The Roche Court Gallery and NewArtCentre is located half way between Bath and Poole, an open-air venue for purchasing works by many noted artists, including Richard Long, Antony Gormley, and Henry Moore. I’ve always been fond of the juxtaposition of art and nature, and the rolling Wiltshire hills and budding trees are a wonderful setting for these varied works.
A plaque near the main gallery reminded visitors of the soul of all art, but I have to admit that it was a particular challenge in some works. What am I to make of Kim Lim’s sculpted block of marble, Source 1, below?
If, as another plaque reads, Each material has its own life, then the sculptor is revealing something essential about the marble.
If she intends the soft organic carvings to stand in contrast to the hardened surface, then the essence reflects the artist.
If the patterns are symbolic or evocative, then the meaning is how I interpret or experience the work.
And I couldn’t make anything of it: what purpose did the artist have in creating it? Naga, a segmented pathway nearby, made more sense, but only because I could project my own experience onto it.
On reflection, the problem was in how I chose to define essence. The book-definition is the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, the properties without which it could not exist or be what it is. That’s a bit ethereal, even for art, so I gave it a bit more thought.
- If every created thing has a character, then essence is the crystallized memory of the event that brought it into existence. A sculpture holds the shape that the artist envisioned. By extension, any recognizable object also has an essence by this rule. A seashell is shaped by an animal; an ocean wave by natural forces: all retain a unique character linked to their creation.
- Does everything have an essence? I would say that inanimate things don’t, but I’m challenged to conclude that a footprint in the mud is qualitatively different than a Richard Long handprint. In the end, they are both shaped by forces and both retain the memory of their creation.
Is the essence intrinsic to the object, or does it depend on context, history, or the observer’s interpretation or experience of it? Because essence is created with the object, then they must retain their own intrinsic essence independent of context. Meaning, though, is an individual quality conferred by observation and belongs to the viewer uniquely.
It all leaves me sitting in a field scribbling ideas furiously into Evernote. Good art is generative; it helps me to see and think in new ways about everyday things.
And a good sculpture garden encourages insight through forms and juxtaposition. Especially on a sunny spring day.