Presentations - Sculpture

One day a woman arrives in the building. She has an overall on and starts quietly setting something up in one of the balconies. There are plastic sheets she somehow fastens onto the low walls.

Is she going to repair something in the building one wonders?

But what exactly is it, since there is no obvious wiring or painting to be done at that particular place? In fact it is a rather empty space one usually just walks by and doesn't notice much: just part of the architecture here, creating a niche or corner by the stairs into which one would step when meeting somebody on the way to the cafeteria or photocopier either to let them pass or to chat with, while others would walk past.

But nothing is done to the building here, or rather, it is, but in quite unexpected ways. The British artist Carolyne Kardia has been invited to do an exhibition of her sculpture in the Max-Planck-Institute of Human Development. And she is starting today by creating a space in this particular corner for herself, or rather, for something which is going to be built on site for the following three weeks.

From that day on she enters the building just like any other person working here. Without any noise or grand gesture she has started to invade the daily work space of everybody here, gradually and silently. Her coming and working and going of her own accord and choosing, feels like a mirror image of everybody else's work in this building: the silent concentration, the state of absorption with what one is doing, screening out the outside world. Slowly establishing herself as a researcher of her own kind.

So, she has started, with small gestures, assembling her material in one corner, lining those low walls with sheets of thin plastic to put a protective skin between herself and the walls which she will use. It is like preparing a canvas to paint on. But it is also the opposite: to protect the building from any lasting traces of what she is going to do. Because her work will be leaning against walls, will be responding to the space, the overall impression and the detail of this very fine building and be part of it. But it will also be taken away in the end and nothing left. It will be broken up and not saved (for posterity) because where else would its responses be understood in the same way? Maybe this is another reason why the artist creates whatever she creates with such care, because it will be there only for an allotted time of three weeks.

(Contemplate this: it is only created for a short time. Like when you bake a bread and put all the art of bread making into this one loaf. It will be eaten with the satisfaction a well baked bread gives. But this will be no bread, nothing you can eat. Only something to look at.)

After some days her presence is part of the everyday experience. Her crouching in front of a sheet of plastic onto which she pours her plaster mix surrounded by bags of plaster, a bucket of water and those small green soft bowls in which she mixes her brew. Her then getting up slowly, taking the sheet with its layer of plaster clinging to it, and hanging it from unobtrusively constructed strings (like the start of a spiders web) onto the form which is already there. Forming the way in which the new form is added to what is there already, smoothing it against it, moving with precision and great economy while doing so and mirroring the suppleness of the process in herself. Her watching and waiting, sitting on a bag of plaster while she waits for the plaster to set, taking notes, going to get a cup of coffee in the cafeteria or talking to some visitor.

Such is the fusion between her work, the building and the moment itself that with every assumption dissolved, the openness of the spectator increases.

No, she is not repairing the building, and she is not hanging the sculpture from the ceiling by strings. And the forms she creates are not people or shadows of people. So, what is it she is making?

The resistance to what she is doing, her invasion of their space and may be also the dirt she is creating with that white substance on the carpet, slowly dissipates and leaves room for speculation. After those assumptions are subverted again a friendly expectation sets in. Slowly and hardly noticeable a kind of dance has begun: she is taking a step, then those who are watching her are taking a step.

And step by step several chosen corners and passageways of the building are filled with organic white forms growing from her movements, her response to the structure of the building, her exploration and intuition about space and relationship.

In the end all those who have passed through those passageways, have gone up and down the stairs in pursuit of their own business, those who have watched her and those who have not, those who have talked to her and those who have had silent conversations, may feel, that what has evolved during those three weeks is also their work. And in a particular kind of way it actually is.

This is a building of exploration and research, a place of communication and lonely pursuit. Of relating and being by yourself, submerged in thought and emerging into a dialogue of peers.

Carolyne Kardia's work has, on a more physical and no less mental level, evolved from the same process.

In the end though, as I have said, all that is broken up - and after several weeks of silent company of those white forms she comes in again and starts the process of destruction. In the same unobtrusive way as she began the artist starts dismantling her own work, working with a hammer to break up the pieces, quietly if not silently, because there is the noise of breaking and cracking plaster. The people from the institute are startled and now, after they have become used to the resonance of these white and mysteriously enhancing sculptural beings in their building, carrying their eyes into unexpected and new perspectives, they do not want it all changing back into a less poetic, less poignant state. Many of them save a piece, a cone, a wave, a curved line and carry it into their study. And one man who has more to say finally and at the last minute before the hammer comes down on it orders the biggest sculptural form, a single piece rising up and standing alone in delicate balance in front of the library, to be bought and left undestroyed. The Tower of Planck memory of a process, a dialogue between silent participants, between workers of two worlds of thought and emotion, of the movement between them, stands silently in front of a place of learning.
Uta Ruge, Berlin 2002

The plaster installations are all works in which I have used the technique of pouring and casting plaster forms. Each installation has attempted to use the physical and particular qualities of the architectural space as part of the work.

I like to foreground a process which challenges the methods of working that adopt an idea and then use the work to illustrate or demonstrate that idea. Such methods depend on a certain fixed view about how the work will be completed. In my process, at each stage I engage with the work, I leave an opportunity for it to speak back to me and in so doing challenge any dominant ideas that have developed. An attempt is made to allow the work not to become totally subservient to my moves. The aim is for it to have its own autonomy and between us, the work and myself, the sculpture spacially evolves.

Using plaster in the form that I have developed requires an attentive response which looks at and explores the process of working with plaster itself in detail. It starts as a powder and becomes a liquid and is most versatile in the forms it can adopt - it can be extremely fragile, so delicate that it breaks on touch or it can be potentially a very solid form. The focus is on the very materiality of the plaster to discover ways of extending and using its properties, allowing aspects of form and specificity of space to become present. I also focus on the demands such an activity makes on my physical bodily movement, which requires a specific concentration.

There is a pressure or urgency of the present that foregrounds these concerns and the fragility of the plaster in its cast becomes an enabling mechanism for this urgency and an attempt to defy a sense of elongated time. Implicit in this method of working is a denial of the commodification of the object. This denial paradoxically determines its very existence. It is ephemeral, fragile and has a limited life in its physical form. The evolving forms relate very strongly to my activity, bodily movements and physical gestures in the space and the particular contingent features of the space. Gravity and weight determine how these forms in their seemingly material impossibility come into being but curiously the objects themselves deny their own existence as well as celebrating it. The components move from a complex interdependency to shifts in scale and simplicity sometimes hinting at the way aspects of the work may be contained.

I often make ink drawings to accompany the plaster installations. These provide a link between gesture and solidity; between the linear and volumetric. They test the constancy of a line or mark. The marks are made to connect with the cast forms; they then capture moments in the process but then also link back to a diffused response. I aim to allow the sculpture to create a particular feel or clarity about the space. There is no easy way forward, the sculpture invites us to inhabit the space through its occupation although by its very nature it disallows certain responses. Fragility imposes and constricts our physical senses yet we look to the sculpture which is bound by these restrictions to free us from them.
Carolyne Kardia 1998 From a talk given at The Town Mill

Sherborne House 2002

The sculpture begins in the corners of the room where the walls meet defining the space. Two forms are cast; each held by the other fixed in space. The sculpture then evolves, each layer of plaster defined by the method of pouring and then responding in shape to the previous sheet cast. Composed of large sheets of plaster there is a parallel wall that attempts to rise up to the ceiling, lifting itself from the floor, each layer assisting in the gradual transformation. The thickness of the plaster, its weight and my bodily movement determines the form it takes. All the work is extremely fragile, balanced, poised in space.

The room has symmetry with a clearly defined volume; it acts as a pathway between spaces. The floor is made of fine timber board that is rarely flat and moves when walked. Through large sash windows there is a strong light that spreads through the room, changing throughout the day, highlighting different aspects of the sculpted forms that slowly come into and recede from focus as it moves.

There is a central oak carved fireplace dominating the room, the hearth has been filled in with shelves that provide housing for a series of small scale forms, marking time. Directly in front of the fireplace stands a cluster of plaster forms delicately balanced, reaching just above the fireplace, providing links diagonally to each corner of the room.

The forms rise upwards implying contact with the ceiling, a sense of uplifting. The walls are covered by painted wooden panels that become frames for ink drawings that have been made in response to the sculpture as it evolves. There is a large central mirror opposite a door where movement is momentarily captured; movement of my body holding the plaster, movement of the forms as my eye catches and refocuses through the space. It somehow extends the space inviting a different view, mirroring our dance.

The sculpture has all been cast in the room using ten 25kg bags of plaster mixed with water. The process of dust becoming liquid and then solid sheet has been repeated throughout the two weeks prior to the exhibition. The sculpture registers that process with its contingencies; fluidity is held and the forms converse with each other, the walls meeting the floor and the ceiling.

Bridport 2002

The sculpture was made over a two-week period of the exhibition. At the end of a long narrow hall is a raised platform; there is a strong sense of distance and on the end-wall three paintings were hung. The sculpture was made in relation to the paintings, with the cast forms reaching towards and interacting with the forms emerging from the paintings. The sculpture seemed to refer to landscape, moving across the space and activating the space above and within it. The two main areas of the work formed a dialogue with each other and the paintings; an evolving conversation surrounded by an undulating area that visually held attention and lead into the construction. From each angle opened another view and the paintings and the sculpture moved backwards and forwards visually through space opening into each other.

Court House Cells Axminster 2001

During the first two weeks of the exhibition I made a plaster installation in each of the court house cell spaces. I intended to create contrasting atmospheres in each cell. In the first I focused on surface, in the second on the volumetric feel of the space. I cast plaster forms in each space constructing all the work on site using the forms to create a dialogue between the two parallel spaces.

Cells have differing connotations, mostly negative, where a person is confined and restricted in movement and activity. People experience the minimum of space and light. The two cells here have a particular fascination because of their history, nevertheless there is a conflict when thinking about such spaces where there has been so much trauma and difficulty.

The feeling I had for the two works is that they will make a positive use of restriction of space and light by inviting the viewer to focus on different elements of space, surface and volume.

The cells make me reflect on how the walls have received gaze over the years of use; how the gaze must have had anguish but also how time has somehow been inscribed on the viewers and on the walls themselves - so much more so than normal dwelling places where the intensity of experience is diluted by variety. Here you are left facing yourself in very particular circumstances, where you push up against not only time and space but the laws of society which delimit activity. People locked in cells are forced to contemplate their lives, their history. Art activity depends very much on restricting focus; determination to imprint or leave traces of activities in the art objects in whatever form they take. Bringing these two spheres together seems strange but also has a curious resonance about it. The major important difference of course is that my activity is by consent and I am excited to discover how my intentions and understanding of the space will change during the process of working here.

Stoke Abbot Resounding 2000

The hall was used as a Victorian schoolhouse and has a high roof with large windows on three walls. At one end is a stage, the floor is wooden and there are wooden beams that form the structure of the roof. It is a place where many meetings have taken place.

The work was constructed over a period of two weeks. The forms linked the floor and the stage, as if a drama was unfolding between them, that gently played with the light moving across the window behind. Each form responded directly to the previous one a,s if a musical dance was developing, sometimes with deep sonorous notes, other times with high pitched trills. The sculpture echoed the forms in the three long paintings that were shown at the same time, bridging the floor and stage rising up towards the light at the window.

Town Mill Lyme Regis, 1998

The Mill Buildings have an intimate, private, almost secretive quality. The light is discreet, emphasising comers, textures, walls with crumbling bricks, beams that carried immense weights with traces of hooks and pulleys, canvas hinges, trap doors and loft interiors where spaces are closed in and concealed.

The method I have developed for casting plaster in space uses purely the strength of the plaster itself, with gravity and balance and provides a way of speaking to those very qualities of the building.

I have attempted to capture a feeling of the plaster holding interior spaces, secret yet somehow beckoning and present. I have used the textures and continual sounds of the water flowing, wearing against the surrounds and foundations of the building as indirect inspiration for the ink drawings I have made, dipping and washing the stain into the paper with silted water.

The drawings are made in relation to the forms of plaster which evolve, using the three beams (once ship masts), part of the ceiling and the interior, providing me with a structure from which to hang the forms. The plaster forms unfold in relation to the textured wall surface and the way gravity pulls and distorts them in their interplay with each other.

Slowly the plaster and ink works shape themselves becoming intimately connected with the building, reflecting, perhaps holding, those intimate sounds of the Mill.


Look, another harvest is brought in, experience of seed and spring, rain, sun and wind. Now it will be transformed again, the wheels are ready. And it will feed us.

Movement and rhythms of labour, pushing, pulling, carrying up and pouring down. Something white and hard has invaded the space, has grown and planted itself, translated the flow of water into something hard, has yielded to another's dance, up and down, touching the wall, the floor, the ceiling.

Reaching in arches and loops, knotted in on itself but then spiralling out of the knot, growing into a structure of perplexing movement, claiming the space not by force but showing it the movement it is.

In the process of setting plaster gives off a heat almost equal to that used in its manufacture. You touch it and feel it like the warmth of a living body: the beginning of life as a rock, reminder of ages past. Its afterlife is silent and white, giving itself to be transformed by the artist's desire to transform, carrying its own weight by seemingly denying gravity, up and up and over the top and sideways and underneath, creating spaces of inside and outside, filling in and leaving out, and where we stand will change because of it.

Harvest of knowledge and desire, experiment and trust. Taking a risk again.

In these walls with their beams and arches, meeting place of water and stone, creating heat, creating nourishment.

The breath of a working woman, part of the process, singing the harvest. Round and round the wheels go.

Dance of the hard and the soft - settling for a temporary balance. Lifted and set down. Precariously. Stable only in movement.

See the harvest.

Look closer, take it in.

Light and shadow playing on it. Food for your dance.
Uta Ruge London March 1998

It seems entirely appropriate that Carolyne Kardia has chosen to make a work in an old mill, a location haunted by process and activity.

Her own work engaged with the rituals and precision necessary in the stages in transformation of matter echoes the past; the memory of place without a literal or nostalgic illustration of this connection. The insistence on making a material such as plaster retain the liveliness of its initial fluency is mysterious and yet the work itself tells of its evolution. In this way the mystery or magic is simply offered making no claims or promises.

It is the ephemeral status of this work which urgently insists on the present. There is no opportunity to postpone; if we are to see this work we must recognise its time span, the life not only of its genesis but also of its existence.
Marcia Farquhar March 1998

The Meeting house Ilminster 1997

The Presbyterian hall has a strong feeling of age, a redundant church, quiet and musty comers, uninhabited. There is a large balcony that lines one side of the vast space that is supported by large stone columns and there is very heavy wood panelling creating a darkness that is illuminated by the stained glass. windows. A large flat stone floor; a sense of being diminished in scale by the proportions of the hall. The sculpture was cast in a week during the exhibition.

The sculpture was formed to insert itself into this vastness, attempting to dominate, capturing a sense of the coloured light through tall windows and asserting itself in relation to the heavy stone pillars. It was made of 16 finely balanced columns that rose up towards the distant ceiling. The forms were linked with thin strips of plaster which created a visual fabric, uniting the columns and spreading shadows of delicate light, coloured from the stained glass windows. These colours were reflected in the pigment and wax wall hangings that were made to occupy the distant alcove that was once an altar.

It is an extraordinary ability of Carolyne Kardia's to make the serious work of really knowing a material appear a light task. When first I saw her plaster installation (Architectural Association '82) I was struck by the clarity of an intimate minimalism, non-hierarchical, cool, measured, hand-processed and yet unpretentious. Each component the result of an exacting process dependent on knowing when to control and when to let go or release the material.

Although the work might be fragile, it is a tough fragility and results from a sure and precise intention.

If, as an artist, early work has been well received critically there is surely temptation to repeat the w~g formula. There is much evidence of such repetition in the art market of today ... a kind of repetition of convenience rather than compulsion.

A convenience Kardia has avoided purposefully. It is hardly new to be adversarial, indeed the free market always accommodates the latest rebel. Maybe the true dissenters are those, who like Carolyne Kardia, embrace new possibilities, however problematic, in their practice and pursue them with dedication, irrespective of critical acclaim.

The paintings and drawings you can see in this exhibition are the result of such work from the last few years. The plaster installation is a sign that Kardia has never disavowed but indeed has kept faith with an earlier practice and is therefore able to reinterpret, recode rather than merely repeat her work of the early eighties.

It is the out of placeness of this first exhibition for many years that seems entirely right for an artist unconcerned by fitting in.
Marcia Farquhar July 1997

Scarlet, green, puce, violet, orange, blue, fuchsia, jade, pink, crimson, lime, rose, yellow, black, sapphire.

Carolyne Kardia's paintings challenge the eye. Bursts of hot colour swirl and dance, splinter and explode. Abstract shapes push out against their boundaries, barely contained within square formats. These energetic paintings concentrate on the present instant, endeavouring to capture the immediacy of the physical interaction between artist and painting.

Kardia's fragile, site-specific sculpture shares this characteristic emphasis on working in the here and now. In both practices she creates moments of crisis when artistic choices have to be confronted and decisions made.

The uplifting exhilaration of Kardia's paintings contrasts forcibly with the more meditative mood of her sculptural installations. These are cast from high-grade white plaster, which is mixed, poured into sheets and then lifted and formed as the material begins to solidify. Kardia has little time before the plaster sets completely, cracks and breaks. She works against the limits of the material, accepting failure as an inbuilt part of the process.

All Kardia's installations are made on site in response to the characteristics of their settings. One recent commission was for a prison cell in a former courthouse. Although purely abstract in form, the overlapping, curved sheets of plaster built around the cell bench gave a powerful impression of departed presence, conveying an almost psychic imprint of the emotions that the room had once contained.

Kardia refrains from colouring her sculptures and is content to let the plaster's matt surface assume subtle, ambient tints from the surrounding light. She often displays paintings alongside her three-dimensional forms and it is illuminating to see the two together. The installation establishes a spatial dialogue with its setting and offers refreshing respite from colour, while the paintings provide a multi-coloured explication of the shapes and themes present in her sculpture.

Kardia trained as a sculptor and first began to use colour in 1987 with the concurrent expansion of her painting practice. She continues to experiment with a variety of materials; mainly pastels, oils, watercolour and acrylic on paper, canvas and wood. Each provides an opportunity to explore how individual pigments respond to different methods of application and their proximity to other colours. The results are comparable to a dance or song where rhythms emerge and change, never stable, never still.
Sara Hudston 2002


    Silent structures, reach, search,
    Explore the questioning spaces.
    The whiteness reflecting
    An architect's nature.
    Frames of difference
    Corners, lines, light
    Dynamic, ageless
    Express purpose, fragile histories.
    Mirrored layered substance,
    Plaster, temporary yet strong
    Disintegration to powdered
    Limited, confined by time
    Concrete constraints
    Constructing moments, memories.
    Intensity to experience
    Sculpture to artist.

Wendy Fitzgibbon 2003