This work, titled ‘Soft is Stronger than Hard’ for the Obstinate Object show at City Gallery, occupied the less noticed but hard working spaces of the gallery, in
the ceilings and around the pipes. It began from an interest in the parts of the building which are doing the work, to keep it warm, cool, dry. This unseen maintenance is what preserves the building as it is, and yet there is little notice taken of it by the users of the building. The ‘forgotten architecture’ is just above our heads in the space, working away to keep everything running smoothly. And yet we
look simply at the clean white walls. I took this as a starting point to consider the hiding away of the creative process, and of our own ‘messy’ and yet hard working bits, the difficult tangles which we prefer not to reveal to public scrutiny. And yet, as one young woman put it;
“you know when life is really messy and chaotic, well it was like that, but it was beautiful too, and it made me feel better.”
Catalogue writing by Abby Cunnane – 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 processes. 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.