Catalogue entry

Richard Deacon born 1949

T03958 For Those Who Have Ears No.2 1983

Wood and resin 2730 x 4000 x 1100 (107 1/2 x 157 1/2 x 43 1/2)
Not inscribed
Presented by the Patrons of New Art through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1985
Prov: Lisson Gallery 1984 from whom bt by the Patrons of New Art 1985
Exh: Sculpture in a Country Park, Margam Park, June 1983-June 1984 (not in cat., loan extended until Sept. 1984); Richard Deacon: Sculpture 1980-1984, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, Oct.-Nov.1984 (no number, repr. in col. p.21); The Second International Contemporary Art Fair, Olympia, Jan. 1985 (not in cat.); Richard Deacon, Tate Gallery, March-June 1985 (no number, repr. no.1 and on cover); 40 Years of Modern Art, Tate Gallery, Feb.-April 1986 (no number, repr. in col. p.117-Room 27 in separate list of works)
Lit: Michael Newman, ‘The Face of Things', exh. cat., Fruitmarket Gallery 1984, pp.37 and 39; Waldemar Januszczak, ‘For Those Who Have Eyes', Guardian, 20 March 1985, p.23 repr.; Richard Cork, ‘Stuff', Listener, 4 April 1985, p.12 repr.; Marina Vaizey, ‘The Dishes of the Day', Sunday Times, 7 April 1985, p.42; Judith Russi Kirshner, ‘Tony Cragg, Richard Deacon', Artforum, vol.23, summer 1985, p.113; Gijs van Hensbergen, ‘Richard Deacon - Organische constructies', Metropolis M, vol.6, July-Aug. 1985, pp.18 and 21, repr. pp.16 and 18; Friends of the Tate Gallery Report 1984-5, 1985, p.15, repr. p.15. Also repr: Art in America, vol.72, Oct.1984, p.103 (col.); ‘Recent Acquisitions of Twentieth Century Sculpture by English Museums', Burlington Magazine, vol.130, April 1988, p.331 no.105

The artist was interviewed by a curator from the Tate Gallery on 26 April 1985 about his recent work, and the interview was taped. The tape is in the Tate Gallery Archive, TAV 402A. The first part of this entry is a transcript of the part of the interview which discussed T03958.

With the first work ‘For Those Who Have Ears' [No.1, Saatchi Collection], what happened was I wanted to make a work that utilised an ear shape and I made a jig for the lower half of an ear shape or a kidney shape. And then I made up two very tall ear shapes, which actually later became incorporated into the work ‘Tall Tree in the Ear' [Saatchi Collection]... This was a case when I really didn't know what I wanted to make at all, so I had these two tall ear shapes and somehow I felt that the work should not only be the ear shapes but somehow should be between, as it were, the ears and I began to make a linking device that went between the two ears. Subsequently ... I realised that ... the part in the middle was the part that I was interested in and that the two ear shapes were ... redundant for that work, and I put them to one side. So ‘For Those Who Have Ears No.1' was originally between two standing ear shapes.

When I came to make ‘For Those Who Have Ears No.2', I had an idea of size from the first one [For Those Who Have Ears No.1]. I had also the jigs for the lower half of the ear shape and so what I did was to make up several U shapes ... and there were some drawings that accompanied it just in terms of sorting out how they go together ... it's a very indeterminate process. I knew the sort of shape that I wanted to use, I knew the sort of size I wanted to make it, I knew the material I wanted to make it out of, but I didn't know how to put the things together or whether, having made a start, that I might then find, as in the previous one, that there was an area of activity in between what I'd set up, which was actually the thing that I was interested in. It turned out not to be the case, it turned out that those shapes were the ones I wanted to make. I was also conscious that I was making a work for an outside situation and for it to be readable outside and to have the kind of qualities I wanted, I knew that from previous experience somehow a flattish work would ... sustain itself much better than a volumetric thing, which tends to become too much of a lump ... So those are the kind of technical evolutions.

[The artist was then asked if T03958 could have been made of steel.] It could have been made of steel ... I could make it in steel now. I don't know if I'd been so confident to make it in steel then. In fact the top section of the work is very dependent on it being made in wood, because although the bottom four loops are all made in a jig and then assembled together and laminated so that ... the surface is smooth, the shape of the top section is made by having a single strip bent through a right angle and the curve that it has is entirely dependent upon it ... starting off as a straight thing that's then twisted, whereas the other curves could be made in some other way. There is something else involved just in the way of making things ... when you laminate things together ... it seems to be more than just a technical process. It seems to be a very rich process just in terms of the kinds of notions one has ... to do with meanings. I suppose there are three distinct connotations; one is to do with the way in which meaning clusters around objects; the second has to do with the way in which waves spread, in terms of if you imagine throwing a pebble into a pond ... and the laminate structure seems to have some bearing on that; and there is also a very obvious relationship between the layers of the laminate and growth rings on a tree ... Those three areas of associations seem to meld together ... to make both the process and the appearance of the thing extremely rich in detail. When you look at it there is already a very rich area of thought that comes to mind quite quickly ... Another reason that I like laminating is because it seems to allow for a considerable degree of uncertainty without you ever having to come up against structural problems so that, in the same way as when you draw, if you are drawing an object and you are maybe a bit uncertain about the contours of the object, or you are just trying to put it down right, whatever that means, you tend to go round and round the same lines, and laminating seems to be similarly a process that allows you to go round and round to assert that something is there. It doesn't take you across the middle, it is always on the edge so that whatever it adds to the middle is done by a process of inflexion at the edge which actually does seem to me very like ... the way I draw. I always draw on the edge, I don't draw in the middle and try and inflect the edge to give you information about the middle ... I try and make the line at the edge create the volume, I don't draw tonally at all. I don't start from a drawing, unless I'm making a jig but then I draw the shape full size straight off. There aren't any sketches for objects. I do draw occasionally, whilst I'm making things, in a notebook fashion. I also doodle fairly repetitively. There also was a series of fairly complex drawings done in 1978-79 which do anticipate ... some of the later sculpture in the ways the drawings are done ... in terms of the edge. The kinds of information that's contained in those drawings is either to do with an edge or else to do with a flat sheet, folded. In neither case are they drawings that seem to indicate solid volumes, solid shapes. But I've never been able ... to make sketches for things that I propose to make.

[Deacon was then asked about the relationship between the titles of the drawings and the titles of his sculptures] The subject matter of the drawings was based on the Sonnets to Orpheus and they are all called ‘It's Orpheus When There's Singing' and the title of the big wooden work [T03958] is ‘For Those Who Have Ears' [No.2] ... the content has to do with a notion about song. What interests me in the story of Orpheus has to do with what Orpheus's song does to the world and what the nature of the song might be. The proposal or notion that I tend to work with ... as a myth or as a story ... concerns the origins and functions of language, and that language is a primary tool for operating on the material of the world and that as expressed in the story of Orpheus the trees and the rocks move and wild animals lie down and that he ultimately has the power to bring the dead back to life ... What I think that song is is the power of speech basically and I think of speech ... as being in between our private selves and the world, and the material of the world. The power of speech is a social condition of being human, to be an individual. The power of speech is meaningless, language only achieves its meaning in discourse or in the social world. But it is one of the primary means which enable us to operate on the world and to give it shape ... The shape of the drawings that tended to be arrived at was a hollow enclosure with an opening ... and that seemed to be able to stand for either the head of Orpheus ... singing or listening ... the aperture could be either a mouth or an ear, or his musical instrument which is a means of production of sound ... Orpheus has both a singing voice and an instrumental voice ... For various, other much more domestic objects, particularly pots and pans, but also shoes, hats, there's a whole variety of objects which have a volumetric shape with an opening. And all those objects seem to be in one way or another, in one or other of the drawings, brought in ... The drawings seem to point in a lot of directions ... I think of making things, structuring, as being an activity not unlike the power of speech, in that it is a means of giving shape ... it's obviously not in the same order as language, but it's a means whereby the world, a chaotic universe, is actually made understandable ... so some of the references within the work are to do with making the work, on the one hand structured, to indicate that kind of shaping process and on the other hand, echoing, sounding devices or listening devices ... in order to indicate some of the parallels with ... the power of speech.

[Deacon was asked if his current work, in 1985, was less to do with speech and language and more to do with sexuality and sexual metaphor] The sexuality of some of the earlier work came as a slight surprise to me, and the later work has a lot to do with the recognition of that sexuality and the exploration of it in the work ... ‘For Those Who Have Ears' [No.2] is a very clean work in terms of content, it has very few undertones, it's a very pure work on that level. A work like ‘If the Shoe Fits' [Saatchi Collection], although initially maybe made from the same premise, having been made there are a whole series of undertones.

Seeing as a mode of perception is much more ambiguous than listening ... you have an interactive relationship with the world ... with hearing that relationship is also mediated through language, with vision it is as well, but you have a very much more active relationship with the things that you have in the world. You project yourself on to them or you distance yourself from them or you read them as standing for other things than they are. You apply content, you read a metaphor or whatever. So that the eye and the brain as a mechanism that handles the world is very active, it's not a passive object ... it's a very aggressive object. The act of looking is a very aggressive act, it's a kind of capture ... because of the way in which our sexualities are tied into our ways of being, then our looking becomes tied up also with our sexuality.

‘For Those Who Have Ears No.2' was made in Deacon's studio in Brixton, south London in May 1983 for an exhibition of outdoor sculpture at Margam Park, near Port Talbot in West Glamorgan. In a letter postmarked 23 June 1988 to the compiler Deacon wrote: ‘I'm not sure that the justification for making the work (in terms of its original site) really holds water on close examination, since I think the work looks much better indoors'.

It was preceded by a work entitled ‘For Those Who Have Ears No.1' made in 1982-3 from laminated wood and galvanised steel with screws (repr. Fruitmarket Gallery exh. cat. 1984, p.18). Both are part of a group of sculptures Deacon has made which relate to parts of the human body, in particular those which pertain to hearing and seeing. Examples include ‘For Those Who Have Eyes' 1983 (Saatchi Collection, repr. ibid., p.12), ‘The Eye Has It' 1984 (Arts Council Collection, repr. ibid., p.23) and ‘Tall Tree in the Ear' 1983-4 (repr. ibid., p.25 in col.). Although Deacon relates in the interview how T03958 is connected to the myth of Orpheus and the notion of hearing and listening to his song, its title is linked to a handful of biblical phrases concerned with those who have ears but do not use them. The biblical phrases are ‘we have heard with our ears', Samuel II, Chapter 7, verse 22; ‘they have ears, but hear not', Psalm 115, verse 6 and Psalm 135, verse 17; and ‘having ears, hear ye not?', Gospel according to St Mark, Chapter 8, verse 18.

This group of works relating to hearing and seeing originates from a series of drawings, executed in New York during 1978-9, collectively entitled ‘It's Orpheus When There's Singing'. The Tate Gallery owns one from this series - T04859, ‘It's Orpheus When There's Singing No.7' 1979. Their title and inspiration refer to the fifth of Rainer Maria Rilke's fifty- five ‘Sonnets to Orpheus' which Deacon was reading at the time. With these drawings Deacon's earlier involvement with a formal language of rectilinear, architectonic forms gave way to a more organic and curvilinear one. Michael Newman, in his catalogue essay in the Fruitmarket Gallery exhibition catalogue, offers material from Deacon's notebooks describing the process by which these drawings were made:

These drawings commence from a geometric figure. A spiral links points on the figure. A series of arcs and curves partially tied to the spiral, is sprung off various points inside and outside the figure. The development of these curves builds up a network or ground against which specific shapes are allowed to emerge. The drawings are intentionally extremely representational. I have difficulty in deciding of what they are representations. This concerns their reference. I have difficulty corroborating their reference with something. Except I have considered ‘Sonnets to Orpheus' as their subject (p.37).


Newman's own text continues:

These drawings are not representations of something already seen in the world, like a still life, nor are they expressive in the sense of externalizing something, a feeling or an image, from ‘within' the artist. It is important that they refer to something which is already a work of art for their subject, and, moreover, a work of literature. They do so not in any sense to illustrate that work: it would be absolutely wrong to see the drawings and some subsequent sculptures as dependent upon Rilke's poems in the way that an illustration depends upon its text, indeed these works can be adequately understood without any prior acquaintance with the poetry. Rather, Rilke enabled Deacon to see how a certain conception of the relation between language, world and being could inform the practice of art, above all through the use of metaphor both within the work and as the basis for its ontology (p.37).


The section of Newman's catalogue essay from which the above quotation was taken was titled ‘Metaphor, Resonance and the Ear' and although most of the section is taken up with a discussion of Rilke's aesthetics in general, a paragraph concentrates on T03958:

consider ‘For Those Who Have Ears No.2' , where the laminated wood strips define a curvilinear contour which can be read in different ways: as ear-shapes, as breasts, as a harp (the national instrument of Wales where the sculpture was first shown) or as the outline of a lyre, Orpheus' instrument and the Romantic symbol of creativity since the lyre is played by Nature as the wind passes through the strings. These are all aspects which are not literally ‘there' in the laminated wood: a phenomenology of vision alone cannot bring them into being, therefore they must be ‘heard' by ‘those who have ears' to receive, as it were, the Word (p.39).


This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.132-5