4 March – 30 April 2023
In conjunction with Thiébaut Chagué’s installation of a wood-fired kiln at Messums Wiltshire and the exhibition of his work, we will be displaying a presentation of sculptural ceramics by the contemporary French artist, Sandrine Bringard. Bringard was taught by Chagué and spent a year in residence working at his studio, experimenting with high- temperature wood-firing and learning from his expertise.
Her ceramic work focuses on the theme of the body and body parts, investigating notions of the interior – the invisible and the suggested, and the exterior – the visible and space. Bringard’s work in clay maintains a physical relationship with the earth as she describes, ‘this material endowed with a memory which has the capacity to record the pressure of its fingers’. The evolution of her work leads her to the use of other materials, for example, rubber, wool, rope, wood, and neoprene in filaments, integrating further colour and texture.
Water remains a determining element and a source of inspiration in Bringard’s practice, fuelled by the writings of the philosopher, Gaston Bachelard. Water that is never present but evoked by textures, by objects borrowed from the aquatic environment which mutate and merge with the body or part of the body. She treats the body as a container filled with thoughts, moods and fluids. The body parts and limbs she creates are, in her words, ‘exhibited as autonomous “individuals”, seemingly free to move guided by their feelings’.
by Emily Spicer
Sandrine Bringard’s (b.1986, France) witty, surreal sculptures recall a breadth of influences, ranging from the dreamlike worlds of René Magritte and Frida Kahlo to the solid classicism of Auguste Rodin. More contemporary influences include her teacher Thiébaut Chagué, whose exhibition in the Tithe Barn runs alongside Bringard’s own. Bringard spent a year in residence at Chagué’s studio from 2011-12, experimenting with high-temperature wood-firing. The pieces in her exhibition Splash! span many years of working with this technique. While Bringard has exhibited in France, Spain and Denmark, Splash! is her first exhibition in the UK.
A central theme in Bringard’s work is the body, which she deconstructs and transforms until limbs and extremities take on strange lives of their own. Marcheur (Walker, 2019) is a perfect example. The lower leg is rendered in unglazed clay; the thigh is constructed from an amphora. The sensuous curves of the vessel’s shoulders resemble hamstrings contracting mid-step. The amphora, which is an ancient design used for transporting goods by sea, provides the artist with a perfect shorthand for the travelling human body. She calls such pieces her “body-pots,” and envisages them pouring out the moods and feelings they carry within them.
The importance of water and notions of fluidity in Bringard’s work is reinforced by recurring marine motifs. Her Vénus sculptures depict single bent legs, attended by all manner of aquatic objects, from corals and sponges, to fishing floats and mooring ropes. Inspired by the Crouching Venus in the British Museum (2nd Century AD), these statuettes are attached to textured bases in the manner of figurines that might adorn a mantelpiece. In this way they are like the trinkets and keepsakes found in most domestic settings. However, their fragmented nature speaks to something beyond the trivial. These limbs, vulnerable in their detachment, seem to be resting on some epic submarine journey.
With the installation Ophelia (2014), water takes on a darker aspect. This piece is inspired by Shakespeare’s tragic character of the same name, most famously depicted by pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais. In Millais’s painting, Ophelia floats on her back in a reed-tangled river, having drowned herself in despair. Bringard takes this idea and abstracts it. She imagines Ophelia’s nose, hands and breasts protruding above the water and transforms them into taps and funnels mounted on a wall. Her extremities are now fixtures, through which liquid can pass. This tragic heroine has become a conduit for the very substance that killed her. But this ‘water’ doesn’t flow; it is black and formed of rubber tubes. It is a surreal interpretation of Ophelia’s fate, one designed, Bringard says, to recall the madness of a watery suicide.
Bringard is heavily influenced by the works of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, who wrote extensively on water and the creative process in Water and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Matter (1942). In his introduction Bachelard writes:
I cannot emphasise too much how important the experience of fluidity and pliability is to an understanding of the psychology of the creative unconscious. In experimenting with paste (la pâte), water will obviously be the dominant substance. One dreams of water when taking advantage of the docility of clay (l’argile).
This passage sheds light on Bringard’s rationale. The importance of water on the malleability of clay is clear, but its effect on the imagination is perhaps less so. In poetry, literature, art and music, water represents our fears and passions, our ability to travel and the basis of all life on Earth. It is the master of our fate and a source of endless, profound inspiration. Bachelard noted the influence this essential substance has on the psychology of artists and writers. Bringard’s strength is to tap into these feelings by invoking it obliquely.
Other elemental forces are at work in Buste aux Oreilles (2012). This bust is formed from a vase; there is no head, no way for the viewer to attach significance to a face. Instead, this is what the artist calls a ‘body-volcano.’ A lava-type material appears to pour down the sides. Ears grow from this substance like lichen on a tree, ‘recalling,’ Bringard says, ‘the memory of the disappeared head.’ Here, the human, the organic and the geological are melded into a single, mysterious object, which seems plucked from an alternate reality. We might imagine such a creation appearing in a film by Salvador Dalí, walking the line between dream and nightmare.
The lava-like surface on Buste aux Oreilles was achieved by the artist repeatedly pricking the ceramic with a needle before firing it. She wanted to create ‘sensitive matter, which would have the power to absorb the most tenuous sounds.’ Her ability to convey meaning through texture is integral to her work. The biological often fuses to the mechanical to produce an unsettling hybrid. Using a variety of glazes, she reproduces the appearance of metals and plastics, rock and organic matter. With Blow 5 (2022) she combines the iridescence of soap bubbles with the almost veiny surface of viscera. The deflated, bulbus shape slumps against its support. Is it an organism or an organ? Its white, pearlescent glaze suggests something rare and precious. It seems vital but helpless, another fragment of a missing whole.
Whether depicting vases or tubes, organs or amorphous forms, Bringard’s sculptures speak of the human condition. In this exhibition, tragedy and loss, resilience and humour are conveyed through melding the human vessel with the literal vessel. There is playfulness here, too. Splash! (2008), one of Bringard’s earliest works, seems to suggest slap-slick antics. A globular, but featureless, head is set on casters. Its ‘face’ is covered by a splat of white glaze, as though it were travelling at some speed, moving blindly forward. Bringard invites us to imagine the ‘lives’ of these strange objects, to animate them in our imagination. Her ability to inject pathos into clay, to make us feel sympathy and sadness for disembodied and abstract forms, is part of her great strength as a sculptor.
Image: Marcheur (Walker), 2019, raw and engobed ceramic, wood fired, h48 x w18 x d18cm