James Capper: Divisions at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

A visit to Yorkshire Sculpture Park presents the viewer with a multiplicity of environmental factors. Lakes resolve the undulating volatility of the sculpted landscape; such is punctuated with old and new architecture. This territory therefore is an appropriate venue for James Capper’s Divisions. What are these divisions? They are the categories of physical, environmental interaction demarcated by Capper for his moving sculptures. They are: earth marking, offshore, and material handling.

Three of Capper’s earth-marking sculptures stand at various locations in the open air at YSP. These are large-scale constructions that have the capability of motion in order to mark the earth. All three – Tread Toe (2010), Midi Marker (2012) and Exstenda Claw (2012) – have a common aesthetic in their construction. These machines are highly reminiscent of the sort of machinery employed in the construction industry. Framed girders with engines and hydraulic pistons draw the mind back to building sites. The same can be said of the models and drawings available to be seen in the Bothy Gallery at YSP and in the main visitor centre.

Particularly memorable, to be found in the main visitor centre, are the pieces Nipper and Porta Carve (2012). Nipper consists of two long and robustly thick, tweaser-like talons protruding from what appears to be a small engine. Porta Carve has all the appearance of a circular saw. However, where the circular blade ought to have been is a sort of water wheel. Taken, as they were, without physical, environmental interaction these are fun items. The fun comes from the contrast between the utilitarian aesthetic and the frivolity of the apparent practical application.

Within the Bothy Gallery Capper’s work can be tracked through its progress in drawings, sketches and models. Everything available to the visitor employs this utilitarian aesthetic coupled with, what is at first glance, a degree of frivolity in the practical application of the machinery. Much was available on the subject of the Ripper – a large, steel, earth manipulator with teeth. One of three films shown here tracked progress as Capper makes a Ripper head and then uses it to mark the earth. Another film, Sea Light (2010) showed the launch on to a body of seawater of a large-scale construction, reminiscent of a buoy.

The employment of these building-site/machine elements in the construction of Capper’s sculptures is highly thought provoking. The association between this brightly coloured, steel machinery and the construction industry is a strong one. Such associations run counter to commonly held assumptions about what falls within conventions of a ‘pleasing’, non-challenging aesthetic.

Capper causes us to divorce the utilitarian clumsiness and cheerfulness of these materials from commonly held feelings we have about their commercial utility. Indeed, at first glance, it is easy to feel that the connotations of commercial utility jar severely with acceptable aesthetic convention. Such is owing to inherited sensibilities about what is ‘high or ‘low’ in the arts that have their origin in the commodification of culture that accompanied the Industrial Revolution. That Capper causes us to re-evaluate these sensibilities while referencing earlier traditions of sculpture with the quality of motion is unique. The quality of kinetic, physical interaction with the immediate environment within his Divisions is a rare, challenging and involved one.

Daniel Potts

James Capper: Divisions, 6 January until 14 April, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF4 4LG. www.ysp.co.uk


1. Tread Toe, James Capper, 2012, Courtesy Jonty Wilde and Yorkshire Sculpture Park
2. Nipper, James Capper, 2012, Courtesy the artist and Yorkshire Sculpture Park
3. Walking Ship, James Capper, 2011, Courtesy the artist and Yorkshire Sculpture Park