DISCIPLINE2002 Roger Hiorns (1975 − )
Roger Hiorns is surely, by definition, an alchemist, creating the majority of his sculptural works by placing elements together and letting them fizz, bubble and grow. In Discipline, he has dipped thistles in copper sulphate solution, a favourite chemical for this artist, so that gloriously bright blue crystals have bloomed on their surface. Bunches of this precious quarry of weeds have been hung upside down, and fixed with Velcro to several steel rods which are leant against a wall.
These glitteringly bright objects provoke in us a magpie-like attraction, and a desire to run our fingers across a familiar form, feeling how it has become strange. There is always, when looking at Hiorns’ sculptures with copper sulphate, an imagining of this process of change – the chemical dip, followed by the slow blossom¬ing of alien crystalline forms on the surface, nurtured by the artist. Contained within these objects is the curiously appealing narrative of their transformation. One only need think of religious tales from any faith, or of comic-book superheroes who begin to transform after drinking a potion or being bitten by a magical animal, to remember just how central transformation narratives are within a culture.
Basic magic is at play here, too. There’s no denying the cerulean beauty of the crystal sprouting process, which has for so long delighted children with chemistry sets. My dad bought me a ‘grow your own crystals’ kit as a child, and I loved it, perhaps primarily because I had grown them. The personal satisfaction in oversee¬ing the process might not be lost on Hiorns. Arguably, by covering objects in crystal, he claims them for himself, taking ownership by somehow stilling them, and stopping their progress. One might con¬sider that he has employed the same copper sulphate process on car engines. In The Birth of the Architect (2003), for example, a BMW8-series engine has been scuppered and becomes choked up with a blight of blue gems – creating a functionless bauble of precision engineering.
The power of crystals to generate so visibly relates to a primal property of unstoppable growth within Hiorns’ work with materials such as copper sulphate and foam. The importance of propagation in works like Discipline might be illuminated (a choice of word which overcooks the point slightly) by Hiorns’ later works involving semen on light bulbs (several ‘Untitled’ works, 2007), a pure marker of ter¬ritory and DNA, but also of life and growth potential – a force, surely, at the core of human existence.
This is further complicated by the ambiguous ‘discipline’ of this work’s title. Hiorns’ sculptures are certainly not objects of abstinence. Against steel rods, thistles and growing crystals look positively excessive: bejewelled, fecund, disobedient things. ‘Discipline’ also, however, brings other concepts to the table. In Hiorns’ work of this period, there is an emphasis on weight, balance and stress, and here there is certainly an equilibrium between the materials and a sense of even weight distribution. The rods lean against a supporting wall, carrying the weight of their heavy bounty with ease. It is the painterly ‘discipline’ of still life, however, which arguably carries the most weight here. Whilst central to the sculpture, the thistles remain curiously absent, a fugitive presence that one knows is there, but can¬not really see. For just as the painter of flowers makes his mark all over them, Hiorns has taken ownership of these weeds in a different way. Claiming them for his own, he presents back to the viewer a life totally stilled – an embalmed bunch of dead, delicious matter.
. Corvi-Mora, London.
Published in Passports British Council Collection, British Council, London 2009
- Accession Number P7568
- Dimensions 114 X 66 X 51 CM
- Media STEEL, THISTLES, COPPER SULPHATE, VELCRO
A three-dimensional work of art. Such works may be carved, modelled, constructed, or cast. Sculptures can also be described as assemblage, in the round, relief, and made in a huge variety of media. Contemporary practice also includes live elements, as in Gilbert & George 'Living Sculpture' as well as broadcast work, radio or sound sculpture.
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