Not on display
More Blancmange 1988 is a large sculpture by Eric Bainbridge comprised of six enlarged spoons standing lined up in a shallow box. The work is made of fibreglass, plywood and plaster covered with white artificial fur fabric. It is displayed on the floor, leaning against the gallery wall. The title of the work refers to the dessert blancmange, traditionally made of milk or cream and therefore often appearing white in colour, which became associated with middle and working class cuisine in post-war England. The addition of ‘more’ suggests an excess of this often sickly food, relating to the large scale of these otherwise everyday objects.
Like a number of other British artists of his generation, Bainbridge’s work from the 1980s was characterised by removing objects from their usual setting and representing them transformed. As the artist has written of More Blancmange:
The work is based on a box of ‘ivory’ souvenir/presentation spoons bought in a charity shop. The initial interest was the snug fit of the spoons in the box and the potential ridiculousness of the subsequent enlargement of the objects, and their increased sense of vulnerability when displayed at the increased scale. At this time I was becoming interested in finding existing objects to remake that already contained the sculptural qualities that I liked (rather than combining various objects as I had done earlier).
(Bainbridge, email correspondence with Tate curator Katharine Stout, February 2013.)
Bainbridge’s interest in everyday objects suggests a relationship to surrealism and particularly Meret Oppenheim’s Object 1936 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), which also used artificial fur. Like Oppenheim’s fur-covered teacup, saucer and teaspoon, More Blancmange sets up an uncanny encounter to surprise the viewer. The furry white surface of the spoons contrasts with their usual smoothness, provoking a strange sensation. This effect is common to Bainbridge’s work of the period, which encourages a way of experiencing art that is not solely visual. An encounter with More Blancmange provokes an awareness of one’s own body, either because of the object’s overwhelming size or the familiar, but unexpected, texture of the coverings. As the curator Stuart Morgan remarked in 1990, ‘The fabric unified surfaces, blurred edges and served to camouflage the familiar but magnified objects he [Bainbridge] chose to remake. His technique had become one of systematic bafflement. Dwarfed by overblown, woolly but somehow familiar shapes, the spectator wandered, intimidated by the new self assurance these artefacts had acquired.’ (Morgan in Riverside Studios 1990, p.6.)
The use of fabric in Bainbridge’s work can also be aligned to the work of pop artists such as the American sculptor Claes Oldenburg (see Soft Drainpipe – Blue (Cool) Version 1967, Tate T01257) or British sculptor Jann Haworth (see Beads and Background 1963–4, Tate T13643). Like these artists, Bainbridge exaggerates everyday objects, suggesting new ways of relating to the things that surround us day to day. However, Bainbridge’s work is less concerned with the softness and material form of fabric, than the particular response that the fur or colour provokes in the viewer when used as a covering for other objects. As Bainbridge has described:
The work [More Blancmange] is from the final group of fur works (after this the fur was turned inwards and the rear side of the fabric was displayed). The white works were intended to play on the concept of newness/cleanness (white goods) and the inevitable degrading through time – as in the use of white in the paintings of Malevich and Mondrian … The simplicity and dumbness of the image gives this work an accessibility and popular appeal.
(Eric Bainbridge, email correspondence with Tate curator Katharine Stout, February 2013.)
Eric Bainbridge, Style, Space, Elegance, exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 1989.
Eric Bainbridge, exhibition catalogue, Riverside Studios, London 1990.
Eric Bainbridge: Forward Thinking 1976–2008, exhibition catalogue, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, Middlesbrough 2008.
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