Amy Stephens’s sculptural assemblages involve natural materials in artificial encounters that provoke questions about how culture is created and what it means. AJ Dehany caught up with her in London…
Land | Reland [London] at William Benington Gallery is running in parallel with Land | Reland [Portland] at Upfor Gallery in Portland, Oregon US. How did that come about and what’s the connection between the two?
Your use of natural objects including rocks and minerals in conjunction with artificial materials is striking. What is happening when you put into contact with each other?
‘In society, there is a contiguity between the natural and the synthetic so these works highlight our use of these everyday ‘things’ that we may normally take for granted. The materials exist side by side in everything we do so, even though the artworks are minimal, they highlight the coexistence and codependency between both.’
I love the transference between forms, where a photograph image seems to leap off the wall and become a corresponding three-dimensional object. What is happening when you juxtapose these elements?
‘At the heart of my current practice is the reclamation of natural objects and the transferability of form via appropriation. In both shows, I am exploring the repetition of certain minerals and imagery through appropriation. The idea of taking one key artefact and transporting it to a new artwork or medium time and time again is a key part of my process and highlights my concern with sustainability.’
What is the relationship of your assemblages to architecture?
‘Ahead of each show, I request the architectural plans to create a site responsive exhibition. This process enables me to think, respond and make architectonic forms that relate to specific elements within the space. The two galleries are completely different but in both exhibitions, a series of geological textures suddenly take naturally to each other as they are forced to adopt a new habitat. I look to offer the viewer site specific ‘communicative landscapes’ in London and Portland that retain and later reframe contemporary architecture.’
Your simpatico use of the viewing space is thoughtful. The height of the The Landing corresponds to the top of the door frame. How important is the interaction between the objects and their environment?
‘This is a critical part of my practice. ‘The Landing’, 2018 offers the viewer a monumental support made to the height of the door frame in London creating a site specific work. As an artist, I have a responsibility to be respectful to all of the objects I work with including their past, present and future environment.’
The ‘unnatural’ environment of the gallery white space is nonetheless a very different ‘relanding’ of the objects from their original ‘landing’ sites. Have you experienced any problems in the transference between these different realms?
‘The gallery offers an entirely new context, which is a stark contrast from the native landscape. I wouldn’t say problems just excitement over the notion of reconstructing a new narrative. I am also trying to raise awareness that some of these everyday objects were set to be discarded as waste or crushed to rubble and now suddenly they are being elevated to a mode of archive within the exhibition space.’
The most complex work in the show is Statuario, involving marble tethering via lengths of cord a suspended lozenge frame. It’s almost like a static machine. Could you explain what is happening in this work?
‘The white marble was one of many left over pieces of stone I found at a quarry in Carrara. It was an off-cut from a 10-ton piece because it couldn’t be sliced into something practical. It was a beautiful thing that couldn’t be sold. In the London show, the marble is tipped sideways and pulled in such a way that the stainless steel form appears to be holding it upright but this is impossible based on the scale and weight of the stone. The steel frame cuts the architecture in half encapsulating the gallery wall behind.’
Your use of polaroids has some nostalgic connotations. How does your own past and present, your background and the places where you have lived and worked influence your practice in terms of how your work’s concern with location and reconstruction or otherwise of the past?
‘Polaroids and imagery play a key role in my recent practice creating an instant object and offering the viewer a window onto the world of exteriors. After studying art and geology at University, there is an underlying dependency to revert back to the landscape. Each show is the result of the successive layering or new and former shows. I continually return and reuse existing ideas allowing them to land and reland, resisting the finite and creating an endless cycle.’
Thinking about the future, how do you foresee your work developing formally?
‘My recent explorations are rooted within the structure’s materiality offering relationships between landscape, architecture and sculpture. I will continue to respect the many objects I find whilst ensuring they reconnect and reconstruct to the past so yes I foresee a relanding of this show in the near future. The formality of the work will all depend on the next adventure and how I decide to bring new ideas to fruition whilst responding to a new environment.’
Land | Reland [London]
William Benington Gallery London, UK
Until 23 November 2018
Land | Reland [Portland]
Upfor Gallery, Portland, Oregon, USA
5 September – 27 October 2018
Image credits: Courtesy of the artist Amy Stephens and William Benington Gallery. Photography by Corey Anderson.