A Shallow Flight of Stairs, Robin Peck’s solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery, consisted of a single large scale work using all eight standard size acrylic sheets. Peck worked through many different configurations to bring the separate pieces of material together in a composition that responded to the gallery as a frame and in consideration of the way a viewer moves around the work in the exhibition space. The relation that was created by assembling the similar but slightly differing material was one that was contingent on the architecture of the gallery but with the primary concern of putting the viewer in motion. The sculpture and architecture were static and activated by the viewer’s movement, which revealed subtle incremental changes in perspective caused by the differing thickness of each transparent sheet.
As we walk around the sculpture, I see a succession of planes defined by edges. The conchoidal fractures have formed the upper portion of the sculpture into an irregular hexagonal prism. The six different faces contrast with the lower surfaces, with the smooth uninterrupted flow of imagined flesh. I pause six times on my first circuit. Then around and around we turn, recarving the fragment with our movements, turning it on our perceptual lathe. Each glimpse is a template, a facet that turns page-like into the next. And as we carve the sculpture, fragments of jasper yellow light fall as waste upon the floor. Robin Peck1
In SCULPTURE, A Journey to the Circumference of the Earth, a collection of Robin Peck’s writings, the sculptor takes us on a far-reaching tour of his travels to New York, Romania and Iceland. Each place is defined by his introspections on sculpture. He begins at the Dia Center in New York using Joseph Beuy’s 7000 Oaks, Richard Serra’s Torqued Ellipses and Dan Graham’s Rooftop Urban Park Project Two Way Mirror Cylinder Inside Cube (1981/1991) as points to draw both factual and experiential descriptions on making and looking at sculpture. His trip to Romania is characterized by a detailed tour of some of Brancusi’s most signature works and his trip to Iceland focuses on his travel companion’s permanent sculpture installed at the geographic centre of Iceland. In all Peck’s travels, “the Sculptor”, a generic pseudonym for what seem to be several different travel companions, accompanies him. The Sculptor becomes a source of information, someone to bounce ideas off of and a tour guide. He/she expands Peck’s field of reference, taking him to natural history museums, Brancusi’s childhood home and into local art politics.
I start with a description from Peck’s writing not simply because it is an obvious portal into his thinking, but also because its passages are apt and concise descriptions of his own work. The introductory quotation is taken from Peck’s description of viewing Fragment Of the Head Of A Queen in the Ancient Egyptain section of the Metropolitan Museum, but for me it uncannily expresses what I imagine the experience of viewing A Shallow Flight of Stairs, his new work for the Contemporary Art Gallery. Even though there is no yellow stone or no figure and the six faces become eight, Peck’s poetic depiction of the animated reflections and shifting perspectives caused by his continuous movement, the flow of interrupted light and the succession of planes could characterize the experience of someone viewing the shallow horizontal planes of stacked Plexiglas® that comprise his sculpture. The size of the sculpture is ruled by his use of eight standard size sheets of transparent colorless Plexiglas® that are consecutively placed flat from thinnest to thickest across the concrete floor. The material is reflective as well as transparent, giving each surface a depth of field that varies depending on the sheet’s thickness.
In the midst of describing his experience of viewing the Egyptian sculpture, Peck quotes the early nineteenth century Anglo-French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska: “sculptural feeling is the appreciation of masses in relation.”2 A Shallow Flight of Stairs seems to embody this sentiment both literally in the way the sculptor has laid out his material, and figuratively in its reflective surface. But Peck also expands this idea to encompass the position of the viewer and the work’s relation to the structure of the gallery. Peck brought the separate sheets together in an overall composition that reflected the architecture of the gallery while also transforming it into a new frame-like structure to be negotiated by a viewer. Peck worked through many different configurations of the work responding to the gallery as a frame and in consideration of the way one could move around the piece within the architectural space in relation to its constituent parts and as a united form.
For Peck, this negotiation is a form of disruption. The relation that is created by juxtaposing different masses (the work, the architecture and the viewer) is not one of static harmony, but created by motion. The sculpture and architecture are static, but are disrupted by the viewer’s movement, which reveal the incremental variations in perspective caused by the differing thicknesses of each transparent sheet. It is clear that the viewer is key. His writing is primarily about the way he and the Sculptor look at things. As viewers they are travelers, moving from city to city, gallery to gallery, sculpture to sculpture. They move while the works they view remain static.
“There is an essential contradiction between sculpture and movement, a statue is something that stands, and the word itself comes from the same Latin root as the word ‘static’.” 3 Peck uses this quotation from The Art of Sculpture by Herbert Read to introduce an anecdote about the Sculptor. During a critique of his students’ work, all of which are sculptures that move in some mechanical manner or through another device, the Sculptor reminds his students “that circumambulation has traditionally been expected of the spectator.” 4 Peck then describes the students watching their moving, rotating, radiating, gyrating sculptures as if watching television while the Sculptor paced around them, stating in the end that “the two attitudes seem irreconcilable.” 5
A Shallow Flight of Stairs followed an ever-reducing line, one that rests in the reduction of the form, which is used to define and strengthen the contiguous relations between work, viewer and space. This reduction is an important part of drawing out the inherent qualities of the material, the particularities of sculpture as a discipline, and articulating the role of the viewer as an equal mass, as having influence on the work as well as being influenced by it. Contained within this traditional and formal lexicon of sculpture Peck’s new work has definitively achieved an encompassing gesture that clearly speaks to the material, invigorates his discipline and allows the viewer to move. – Jenifer Papararo