Tschabalala Self's public sculpture 'Seated' reclaims and owns a public space
by Dilpreet BhullarDec 13, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Girinandini SinghPublished on : May 15, 2021
In the curious paper sculptures of British artist Rogan Brown, there exists a deep contemplation on nature as a way of understanding the world around us which bears remarkable resemblance to the early Romantics. “A thread of commonality that runs through my work is how we see nature in literal and conceptual terms,” says Brown. “Even before the technological revolution nature overwhelmed us with its unfathomable scale giving rise to the philosophy of the sublime,” he adds.
As the 18th century closed, a transformation was already underway in how the world was beginning to identify with its intellectual values. An alternative was quickly spreading through the West where enlightenment values of rationale, reason and order, as determining life experience were falling short in providing a complete meaningful picture. Romanticism, the creative movement which defined 19th century artists and creators, gave importance to human emotions, the senses and their contemplation as being an equally important - if oft ignored - determinant of human experience. The individual imagination was being celebrated as an extension of the universal imagination, and the movement itself had a long-standing impact on how we approached arts, science, literature and more. The Romantics it seems are more relevant today than ever, where in an ever-changing world of scientific enquiry the individual’s capacity for originality, imagination, and independent thought has a way of anchoring them and dare one say, restoring them from the emotional isolation of a digital world.
“How much more have we learnt about the vastness of what surrounds us since Kant, back in the 18th century? Science today doesn’t simply mediate our perception of nature, it now completely dominates it and has altered our understanding of the very texture of the world around us,” explains Brown. Where once we sought to hold onto a solid physical world as a safe net, that illusion has long been shattered revealing an expansive and fascinating micro-universe of smaller structures such as cells, proteins, molecules, atoms, protons, quarks and quantum energy fields. “It is this new perception of the world that I explore in my work by attempting to find accessible visual metaphors that describe phenomenon that are difficult to grasp because of their scale: infinitesimally small and unimaginably vast,” says the artist.
Perhaps it is this beauty of an invisible universe that seems to co-exist beside us, within our everyday that draws one to Brown’s intricately complex paper sculptures. “Even when considering our own human bodies that depend on diverse colonies of bacteria working symbiotically to keep us alive and functioning. We are no longer self-sufficient, rather we are walking zoos,” says the artist adding, “How do you help people visualise this new reality without terrifying them? My aim is to find visual metaphors that allow us to see those shifts in perception”.
Interestingly, there is an underlying world-building aspect to Brown’s work where each piece toes the line between science and science fiction, constructing narratives of alternative realities based on distorted versions of one’s own. The use of paper seems all the more deliberate, as if to reach for something familiar in the face of an ever-evolving ecology, something that is physical, constant and ordinary – paper – thus, becomes an anchoring medium amidst what can be seen as both physical and intellectual transformation. It is as though through the multiple visual references and allusions that Brown brings into his works such as Quantum Foam, Outbreak or the visually vibrant Magic Circle, there seems to be an invitation to open-ended play as a form of interpretation. It goes back to the sensorial pleasure of art or contemplating a work of art. It is no longer a statement or a critique rather it is an aesthetic balm soothing us from a charged world.
“Those two words – pleasure and contemplation – are very important to me. I feel that in the fast-paced internet age where images are constantly scrolling across our retinas the art of contemplation and the contemplation of art are being lost,” the artist says. “This compounded by a contemporary art establishment that privileges text over image and the notion that the only valuable role for art is as a form of political critique. Pleasure has been removed from the experience. My work is an attempt to open people’s eyes and allow them once again to take visceral delight in the experience of seeing,” he continues.
Brown, who began his art practice in earnest some 15 years ago, moved from London to the remote wilderness of Southern France, and has followed in the footsteps of many a romantic poets and creators of the past. While they turned to nature as not only a physical reality and respite to the rapid industrialisation of the 19th century, the rapid technological advancement in Brown’s case, they also saw in it an abstract inspiration to understand and truly see the world as it were transforming right before their eyes. “Working in paper as a sculptural medium certainly emerged as part of my exploration of nature; but as an organic, natural material it seems particularly fitted to the subject I am focusing on. The act of cutting and removing material as part of the process seems to perfectly reflect the act of intellectual dissection and excavation that I am engaging in,” says Brown.
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