Stack consists of a multitude of miscellaneous objects and materials packed tightly together to form a solid cube. Geometry meets random selection in this ordering of assorted detritus, which ranges from building materials to discarded magazines. Pieces of wood of varying dimensions are placed horizontally throughout the structure, compressing the materials into dense strata and conveying the impression of geological layers. Stack resembles a cross-section view of long-forgotten, buried rubbish. This reference both to geology and archaeology resounds throughout Cragg's career. He identifies as key themes in his work his relationship to the natural world and humankind's impact on nature. Insisting that what we call the 'natural world' is increasingly man-made, Cragg has said that he 'refuse[s] to distinguish between the landscape and the city', adding that man-made objects are 'fossilized keys to a past time which is our present' (quoted in Tony Cragg, p.26-28). He seeks to build a 'poetic mythology' for the industrially produced objects of our time. In 1992, Cragg said:
I see a material or an object as having a balloon of information around it. Materials like wood already have a very occupied balloon. The objects of our industrial society as yet have very little information attached to them, so even if something like plastic can be accepted as a valid material for use, it still remains very unoccupied. There is a lot of work to be done to actually make a mythology for this material, over and above its extremely practical and utilitarian value. (Quoted in Tony Cragg, exhibition catalogue, Musée départmental d'art contemporain de Rochechouart, Rochechouart 1992, p.61.)
This sculpture is one of five Stack pieces that Cragg made between 1975 and 1985, the first of which was produced while he was at the Royal College of Art. Cragg's policy at the time was not to preserve the materials used, but to recreate the sculpture anew each time. The Stack works were also Cragg's first large-scale sculptures and can be seen as transitional pieces. They relate closely to his very early works such as Combination of Found Beach Objects, 1970 (no longer extant), in which he orders and classifies materials as disparate as stones, shells and crisp packets by arranging them according to type within a roughly drawn grid. They also anticipate Cragg's later practice of composing images out of myriads of discrete elements, such as Axehead, 1982 (Tate T03791), and Britain Seen from the North, 1981 (Tate T03347).
Cragg's work has been described as a 'study of the relationship of the part to the whole', an idea derived from particle physics (quoted in A Quiet Revolution, p.54). Cragg, who trained as a scientist, complains that science lacks 'perceivable images' for its theories. He argues that art is thus 'an important supplement and expansion of the sciences' (quoted in Tony Cragg, exhibition catalogue, Société des Expositions du Palais des Beaux-Art de Bruxelles, Brussels, p.31).
A Quiet Revolution: British Sculpture Since 1965, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago 1987, p.56, reproduced p.61.
Tony Cragg, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1987, reproduced p.45.
Tony Cragg: Sculpture 1975-90, exhibition catalogue, Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Beach 1990, p.30, reproduced in colour, p.33.