This summer, thanks to projects such as Bold Tendencies in Peckham, we got pretty used to witnessing shows curated up high on a roof with a killer view and a drink in hand. But now as the winter winds are drawing in, it’s time for us arty types to scuttle into the warmth of galleries and basement’s to get our artistic fix. Good timing, then, for artist Toby Ziegler who has set up his latest show 14 storey’s below ground level, in an underground car park in Mayfair.
The only light down in the depths of the car park is cast from Ziegler’s enormous light boxes displaying an image taken from an old Piero della Francesca fresco, which cast dim light on to his mesmerising Bruegel-inspired Cripples Sculptures. We caught up with Toby and asked him a few questions about this brilliant show so far beneath London.
The sculptures are inspired by Bruegel’s cripples – when did you first come across Bruegel’s work and why does it particularly inspire you?
The sculptures were triggered by looking at the Bruegel painting The Cripples, and on first seeing it I was reminded of a particularly hideous family portrait from my parents’ photo album. I started to re-imagine the figures from the painting on a computer using 3-D modeling software, to make a reduced, facetted approximation. As they evolved several other associations surfaced: fragments of classical sculpture, the Laocoon group at the Vatican, Courbet’s Origine du Monde, Rodin’s Balzac, Francis Bacon’s Figures at the Base of A Crucifixion, Sol Lewitt’s open cubes.
The work also started to refer to war porn from Iran and Afghanistan that I stumbled across on the internet through reading about online censorship and nowthatswhaticalledfuckedup.com.
What exactly are the sculptures made from?
At first I make models out of paper but the finished sculptures are made from panels of oxidised aluminium riveted together. These are pierced and suspended by simple wooden geometric frames. The aluminium has a white stony quality which asks you to believe in the solidity and mass of the forms, but somehow the means of construction reminds you of their hollowness, that it is just a skin describing the volume.
There’s something marvellous about having such powerful, strong sculptures on what appear to be almost splints and crutches – was there a reason for stripping these sculptures of en element of strength?
I have always been drawn to unfinished or damaged works of art. They seem to make the act of looking more reflexive. What is lacking in the work and what does the viewer bring to it? In my sculptures the geometric frames supporting the figures function somewhere between plinth and prosthetic limb.
Artwork aside, the space itself is pretty magnificent, why did you choose such a deep, dark space for this installation?
Since I started thinking about this project I knew I wanted it to happen in an underground space. I spent a lot of time on subterraneabritannica.com, which is an encyclopedia of bunkers, tunnels and caverns, but decided that I wanted a space that was still in use and was more mundane. I embarked on a tour of London’s underground car-parks and probably visited 50 car-parks last year. The acoustics in the space were very important, and I think it’s appropriate that this is a space that echoes. At one point I was considering making a sound piece, a subliminal drone, as part of the installation, but having spent some time down there I realised that the space provides it’s own soundtrack: your footsteps reverberate, the tube trains rumble, cars approach from the upper floors, sounds are distorted and lose resolution as they bounce to and fro across the space.
The space is contemporary and utilitarian , but also somehow archaeological. I was conscious of the speed of the place. Underground car parks are places you are urged to get in and out of as quickly as possible, but I hope the installation has a sense of slow time.
The only light in the exhibition comes from lightboxes, can you tell us a little about what is featured on those light boxes and why?
There are eight large light boxes scattered around the room which all feature a highly pixelated image of a section from a renaissance fresco; a battle scene painted by Piero Della Francesca. It’s interesting to me when pixels become approximations of brush marks. The light boxes function a little like windows , although the vista they offer is an impenetrable thicket of legs. He was a master of perspective but his paintings also comprise of flat shapes laid down next to each other. You can draw a line between Piero Della Francesca and modernism. The section of the fresco I’ve used has a cluttered pictorial space that reminded me of Guernica.
The light boxes are programmed so that periodically one or other of them will slowly fade and then pulse back. I wanted the light in the room to be in motion.
Are you working on anything else at the moment?
The things I’m currently working on look at tiny sections of still life paintings. I’m working on a show for Max Hetzler gallery in April and I can imagine a group of paintings and sculptures connected by a metal framework that snakes around the space.
Catch Toby’s work from October 10th – 20th at the Q PARK, in Mayfair