Sculpture-as-ethnography is a mode of research practice that emphasises the processes and tooling of making things, the agency and material properties of human and non-human actants and the place where something is made. This ‘making as place-making’ method situates the maker within a critical field of enquiry about the relationships between people and place. The outputs for this model of investigation become multi-textual accounts that extend the performative nature of making things, where the focus is not the final object, but the lifeworld assembling around and through the made thing and the ongoing relations that are emergent from it.
PhD: The quarry as sculpture: the place of making
Practices of sculpture and geography have collaborated ever since Stone Age humans hoisted up rocks to point them into the air. The ephemerality of life was rendered in a circle of forms and mass that celebrated the union of sky, earth and dwelling. Through the manipulation of stone, the land became a place, it became a home, it became situated and navigable. As millennia unfolded, the land was written with the story of itself. The creativity woven into the story of place is an evolution of material collaborations. In recent decades, academic geographers have explored the realms of creativity in their work, and sculptors have critically engaged with the nature of place. I have united these disciplines in the exploration of a truth of materials. The aim of the research was to investigate the relationship between making and place. The structure of my PhD focussed on the development of a transdisciplinary research environment that could host a range of creative practices around stone-working. I developed a long-term relationship with Trenoweth Dimension Granite Quarry, working as an apprentice sawman and mason. Here, I examined the everyday practices of labour and skill development, from which emerged deeper material and human interactions, that went on to inform my sculpture and modes of making. Arguing that granite has threads of relational agency embedded within its matrix, I initiated a series of practices that made use of my emerging knowledge as a granite-quarry worker cast within experimental sculpture, texts, performance, photography and film. By formulating my methods around the vibrancy of matter, I disclosed new materialisms and more-than-human relations. This assemblage of documentation and artwork records and reflects on a series of practices and processes in tension. This productive tension arises from a re-rendering of artisanal practice as a research method; ushering in modes of representation as loops of experience and interpretation take place across different sites, spaces and times of mediation. The objective for the PhD research was to present a critically informed practice of sculpture-as-ethnography that could not only provide a model for practice-based research in general, but also significantly expand what might be meant by stone-work.
Follow the link to my PhD Digital Archive:
Photographs and film in the Digital Archive have been taken principally by myself, but other contributions are from Helena Bonnett, Steve Brown, Natalia Eernstman, Rose Ferraby and Misha Myers.
I would like to thank my wonderful supervisors Caitlin DeSilvey and James Ryan for their enthusiasm, encouragement and support throughout my PhD. I am so grateful for their friendship and understanding during what has been one of the most exciting and challenging periods of my life. Their commitment to academic rigour and creative expression has helped shape my research, allowing me to fulfil so much more than I could have ever expected.
I am extremely grateful to Tim Marsh, owner of Trenoweth Dimension Granite Quarry. I thank him firstly for allowing me to conduct my research in his quarry, but also for being such a supportive friend. Tim’s unique qualities of toughness in both body and mind, his kindness, generosity, endurance and sense of inclusivity shine through in all he does. I have learnt a great deal about quarrying and granite from him, much of which is embedded in the work I have produced. I would like to express my thanks to Ernie Hillson, head mason at Trenoweth Quarry until 2014, for teaching me about what it means to be a granite mason in Cornwall. Ernie’s stories from his quarrying life since the 1960s have been laugh-out-loud funny, hugely entertaining and highly informative. I would also like to acknowledge all my other friends and colleagues at the quarry who have contributed to my work and research: Charles Addison, Steve Brown, Peter Davey, Stephen Dyer, Mark Medlyn, Ian Pollard, Andrew Rogers and Stephane Rouget. A special thanks to Mark Harris for his compliments and ideas over the years, and for the many conversations about the weather.
I would like to express a special gratitude to my close friend Rose Ferraby, someone with whom I have been able to share a deep respect for stone and quarrying during our time as PhD researchers. I thank Rose for the many chats over the phone, for her humour, creativity, rigour and energy. I would also like to acknowledge the friendship, support and spirit of collaboration provided by Jane Bailey, Natalia Eernstman, Alyson Hallett and Andy Whall, during our shared experiences of carrying out PhDs.
I would like to thank my father John who, in our all too brief shared moments, made a deep and lasting impression on my career in the world of stone. I would also like to thank my mother Angela, my brother Andrew and his wife Joan for their unwavering encouragement and support throughout my academic studies. Finally, I would like to express my deepest thanks to my partner Jane for all that she has done during our journey to get to Cornwall and throughout the PhD. Last, but by no means least, I also have to thank my beautiful son Elliot for being just such an amazing part of my life.