Technique and condition

This entry is partly based on an interview with Alison Wilding held on 4th November 2003.

The sculpture comprises eight blocks of Staffordshire alabaster (from the Fauld mine) with both hewn and sawn sides. The alabaster was mined in two blocks which, according to the artist were the last blocks before the mine stopped production. They were then cut into eight blocks at the artist’s studio using a two-handled saw which gave a smooth cut surface. Other surfaces were left with the rounded drill holes and sheared faces of the mined rock.

The blocks are tightly stacked in two tiers to form a square stack of blocks with a deep smooth V cleft in one side and a conical shaped central void. This internal space has smooth curved and stepped sides that transverse both layers of alabaster blocks. The internal void was cut out using grinders ‘from really huge ones going down to much smaller ones’ (artist interview, 4th November 2003) by Wilding’s assistant Adam Kershaw. Wilding noted that she specifically wanted someone to work on it who wasn’t a carver. The final finish inside the void was done with a palm sander.

The surfaces of the alabaster are unpolished and no wax was applied. They should not appear shiny. Interviewed in 1996 the artist said ‘there is this amazing temptation because of the way it conducts light to polish it so it becomes very translucent....I really resisted that.........living with it for a long time I decided I really liked this dusty mauvy colour....It’s a very sensuous material’ (from an interview1996 by Cv/Visual arts Research)

Sitting over the top of part of the assembled blocks is a shiny black silicon rubber cast, which partly flows into the central void. This was cast in a two part fibreglass mould. The lower tier of blocks and the two on the upper tier whose upper surfaces are covered by the rubber have two drilled holes with threaded inserts to take eye bolts for lifting and handling. These are concealed when the sculpture is fully assembled.

The sculpture is complex to install. The alabaster blocks are very fragile but also very heavy and have to be moved using lifting equipment. As the blocks fit together so precisely and there is very little margin of error, the work must be on an absolutely level floor surface. This can be achieved by casting a level concrete base. The lower tier of blocks is assembled on wedges or self-levelling feet so they themselves provide a level surface for the upper tier.

Melanie Rolfe
August 2005