The first in a series of Arts Council Funded sculpture commissions is by London-based artist Karen Tang, whose work has been exhibited international and encompasses an extensive portfolio of public sculpture projects.
For Tang's sculpture at Bermondsey Square, 'Synapsid', her initial influence draws from sci-fi sources that traverse the worlds of biology, botany and alien landscapes, a thread through much of her recent practice. The work sprung from research into the Golden Age sci-fi from the 1950s and 1960s and the artist's encounter the 1959 film, 'The Giant Behemoth'. The film originally intended to feature a giant, formless blob of radioactive material, swims up the Thames and tramples through Rotherhithe and Bermondsey. Within the narrative, the creature leaves destruction in its wake, but the film also contains valuable records of the local streets, residences and businesses. It features many Bermondsey inhabitants as extras, running screaming from their flats, Park Buildings in particular, which were demolished in the mid-1970s. This link to the area around Bermondsey Square, especially the relationship to the Thames, combined rich sci-fi inspiration with a sense that the sculpture belongs in the Square.
The protean-blob forms epitomise looseness and change, posing the insuperable challenge of freezing a moment in static material; The sculpture, a three-dimensional form that cannot be perceived in a single instance. One's understanding of it develops depending on distance and viewpoint, allowing for manipulation with regard for multiple angles. In planning of the sculpture, it was crucial for the artist to understand the nuances of the form. Models began with thoughts that materialised quickly in soft plasticine, then moving into foam and plywood to work out the armature and sections that could be attached. The visibility of bolts in the final fibreglass work will emphasise the concept of mutability, suggesting shifting identities of the parts themselves.
The forthcoming sculpture is also informed by one of Tang's earlier public sculpture works, 'Modern Molluscs', which was executed in 2008 with architect Daniel Sanderson for Jerwood Space. This work explored many of the concepts that have informed Tang's upcoming work for Bermondsey Square, such as the juxtaposition of mutated nature with the built environment.
Karen Tang (b. London 1978) is an artist based in London. She studied at Chelsea then the Slade School of Fine Art, leaving in 2004 with an MFA (Distinction) in Sculpture. After being awarded the Duveen Travel Scholarship, she researched mutated spaces in Mexico's architecture and underwater sunken wrecks. Her sculptures offer viewers the experience of surprising structural and material combinations, with unexpected forms that reference science-fiction, architecture and peculiarities of city life.
Tang's work has been commissioned by The National Trust, Contemporary Art Society, The Economist, South London Gallery and private collections. Tang has exhibited at venues including: Vestfossen Kunstlaboratorium; Bloomberg Space; Jerwood Space; Ambika P3; MAMA Rotterdam; Dalston Superstore; Guest Projects; The Agency Gallery; Pumphouse Gallery, Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester; The Collection Museum, Lincoln. Tang is currently a Fine Art lecturer at Central Saint Martins.
VITRINE Bermondsey Square, London, SE1 3UN