by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
To find the large reflective sculptures standing firmly on the sprawling green fields would at once strive to play with the viewers’ point of vision and push a cause to reassess their relationship with their surroundings. The sculptor and environmental artist, Rob Mulholland, realises the aforementioned scene with his art practice, pinned by creative certainty and expertise. Based in the UK, the contemporary artist deploys a variety of materials to help achieve a reflective surface of the sculptures that have frequented both the gallery and public spaces. The coexistence between the human and natural world is sighted as a world of perfection, yet in the past few decades, the connection has seen unwanted changes. Mulholland’s works have consistently peppered the field with the tall reflective sculptures in order to disrupt the perspective of his audience to let them ponder upon what has been lost during this course of action.
For any new sculpture art or installations by Mulholland, the initial idea around its development and process stems either from a personal reaction prompted or influenced by media or informed opinion, sometimes social, political or scientific. To illustrate the same, the installation artist in an interview with STIR says, “A good example would be my process in developing Skytower, a six-metre-high sculpted tower made from twisted steel rods mimicking sticks that have been torn away to the top of the tower by a sudden gust of wind. I had for some time wanted to create a sculpture that represented the vulnerability of human existence in the natural world and our misguided notion that we are somehow in control. The sudden explosive image of the static rectangular tower being torn apart directly conflicts with the reality that the flying sticks are actually static and unmoving as if suspended in time. This visual contradiction imagines time being stopped, a time to reflect and reconsider our human interaction with nature.”
Since Mulholland’s large scale installation art offers a visual face to the predominant theme of reflection to question the multiplicity of reality through the use of reflective materials, he offers an explicit account on this inclination, “I first made use of reflective materials in the early ‘90s to explore ideas of identity, the reflection of the viewer in the sculpture questioned their relationship with the space and how they perceive themselves both physically and emotionally. Further experiments followed using larger sections of mirrored plastic outdoors that not only reflected the viewer, but also the surroundings including the sky. The plastic mirror often distorts and it struck me that if the reflective sculpture is surrounded by the same view that the mirrored surface dissipates and merges with the surroundings. The mirrored plastic worked for early works, but I soon found this to be fragile and unsuitable for outdoors, slowly I developed the skills to polish stainless steel to a mirrored finish. It’s very time consuming and technically challenging, but worth the effort as the effects can be quite mesmerising as the surface seems almost liquified!”
Inspired by the history of Morecambe Bay, Mulholland created the dwellings called Settlement with the mirrored surfaces to allow the viewers to see themselves and relook at the past of the landscape. Commissioned by Morecambe Bay Partnership as part of their Headlands to Headspace project, the dwellings were inspired by the early Anglo-Saxon designs which were a successful walk through the history of the place when the people toiled through the land and sea. The mirror surface, if distorted the view of the present natural landscape also pursued the viewers to revisit the narratives around the same place.
Holding a focus on the role of the audience in his art practice, Mulholland insists, “I have always tried to create an immersive experience with my public sculptures, the interaction of the viewer and sculpture is an aspect that I pay close attention to in every installation I create. The interplay with the surrounding environment is fundamental. I was searching for a visual form that would convey our human relationship with the natural world. It seems obvious now, but it was quite a while before I realised that a single representation of myself profiled in the mirror would create this connection with the natural environment. My mirrored profile merging and then reappearing as the light and shadows pass: a fleeting moment as the human form is merged completely within the living forest.” In the work Vestige, he deliberately chose a specific location in a Scottish forest that had similar trees and vegetation in front and behind the mirrored figures. The six figures represented past inhabitants of the land before it became a forest. The artist adds, “The figures are immersed in the forest and take on an invisible cloak as they reflect the surrounding vegetation, they harmonise with the surroundings like silent sentinels.”
Another work created by Mulholland to celebrate nature and its abundance is the Natural Creation. Motivated by the geology of the North Pennies, the work like the previous ones seamlessly anchored the audience to draw a parallel between the two existences: theirs and natural surroundings. Mulholland declares, “It is this nexus between our human world and the natural world that continues to intrigue me!” The creativity transpired through the works by the artist does not go unnoticed by the onlookers. As Mulholland states, “Art is there to inspire,” the viewers certainly find a renewed zest to establish harmony with the natural world.