Diary of an artist-in-residence: Report from Verbier #6

Detail of the work as the sun hits it. Photo by Jonathan Wright.

Detail of the work as the sun hits it. Photo by Jonathan Wright.

VERBIER, Switzerland – I am startled by my own progress. The last sculpture of similar scale to the one I am making now took five weeks to make. I realize that my adrenaline and long hours mean that the new piece is almost finished. The weather has dramatically improved and we are bathed in a warm Alpine sun that reaches deep inside you. I feel it is time to lift the sculpture out of the studio and do a test installation in the car park outside.

I am always a somewhat paranoid person and when I start to worry about something it can become a bit obsessive. My worry about my eight-meter-high (26 1/4 ft.) work is the wind. In my attempts to calculate the wind shear at the top of the piece, I come to the conclusion I need at least two-thirds of a ton on its base to weigh it down. Mat, our technician, eyes me strangely when I ask for this amount of concrete slab, but he smiles and arranges it. Have I overdone it?

Our meals continue to be an island of tranquility, offering respite from drilling, sawing and joining. Julien has packed the freezer with pruneau and abricotine, a perfect accompaniment for our coffee. Josette provides us with some remarkable local wine, a Gamay de Fully packed with flavor but light and refreshing. The Swiss hang on to their good wines, and they rarely find their way out of the country. I would say buy it if you can find it anywhere!

As we dine, I consider my position. I feel I should attempt a second work. I still have materials and budget left to do so, as the abricotine warms my throat I decide this is a good idea.

We are able to take a second break from our work when we are taken to the Giannda Collection in Martigny. This is home to some rare and beautiful artworks, some very significant in the canon of contemporary art. We are amazed to find Brancusi’s sleeping muse, a golden head, on a low plinth housed in a small side gallery and a monumental Brancusi in the sculpture garden outside. I had no idea such masterpieces were hidden in Switzerland.

My second work is now under way, an experimental piece that builds on my discovery of curving my aluminium angle. It is a mass of curves and bends, a organic version of my first work. I have based it on my interest in Jean Paul Sartre’s philosophy of ‘essence and existence.’

If sculpture had a patron saint, it would be a fickle mistress. A sculptor can never relax or assume everything will run smoothly, because it doesn’t! I wanted to check that my plan to protect my tower from lightning strikes was acceptable to the local powers that be. Jacques the electrician comes to see my piece in the car park. He seems to enjoy it and shakes my hand warmly as he murmurs, ‘C’est comme le Tour Eiffel…’ In England, a meter-long copper rod of half an inch diameter, driven into the ground and attached to the piece, would probably suffice to earth my work. Here things are a bit different. As Jacques draws a diagram on a pad of what has to be done my heart sinks. At two corners I need to attach 10-meter-long (32.8 ft.) strips of copper, the really bad news is is that they have to be buried a foot deep in the ground. A lot of digging, especially at two miles altitude in the park. Now the capricious nature of my chosen practice really shows itself! What about the second piece? Jacques grins at me, ‘C’est la meme.’ That means 40 meters (131 ft.) of digging in rocky soil.

I am reminded of the remarkable medieval workmen who dug the ‘Bisse du Levron’ that runs through the Verbier Sculpture Park. It is a remarkable feat of engineering. Hand-dug over many years, the ‘Bisse’ is a wonderful manmade stream that was designed to carry water horizontally across the Alps and irrigate and water its upper reaches. This particular Bisse is almost 20 kilometers long (12.4 miles) and one of the most inspiring and breathtaking walks I have ever done in my life. If they can dig up there, so can I!

Returning to my normal anxieties, I am going to order some more concrete slab later to make it a round ton, just to be sure.

At the back of my mind, the Vernissage is looming…

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ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


Detail of the work as the sun hits it. Photo by Jonathan Wright.

Detail of the work as the sun hits it. Photo by Jonathan Wright.

Testing the piece outside the studio in the car park. Photo by Jonathan Wright.

Testing the piece outside the studio in the car park. Photo by Jonathan Wright.

The second work takes shape. Photo by Jonathan Wright.

The second work takes shape. Photo by Jonathan Wright.

'Le Bisse du Levron' winds around the mountain. Photo by Jonathan Wright.

‘Le Bisse du Levron’ winds around the mountain. Photo by Jonathan Wright.