspire audiences to rethink their understanding of sculpture’, YSI looks beyond the traditional trio of bronze, stone and wood towards a more interdisciplinary genealogy of making (albeit via a thoughtful foray of the latter in ‘Woodwork: A Family Tree of Sculpture’ at Leeds Art Gallery). Cauleen Smith’s hypnotic film Sojourner, is part political history, part golden-hour feminist utopia, languishing in the seductive desertscape of Noah Purifoy. Embracing community collaboration, composer Tarek Atoui has devised performances with instrument makers in a bid to better understand sound through deafness.

What YSI seems to enact is a retracing of artistic heritage through the material present. If Barlow’s contention is to be wholeheartedly embraced, it surely calls for positive cultural contributions towards our ongoing anthropology. And just as Yorkshire pudding is to roast beef, the story of British sculpture would be a meagre without Yorkshire. Yet the question remains, how meaningful a role YSI will play in the future of sculpture internationally. Will this local treasure find its footing in the non-placeness of the art world’s international event calendar? Only time will tell: the proof is in the pudding. §

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