The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture 2018 showcases new and recent works by five UK based sculptors, Michael Dean, Mona Hatoum, Phillip Lai, Magali Reus and Cerith Wyn Evans. The galleries resonate a material otherworldliness where, as viewers, we feel as if we are intruders in an alien world. This activation of materiality brings an uneasiness in the encounter between human and non-human in the destabilisation of material hierarchies.
Michael Dean’s installation ‘Of or for LOL’ (2018) is made of concrete, a material the artist describes as democratic ceramic. The invitation to walk upon the concrete slab pathway that forms the central base of the installation is both liberating and anxiety making. Our earliest encounters with art teach us: ‘do not touch’ (or as it says on the signs at the nearby Yorkshire Sculpture Park, ‘please do not climb on the sculptures’). Here, we are asked to do the opposite and, as such, enact part of the democracy of concrete.
In gallery five, work by Mona Hatoum resonates with the different qualities of materials. Hatoum’s fascination with craft appears in ‘Natura Morta (Medical Cabinet)’ (2012), a series of extremely beautiful Murano glass objects placed in a sturdy steel cabinet. On close examination, the objects appear to be hand grenades, where the fragility of glass contrasts with the potential for activation as objects of danger and destruction.
Gallery four houses Phillip Lai’s series of sculptural works, comprised of wall-mounted stacks of hand-cast polyurethane basins interspersed with PVC foam matting. These are both elegant formal sculptures and a faintly threatening presence that loom and dominate vulnerable human bodies.
Magali Reus’ sculptures also ‘threaten’ through their formal material qualities. Frame-like structures support fabricated objects that appear to be awaiting activation. Their detached presence seems to hint toward an internal monologue of materials.
Cerith Wyn Evans’ performative sculpture ‘Composition for 37 Flutes (in Two Parts)’ (2018) materialises itself as an ethereal object; part cathedral, part science fiction. The delicate glass structure comes to life as it sings the melancholy song of the River Calder.
In the Hepworth Prize for Sculpture 2018 the traditional materiality of sculpture has been usurped. The longevity of glass, steel, concrete and plastic hint at the anxieties of mortality and the impermanence and vulnerability of flesh-and-blood human bodies. The potential activation of materiality, evident in these sculptural artworks, unsettles and disturbs. The encounter is both intimate and overwhelming, reminding us that we too are just matter in a material world.
On 15 November at a formal dinner in the gallery, the winner of the Hepworth Prize for Sculpture 2018 was announced as Cerith Wyn Evans. The air vibrated with the applause of the audience, a fitting tribute to the resonant performativity of Wyn Evans’ eloquent sculpture.
The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture 2018, The Hepworth Wakefield, 26 October 2018 – 20 January 2019.
Paula Chambers is an artist, academic and arts educator.