artists respond to the completion of the Cast Collection Project at Edinburgh College of Art
An exhibition curated by Chris Dorsett in collaboration with Margaret Stewart (ECA Cast Collection)
3rd August – 2nd September 2012
Cast Contemporaries is an exhibition that explores contrasting responses to the fate of plaster cast collections in art schools. Many contemporary artists question the relevance of preserving reproductions of antique sculptures, anatomical figures and architectural details. However a growing number of young and emergent practitioners are rethinking the role of these historic educational resources. Edinburgh College of Art has one of the most important cast collections in the UK and, following a two year project in which this unique legacy has been conserved and researched, Cast Contemporaries considers the casts as catalysts for future visual arts experimentation. The exhibition, which reinterprets Edinburgh’s casts with contemporary artworks, is a collaboration between Chris Dorsett, an artist based at Northumbria University whose exhibitions combine contemporary fine art practices with museum display, and Margaret Stewart, curator of the Collection at the College. For more on Dorsett see: http://www.chrisdorsett.com/
Visitors to Cast Contemporaries will find selected examples of the celebrated collection of plaster casts that are, for those who teach and study at Edinburgh College of Art, a feature of everyday life. The exhibition places these sculptures alongside the inventive use of plaster as a medium in its own right (Gareth Fisher) and approaches to casting that replicate, and yet curiously transform, over-familiar objects (Kenny Hunter’s bin bag and FACTICE’s make-up sachets). However the aim is to also explore how artists are responding to the forgotten casts that have been stored away in college basements and art school cupboards for decades. Chancing upon an anonymous anatomical figure, dusty and broken, can sharpen our understanding of the ethical dilemmas that straddle the gap between art and science (Christine Borland) or, in relation to a discarded Eros of Centocelle, trigger an interest in aesthetic pleasure, suggesting contested notions of sensual and intellectual wellbeing (Chris Dorsett). Whilst some exhibits help us rethink a time when casts were common-place teaching aids (Andrew Sneddon uses an anatomical figure by Eduardo Lanteri), others celebrate the conservation techniques now required to restore these sculptures to a museum-worthy standard (Ruxandra-Iulia Stoica & Graciela Ainsworth). The exhibition also demonstrates how young artists are turning new eyes, sometimes with clear reference to popular culture, on the Classical and Renaissance sculptures that the casts reproduced (Tim Croft, John Farrugia, Clare Flatley, Dylan Shields).
Because the Hellenic styles that dominated 18th and 19th century European taste were, in part, disseminated and absorbed through cast collections, Cast Contemporaries also embraces Edinburgh’s status as an ‘Athens of the North’ (Douglas Cruikshank & Scott Licznerski), digitally reconfigures a Classical frieze (Beverley Hood), and discovers a Punk-Stuckist dimension to the decorative designs of Pompeian wall painting (Paul Harvey). Moreover, the exhibition has its own contemporary way of representing the mentality and materiality of Neoclassicism (Graeme Durant’s out-of-scale Platonic form and Maria Mitsoula’s photographic abstractions of marble quarries in Athens). In the 19th century casts were collected for the purposes of study, mostly through careful observational drawing. These days artists use photography to explore the shapes and forms of Graeco-Roman sculpture (Murdo Macdonald, Norman McBeath) whilst others continue to make cast drawings in museums or art schools, with unexpected humour and poetry (Steven Morant, Joan Smith).
Cast Contemporaries also offers a unique opportunity to compare a contemporary application of 'stump' drawing with 19th century examination works which used this technique to draw the ECA casts (Charles Stiven) – it also features a live video stream from a drawing class in ECA's ‘golden’ studio (Chris Speed, Jane Macdonald, Jules Rawlinson & Margaret Stewart). Lastly, we must not forget that the starting point of a monumental sculpture is often a clay model which is destroyed as the mould is made. Cast Contemporaries would be incomplete if it did not try to represent this unexhibitable stage in the development of a public sculpture (Alexander Stoddart).
The Graeco-Roman and Renaissance sculptures presented here as casts are: St. George; Lorenzo de' Medici; Crouching Venus; Spinario; Funerary Statue of Marcellus, nephew of Augustus; Discophorus of Naukydes; Discobolus; Venus de Milo; Castor and Pollux; Male Nude (possibly Hermes); and Venus de' Medici.
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