ringn ’66 is formed by pouring a hundredweight (50.8 kilograms or 112 pounds) of sand onto the floor from a more or less fixed point above. Once the designated quantity has been poured, four handfuls of sand are taken (or carved) from the top of the cone, and each handful is then allowed to run down opposite sides of the cone, effectively modelling the sculpture.
Like much of Flanagan’s work of this period, ringn ’66 is concerned with sculptural processes and the ways in which materials determine a sculpture’s final appearance. In this case, the physical force of gravity establishes the general form the sand will take, while the subsequent interventions of the artist deliberately evoke the carving and modelling processes of traditional sculpture. This mediation is reflected by Flanagan’s use of a utilitarian material, dislocated from the building and sand-casting trades and re-sited in an art gallery. While all grades of dry sand exhibit distinct pouring qualities, the specific sand that Flanagan selected for ringn ‘66 – grade BS19 from J. Arnold Builder’s Merchant in Leighton Buzzard – comes to rest as if solidifying a molten state. However, the appearance of solidity and stability is false; the resulting poured sculpture is in fact incredibly fragile.
The word ‘ringn’ in the title suggests that the work describes a ring, which can be understood in two dimensions or extended into a three dimensional figure, and that this ‘ring’ is a noun (suggested by the final ‘n’) defining a thing as much as an action or a process. Flanagan revelled in the play of shifting dimensions, as is demonstrated by ringn ’66, while the play of paradox that this suggests is best identified through his adherence to the science of ’pataphysics. Created by the French writer Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), ’pataphysics was defined by him as a ‘science of imaginary solutions’ and later by Raymond Queneau (1903–1976) as a science that rests ‘on the truth of contradictions and exceptions’. It can be observed as a guiding principle at the heart of much of Flanagan’s output. Flanagan became an adept of ’pataphysics after the poet Nick Wayte gave him the only English language compendium of writings on the subject – a special issue of the Evergreen Review published in 1960 – some months before he enrolled at St Martin’s School of Art in 1964. Just as he approached the contradiction of expressing the two-dimensional through three dimensions, Flanagan also saw writing to be an important component of his sculptural practice, and not simply limited to titles. The manipulation and play of language of all sorts remained a central sculptural concern for him that was in part signalled through ’pataphysics.
ringn ‘66 was first exhibited in Flanagan’s first solo show at the Rowan Gallery, London in 1966 alongside aaing j gni aa 1965 (Tate T01120). His statement on the invitation card for the exhibition reads: ‘the business is in the making / of a sculpture / i’m after elegant solutions / elegant in the sense of a theory / being so / “solutions” implies problems – / most likely imaginary ones’ (untitled statement, invitation card for the exhibition barry flanagan: sculpture, Rowan Gallery, London 1966).Further reading
Barry Flanagan Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, British Council 1982.
Barry Flanagan, exhibition catalogue, Fundación “la Caixa”, Madrid 1993.
Barry Flanagan, Sculpture 1965–2005, exhibition catalogue, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin 2006.