Interview with S1 Artspace’s Artist-in-Residence Keith Wilson

Sculptor Keith Wilson is about to commence his two month residency at S1 Artspace, where he will be utilising the gallery as both a discussion space, working studio and display space. During his residency, Wilson will be working up the final form of Calendar (2011), a large scale galvanised steel sculpture, which will be installed in the central space of the gallery. This structure, constructed from multiple cubic units, represents the familiar monthly calendar grid system used for wall planners or as computer applications.

As part of his residency, Wilson will be hosting a series of events, screenings and discussions based on the concerns of the original Unit One group founded in 1933 by artist Paul Nash. Unit One sought to champion British modernism, advocate avant garde practice and revitalise British art. Aesthetica spoke to the artist about Calendar and what we can expect from his residency at S1 Artspace.

A: Your work Calendar represents the familiar monthly calendar grid system used for wall planners, offering the flexibility to be potentially filled with significant events, appointments and reminders or simply left empty. Could you talk us through your ideas behind the piece?

KW: Calendar is the last in a long series of galvanized steel works, which end here with these cube-form arrangements. Each piece is set out to represent a different indexical system, from the alphabet through to the periodic table. Starting with Vertical Hopscotch (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,0) the cube-works bring the apparent liberation of the third dimension to more familiarly 2-D languages of representation, only to reveal their own tyranny. Asking these small spaces to represent time seems a fitting way to end the game. My Calendar structure has an inside and an outside. Inside I think of as the space of the artist, perhaps even the studio, with outside being a more consensual, public space. The apparent rationality of the system begins to crumble as you realize how very different the inside is from the outside.

A: What first attracted you to work with steel?

KW: It is specifically galvanized steel, the language of the farmyard, a material that brings with it agrarian associations of a less romantic kind. I was looking at the language of handling livestock through pens and curved chutes and found echoes with other models of social organisation which started this whole series off.

A: What motivated you to concentrate on the Unit One group as part of your residency?

KW: There is a discrepancy between the subject of art viewed from within, from the perspective of the studio, and from without, whether art historically or via another institution. This misfit drew me back to a moment when artists came together formally with some shared purpose. Where should we look for the subject? (In the Unit One catalogue there are photographs of the artists’ hands, but not of Herbert Read’s.) I am interested in what sort of an institution the studio (i.e. practices taken together) might be. At S1 the space of exhibition is itself surrounded by a raised gallery of studios, which then look down on your efforts. So a perfect situation for the concerns of both Calendar and Unit 1.

A: Do you think you mirror Unit One’s concerns in your art practice?

KW: If we take Calendar to be a late Henry Moore, say, by putting it out in a sheep-grazed field, then, whereas the surroundings and the work’s exterior form might be maintained, on the inside a forest would grow. That forest, that interior space, remains the preserve of the artist. Like a fenced tomb.

A: You encourage critical discussion between artists and participants in your gallery. Is this an integral concern within your art practice?

KW: As a person, I am characterized by a high level of verbal activity, whereas my work is characteristically silent. Both attitudes can be infuriating and I am past hoping for them to sit well together, but both traits are always present when you look at any of my public efforts in the round.

A: What else can we expect to see from you throughout your residency at S1 Artspace?

KW: What would you like to see?

Keith Wilson: Artist in Residence, July – September 2012, S1 Artspace, 120 Trafalgar Street, Sheffield, S1 4JT.