Harbour is one of a group of sculptures resulting from an ongoing project based on the Passion of Christ. In 1988 Wilding signed a contract with a patron, undertaking to make a sculpture from each of sixteen events of the Passion. The sculptures were planned to be ‘on at least human scale’, their purpose to embody and ‘emotively convey’ each episode of Christ’s Passion to ‘any audience’ (Wilding quoted in Contract, p.11). The project was described in a contract between the artist and her benefactor and anticipated to last ten years. In 2000, the eight sculptures completed to date, individually titled and, in several cases, already exhibited, were brought together for an exhibition at the Henry Moore Foundation Studio, Dean Clough, Halifax, titled Contract, reflecting the initial agreement for the project.

Harbour is based on the Deposition, the taking down or descent of Christ from the Cross after the crucifixion. Wilding has written:

The Deposition suggests compassion, protection and dignity after the event. In 1994 I had an opportunity to obtain two dressed blocks of alabaster ... Together with Adam Kershaw [Wilding’s assistant] I began the slow process of cutting them into eight smaller blocks, which were assembled into an approximate cube whose interior Adam excavated into a vortex. The sides of the vortex were partially stepped – paradoxically making it into a means of support ... A black cast silicone rubber ‘wave’ flows from the top face of ‘Harbour’ into its internal space or vortex culminating in the form of a bowl. Sometime later I observed from a vantage point overlooking the mouth of the river Wear in Sunderland, how a harbour protects and acts as a shield or embrace, enclosing a place of safety.

(Quoted in Contract, pp.14-15.)

Traditional paintings of the Deposition scene show the body of Christ being supported by a group of figures in a manner which, for Wilding, is reminiscent of a mother tenderly cradling a dead child or a rescuer carrying a body from a disaster zone. Alabaster is a precious material used since ancient times for decorative purposes, particularly for ornamental vessels. It is often veined and translucent. In a Biblical story, a woman emptied the contents of an alabaster vessel of precious ointment over Christ, incurring the disciples’ wrath because of the waste. Christ forgave her; however, as he said that she had prepared his body for burial.

By contrast, silicone rubber is a modern material developed for use in industry and often used as a sealant. Its appearance, in relation to alabaster, is of an opaque, dead substance. The juxtaposition of contrasting materials, forms, textures and colours is characteristic of Wilding’s work, which has explored binary relationships since the early 1980s. She thinks of her sculptures as embodying internal dialogues. These are enacted between such formal elements as straight line and organic contours, carved surfaces and moulded forms, materials which are melted and poured and those which are hammered and welded. In Harbour, the sections of hard, pink alabaster support the softly flowing black rubber like a landscape containing a liquid. A sharp v-shaped chasm cut into the blocks on one side of the work heightens its dramatic presence.

Tate Collection includes another sculpture in the series, Assembly 1991 (see Tate T11759), which is based on the Last Supper.

Further reading:
Alison Wilding: Contract, exhibition catalogue, Henry Moore Foundation Studio, Dean Clough, Halifax 2000, pp.12, 14-15 and 46-57, reproduced pp.52-5 in colour
Alison Wilding: Immersion/Exposure, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery Liverpool, Henry Moore Sculpture Trust Studio, Dean Clough, Halifax 1991
Alison Wilding: Sculptures 1989-1996, exhibition catalogue, Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Dentelle de Calais, 1996, p.24, reproduced p.25 in colour

Elizabeth Manchester
July 2004