Bodying Forth - Christine Stevens

by Richard Davey

A pool of light breaks into the middle of a dark void. It illuminates two hands that slowly conjure a clay vase out of thin air, manipulating and moulding its form like a potter at a wheel, constantly building it up and breaking it down. There is no obvious beginning or end to this mesmerising video, instead it draws the viewer into an endless process of becoming and dissolving, where the distinction between Being and Nothingness becomes blurred.

Placed beneath the flat screen showing Christine Stevens' video for Bodying Forth are the pots themselves. Whilst the video appears to offer us a virtual world, a fictional representation of reality that has been clearly reversed and manipulated, the sculptures are tangible, a series of physical entities, whose occupation of our own rather than 'digital' space gives them a sense of authentic reality. 

Yet, it is the evocative testament of the video to the never ending process of birth, life and death that most closely resembles reality. The sculptures are, in contrast, the virtual objects, static figures caught forever in a frozen present that stands outside the flow of time. In a world of constant flux and becoming they embody, like all static art forms, the human desire for permanence and stability, perpetuating a fiction of solidity and stasis.

The world is made up of such fictions; liminal moments when individual atoms transcend the universal and eternal to coalesce into a form that occupies a specific instant in time before eventually returning to the whole. Evoking the gilded otherness of Renaissance altarpieces, the luminous substance of Stevens' sculptural figures seems to reveal this reality; where things can be both tangible and intangible, solid and ethereal. Their physical substance is called into question as light bounces off their smooth surfaces and is lost within their shadowy folds, allowing us to glimpse a world of constantly changing, porous boundaries where things are less isolated and more interconnected, less fixed and more insubstantial.

Stevens' creative process brings diversity and otherness into a Spode vase that once symbolised the benefits of mass production. By using liquid clay and a standard mould Spode could ensure the uniformity necessary for the mass production that allowed their products to become household items rather than exclusive rarities. But uniformity imposes boundaries of acceptance and failure. Deviations from the ideal were discarded.

Stevens, however, is fascinated by individuality and difference.  She takes perfect vases, fresh from the mould, and begins to caress and manipulate the still damp clay with her hands, imposing her own body onto its rigid, solid, manufactured form, not only transferring her emotions and physical presence, but transferring atoms through her fingertips, so that these functional, identical pots are transformed into organic, individual entities that have an emotional intensity reminiscent of Giotto's Mary Magadelene howling in agony at the feet of the dead Christ.

Then, as they are made to bend and lean into one another these sculptures form relationships that overcome the isolation inherent in their tangible forms. In doing so they are transformed from the broken, shattered failings of an ideal form, into objects that are each beautiful and unique, allowing us to realise that fixed perfection is an impossible ideal in a world that exists in a state of constant process.