Text by Lesley Guy
When I went to Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) to review Divisions, the solo show by James Capper, they had just finished installing the mega show by Yinka Shonibare, MBE, and it looked like a huge fuss was being made.
YSP reserves the Bothy gallery for less well-known or emerging artists like Capper, and it is a decent sized, well lit space, but I’m sure there’s something not quite right about it. I’ve rarely seen a show that really works in there and I’m trying to figure out why, because this one didn’t seem to work either.
The space is divided into sections, and there are a lot of corners, so it is easy to put a lot of work in. This meant that every inch is filled with drawings, sculptures and maquettes.
Capper makes kinetic sculptures based on industrial machinery, diggers, and trawlers, that sort of thing. He invents new forms and functions for these familiar machines and I suppose we could call his a machine aesthetic. He is something of an engineer-artist and uses the language of product design, particularly in the drawings.
In the interview with Helen Pheby published as a handout, Capper cites a number of big figures, including Jean Tinguely, as important influences. This is an interesting, if misleading point of reference. Tinguely’s moving sculptures are colourful, chaotic and exciting. They seemed to function of their own will, lacking control and with an independent animus. While some of Capper’s designs such as Four Legs, Three Teeth, 2010, are animal-like in their pose, they don’t possess the same spirit.
There’s a different line of enquiry being explored, perhaps it is about use and function. None of these machines seem capable of much, which is something that adds to their charm. The giant claw gently scratching lines in the turf in Ripper Teeth in Action, 2011 (film), was engaging. The machine is just so out of proportion to the action, and so awkward, that I wish I’d seen the live performance.
In the film Midi Marker, Sculpture/Performance, 2012, a strange little machine is led by the artist through mountain shale and then a meadow. Its funny little feet/fangs drag behind it, ploughing pathetic furrows into the ground. In the film I thought there might be some kind of strange narrative. These scenes are cut in with scenes of nature such as rivers cutting through mountains, which was interesting but this wandering off just added to the feeling that the work didn’t really know where it was going…
So this, added to the fact that there was just so much work in the gallery (and more in the walkway of the main building) meant that I didn’t know where to look, or how to look at this show. I was allowed little time or space to consider the subtleties of sculpture and performance, the process of making or the idea of machine as creative agent that I think it was hinting at.
Despite this abundance, I was disappointed to have missed the larger sculptures out in the open area that had been moved, I imagine, to make way for Shonibare’s new work.
I haven’t seen the Shonibare show yet, but from what I’ve heard there’s a lot going on there too. While I understand that the YSP is not an easy place to get to and they need to make each visit worthwhile, I don’t think the answer is to stuff the place full of art. It is a beautiful venue, set in a beautiful landscape. The curators ought to trust the public to value this along with the quality of the work shown, not the quantity.
James Capper: Divisions is on display at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park until 14 April 2013.