8 July 2022
Ariadne (Wrapped): Behind the scenes with artist Gavin Turk
British artist Gavin Turk unveiled Ariadne (Wrapped) at CB1 in June 2022, revealing the latest piece of public art to join a growing collection outside Cambridge Station. We talked to the renowned sculptor to find out his inspirations behind the work.
What was your inspiration for Ariadne (Wrapped)?
One of the first things you notice about Cambridge station is this incredible Romanesque colonnade and when I see a series of arches in this way. Then I see this idea of a square or a social space in front of it and I immediately find myself going to this artist, Giorgio de Chirico.
He famously painted, many times, this white colonnade with a piazza. Generally there was a white sculpture in the piazza; a Romanesque or Greek reclining figure. I got really drawn into the sculpture that's in the paintings. Who is this? What is this figure? In a way, it's a kind of archetype of sculpture; like a blurred vision of a public sculpture. What I've done with Ariadne (Wrapped) is blend together a series of other works that I'd made by wrapping sculptures in decorator's fabric, and then wrapping it in a Christo-esque way. Then I've cast in bronze and I've painted it to look like a wrapped up sculpture waiting to go on a train or waiting to be delivered to somewhere else.
You start the process of unwrapping in your head as you as you come into focus and consciousness of the object. There a various levels of wrapping over something that even if it was open – even if you could see it – was in some ways already actually wrapped: it was wrapped in history; it was wrapped in context; it was wrapped in time; and it was wrapped in a whole set of cultural ideologies.
And who is Ariadne?
The story of Ariadne is an interesting one in itself: she being this classical figure – the one that gives Theseus the golden thread so he can he can go and kill the Minotaur. There’s a super surrealistic mental image of the Minotaur and, having killed the beast, he then takes her off with him and drops her off on an island in the middle of the Adriatic called Naxos. Where she is then reclining on this stone, she's in a state of melancholia, just stuck forever, seemingly on this island. This is how she's found in the sculpture. Obviously, if the story carries on, she then gets picked up by Dionysus, by Baccus, basically marries him and she becomes immortal and becomes the goddess of parties. It all comes good in the end but for a brief moment, she's stuck in this process of melancholia.
Who is your artistic inspiration?
One of the artists that I am inspired by is Christo. He and his wife Jeanne-Claude had a really interesting artistic career and one of the keys to their work was this idea of covering or wrapping things up – hiding things. There is a tradition in that. There's a wonderful Henry Moore drawing of lots of people crowding round a wrapped-up sculpture. You assume that the sculpture is about to be unveiled but, in the meantime, what's happening in this picture is that there's a group of people standing around a wrapped sculpture. I wanted to create the same kind of impression as these artists: I want people to come out [of Cambridge Station] and not recognise Ariadne (Wrapped) as a permanent sculpture but to come out and go “oh, what’s that doing here? What’s going on?” It’s very playful but it is also about the questions of being.
How did Ariadne (Wrapped) come into being?
People often ask me “how long did it take?” and my immediate answer is: “how long is a piece of string?” or one of those kind of oblique answers which is a non-answer. But actually, there is a physical manifestation of time and there is a process of making. In the case of Ariadne (Wrapped), I made the form in the studio and then wrapped it up and literally took this wrapped form to the bronze foundry. They then chopped it all up, turned it into wax pieces and then cast those in bronze and then brought those brought those back together again. Then it came back to my studio where I painted it. That whole process probably took a year to make. Within that year it is sort of like keeping a ball in the air; you have to keep things going in a certain kind of way so that you can achieve what you want.
My process is not very traditional. I’m something of a surrealist. There's a sense taking things from dreams or taking things from different places or finding out historical examples of something and then collaging them or mashing them together with a contemporary idea or mission together with another historical idea or trying to make hybrids of things, trying to use things that people might recognise or people might know about, or people might already think they've seen before and then twist them up and change them and represent them in a way that that is kind of slightly disconcerting.
What do you feel is the role of public sculpture?
To me, the role of public sculpture changes depending on who's made it, who's commissioned it, where it is… which makes the question of public sculpture is a really protracted and difficult one. I like to think of public sculpture as a question. What is this thing? Why is this thing? How is this thing? And can this sculpture help me to navigate my place in the world? Or can this sculpture be part of a process of me coming into an understanding of myself?
I spend a lot of time thinking about this idea of inside and outside, this idea of what people or how people come to see a sculpture and what people bring to the sculpture already: what's already in their heads before they see something? That affects the way that they see it.
It's absolutely amazing to have this opportunity to put my sculpture now into a public space and to really see the way that it's like making a reality of something which I dreamt up through looking at a painting, which is a painting of a dream. And now I'm making it kind of a reality. And that for me is my dream.
Photos: Phil Mynott
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