Soft is stronger than hard- City Gallery 2012

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Abby Cunnane catalogue essay:

Sian Torrington
Soft is stronger than hard, 2012, mixed media
‘Soft sculpture’ is not necessarily friendly, or even particularly soft. Sometimes it’s
wayward, knotty, and irrepressible; sometimes it has an alarming number of limbs.
Torrington has always been interested in the relationship between sculpture and
drawing. Her soft sculptures investigate the ‘place’ where a drawing meets its
three-dimensional environment, and what occurs when a line becomes material: a
bundle of fabric, leather or rope, or simply a piece of string.
Soft is stronger than hard is one such drawing, threading through both levels of the
gallery building. Issuing from a nerve centre in the auditorium corridor, swathes of
soft material trace, wrap, pad existing elements within the building’s infrastructure:
pipes and wires, ventilation hoses, sprinkler heads. In doing so the piece makes
visible the skeletal networked system that feeds into and throughout the more
regular architectural features, a chaotic sub-text that exists, usually unnoticed,
alongside the sweeping white walls that we associate with gallery space.
Opportunistic in its relationship to the operational, necessary elements of the
building, Torrington’s work is a wily and living thing in its own right. It asserts the role
of experiment, of being unsure, of trying and failing; in the artist’s words: ‘Everything
which makes this possible’. It walks a circuitous and at times beautifully awkward
line through the gracious geometry of the building’s interior. The maker’s act finished,
the work continues a dialogue with the building which is about physicality: the mess,
the mass, the unapologetic indecisiveness of materials in process.
In Torrington’s work the drawing often resolves itself as an object, or a series of
forms inter-knit with the site of the functional building. If it’s a drawing it’s also an act
of unravelling—punctuated by crutches, props, brakes—non-linear and anti-heroic.
Challenging the solidity and unitary illusion of such spaces, the gallery is mapped
as an energetic system with inevitable points of rupture and disorder, a series of
Built into the space over a week-long install period, the artist’s involvement is
fundamental, the limits of her strength and height always dictating the scale and
reach of the work: nothing heavier than she can lift, manipulate, install herself.
Torrington is concerned with ideas of proximity and vulnerability, the relationship
of the ‘body’ of the building to that of the audience member and artist.
Figures of healing and restoration appear throughout Torrington’s sculpture. At the
end of the auditorium corridor, we find wooden stretcher frames bound into the work;
fabric wraps the ends of pipes, bandage-like, while in other places pieces of found
wood and leather straps suggest splint and tourniquet. The drawing, like the building
itself, is broken, disorderly and functional on different levels; it works.