Makeshift, slapdash, downright shoddy – most artists would balk if their work were described in such terms. But not Chloe Farrar (b.1994), a Lancashire-raised/London-based sculptor, who confessed on a visit to her studio that she is so clumsy, a friend told her they wouldn’t trust her to put up a garden shed. For Farrar, ostensibly derogatory labels like these are to be embraced wholeheartedly; her work spurns perfectionist production values and a fussy, overly precious approach to materials.
Instead, she uses basic components, many widely used in the construction industry, to create works that examine the relationship between material, the maker and architecture, the practice of construction. These works can at present be divided into three loosely defined strands that operate in tandem: structures, casts and print work.
The structures take on a variety of different forms but generally use the same array of recurring materials – 2×2 wood, metal piping, scaffolding, plastic– that are continually reused in improvisatory configurations. Much of what is used has been recycled, claimed from skips or raided from piles of factory off-cuts. Even when Farrar occasionally introduces ‘fresh’ bought materials into circulation, they soon become just as battered, splattered, stained and knocked about as everything else. Every component develops its own patina of wear, a trace of its past use.
These worn and torn elements are then joined together, stacked, balanced, secured to walls or placed on the floor, to create structures that respond to the space they are in and reveal their own creative process at the same time. Farrar starts with very little in the way of planning, beginning by placing a component in a vacant space and then instinctively adding another element, then another in turn, following an internal logic of construction that seems to unfold intuitively until the structure is complete.
When viewed by an audience, this building process can be traced in reverse; as you walk around the structures, following them with your eye, one can envision the choices made in each moment of its construction to create a sort of narrative, as you work out what went where, when, and why. These choices are governed by the structure’s relationship to the surrounding space, its walls, ceilings and floor-space, as well as the interdependence between the materials themselves and the practicalities of making it all stand up.
Often it is the seemingly insignificant component that keeps the whole thing together: a tiny stone slotted in a gap to keep a pipe at the correct angle or a wedge of plastic that makes a makeshift column just the right height for the next element to lie flat. It is not just the artist’s satisfaction in making these throwaway materials serve a new purpose that can be shared by the viewer, but also that primal, gratifying joy of building something from not much, experienced by anyone who’s ever stacked pebbles on a beach or knocked up a den from sticks in the woods.
Farrar’s structures have a sense of openness, intuitiveness and unpredictability that is also shared by her cast and print works. Working with plaster and concrete, she makes casts of the same stuff used in her structures – wood off-cuts, sandbags, sponge – focusing in on the individual properties of each material in a more intimate, tactile way. Each cast records the material’s behaviour, its shape and its surface, sometimes leaving behind a physical residue from the original material.
The technical challenge of casting objects like sponge often leads to unanticipated results, such as accidentally leaving an impression of the artist’s hands on the reverse of a cast. The surface of each cast therefore acts as a sort of archive, not only of the cast object’s shape and textural quality but also tracing the artist’s attempts to negotiate the particularity of each material, often highlighting the gap between the artist’s original intention and the unexpected, uncontrollable side of the casting process.
This idea of surface as archive is central to Farrar’s accompanying print works, in which she takes a few inches of minute, incidental detail from a vast array of different surfaces and blows them up to produce prints several metres wide. Much of the source imagery for these prints comes from photographs taken on meandering walks through urban environments, capturing surfaces of peeling stucco, deteriorating tiling, a collapsed wall cavity – anywhere the internal structures of buildings are being externally revealed.
In all three areas of her work – structures, casts and prints – common themes emerge in her exploration of the relationship between material, the maker and architecture. One is her fascination with exposing the way things are constructed, both in the world around her and in her own work; her structures and cast works leave their creative process on show to be shared by the viewer, whilst her prints magnify and draw our attention to our built surroundings.
This openness is also reflected in her use of basic building materials and her shunning of a sleek, polished finish, that seems to hold only a hollow promise of quality, like a shiny new iPhone that is designed to become quickly obsolete. Her structures decry the scrubbed-up triumphalism of some Modernist sculpture, typified by the likes of Anthony Caro, but at the same time they do not fetishise industrial materials to the same extent as some self-reflexive Minimalist works. The materials she uses are dirty, battered but unfussy and able to be reused and repurposed endlessly in works that ultimately speak to a world beyond themselves.
It is a world where issues regarding the reuse and repurposing of materials, objects and buildings, are becoming more pressing. Growing up in Burnley, North West England, Farrar talks of being surrounded by buildings designed for a specific purpose that have now been turned into something else: industrial factories have now become call centres or Nando’s restaurants. Eschewing any sense of sentimental nostalgia, she sees the humorous side of these transformations, stating that as society changes our needs change and so must the things we create. Her work reflects that need for flexibility and inventiveness, as well as simply revelling in the universal joy of building something from what is available to hand. Just don’t ask her for help if you’re planning on putting up your garden shed.
All images © Chloe Farrar 2017