More room for error:
Nicola Ellis

More room for error is the second incarnation of a touring exhibition of works by artist Nicola Ellis. For the exhibition at &Model in Leeds Ellis has worked on a site-concious basis, sensitively responding to the architecture of the three-storey townhouse to create the new work ‘Some, any, many, a lot of, a little, a few’ (2015) in situ in the gallery space. This work draws on Ellis’ prior investigations into metalworking, in particular techniques of welding, to invite discussion around the relationship of sculpture and engineering whilst simultaneously offering a dialogue with the constructed, metal sculpture of the twentieth century.

‘Some, any, many, a lot , a little, a few’ is formed of a continuous piece of steel which joins all three storeys of the gallery by traversing through rooms, cutting through ceilings, and lining  staircases. The work’s elastic appearance is enabled by a series of welded joins, which give the steel thread the illusion of tense weightlessness as it floats across the space. As it bisects architectural constructs the steel line appears simultaneously integral and intrusive; piercing and re-shaping the body of the building.

&Model’s domestic, multi-room layout lends itself to such aggressive contouring. As the work passes through a wall or floorboard, the viewer is invited to consider any number of unseen spaces beyond. Recalling the work of Anthony Caro, the sculpture manipulates both line and space as the gallery itself becomes part of the sculptural entity. In places the work is purposely made mysteriously inaccessible – hidden behind a transparent door or disappearing into the depths of a basement, off limits to the gallery visitor. In this way Ellis’ concept of sculpture becomes one of both a physical object and a mediation on spatial awareness.

This is also a work that self-avowedly seeks to investigate its own materiality; a sculpture that displays its own working processes as testimony to a kind of material honesty. As the exhibition title suggests, it is a sculpture that openly celebrates the flaws and imperfections to be found in any process of making. Ellis has spoken of her ‘least favourite train of sculpture’ as one that ‘disguises inner counter-balance or tries to make you believe there isn’t one’. In order to alleviate this erasure of making, Ellis intentionally exposes the prefabricated removable collars used to join the steel rods together in the work. The holes which are drilled into walls and floorboards to allow the sculpture to continue its architectural journey are also left exposed, displaying the material trace of the artist’s hand.

The exhibition forces an interactive response from the viewer. The steel line runs at such a height that is is necessary for the gallery visitor to step over or duck under the structure if they want to enter the space. Sculpture thus becomes a dictator of movement that encourages a more direct engagement with gallery. More room for error is both an investigation of the nature and materiality of an industrial medium and process, and simultaneously an exploration of the potential for using sculpture to navigate architectural space. It is a work that is both material and immaterial which succeeds in eluding the visitor through the journey it traverses – at one minute close enough to touch, the next, disappearing out of sight at the prospect of new spatial possibilities.

More room for error is commissioned and curated by Mark Devereux Projects and is viewable by appointment at &Model until 19 September 2015.

More room for error: Nicola Ellis Installation View, 2015. Image Courtesy: &Model, Leeds. Photograph: Stephen Iles.

Clare Nadal is a writer, curator and art historian based in Sheffield

Featured image: More room for error: Nicola Ellis Installation View, 2015. Image Courtesy: &Model, Leeds. Photograph: Derek Horton.