Two people stand in a moment of embrace. They cradle each other’s naked bodies, unaware of the world passing by around them. They are alone and yet together. Temporarily surrendering their bodies’ autonomy—their separateness—they fold into one another, and into a singularity of form. The preciousness of this kind of communion derives, in-part, from its temporary nature, and the fact that, at some point, we must all let go. Put simply, that we can’t hold on forever. Yet Tim Silver’s sculpture, can I, just wait here with you (2022), resists this reality. His embracing figures are caught in a moment of paradox—their oxidised copper forms assuming a permanent fleetingness.
The artworks throughout Silver’s exhibition, Among the Leaves, all seem to play with flat physical realities, and the contoured emotional lives that lie beneath. can I, just wait here with you, for instance, was made through the process of life-casting, using the bodies of two embracing models as its basis. Silver jokes to me that he is not so much a sculptor, as he is a caster and copier. That is to say, that his three-dimensional works almost function like photography, arresting the motion of life through the indices of art. Yet this description fails to really describe what Silver does. Indeed, any written description of can I, just wait here with you—of “two people hugging”—feels destined tofall short. Perhaps no medium is more physical than sculpture: it is an inherently weighted form, which is constantly fighting against the constraints of gravity and contending with the limits of its own materiality. But standing in front of Silver’s work, one gets the sense that his actual medium—the real thing that he is moulding—is far less tangible. Here, the deep poetics of reality, which underpin the simple physical gesture, are finally revealed.
Reality itself comes undone in Silver’s sculpture, fall on me (2023). This second sculptural work, made from beeswax, is a kind of deconstructed version of the first, can I, just wait here with you. Silver tells me that when producing can I, just wait here with you things did not always go to plan. “We had some fuck ups in that process,” he recalls, before adding, “which I just thought were beautiful.” It was this fractured beauty that Silver sought to recapture with fall on me. Here, the two embracing bodies still cling to one another, yet are riven by gaps and threatened by fragmentation. Here, the seamless unity of can I, just wait here with you begins to come apart. And again, one gets the sense that the material existence of the work is trafficking in concept and metaphor as much as it is in the physicality of form.
Like fall on me, Silver’s three sculptures, postcard #1, #2 and #3 (2023), similarly reveal their connective tissue. Each of the bronze sculptures captures the profile of two people kissing, their lips gently brushing against one another. It is a tender moment, yet it is also one that is almost concealed from us, by the artist’s hand. “I kind of love that the detail and the likeness is sort of hidden from your viewership of it,” Silver says. “And all you get to see is the messy process ‘making’ backside of it.” Rather than parade the spectacle of affection, the inward-facing compositions only allow us to see a smaller, somehow more precious, sliver of intimacy. Much of the work instead exposes the typically hidden anatomy of the sculpture—the backside of the face revealing it’s rougher underside and internal machinations.
When I ask Silver about his artworks, his instinct is to resist. His reticence does not emerge out of shyness, nor does it suggest an absence of ideas. “We’ve all seen an artist talk about their work and we’ve left a little deflated and disappointed because of it,” he says. “I think that it’s the intersection between the work and the audience—that’s where meaning is formulated.” Understood against such statements, Silver’s recalcitrance is actually incredibly generous, as it suggests that his art is not only for him. “I don’t really like to talk about my work that much, because I believe that your authoritative voice can overpower,” Silver explains. “I don’t come from that top-down position of saying ‘this is what the work is about’.” By refraining from prescribing precise meaning to his art, Silver allows audiences to interact more freely with it. Critically, his silence allows for a kind of slippage to occur, wherein the experiences of the audience are free to meld and interact with the body of the artwork.
Silver’s refusal to define meaning itself becomes visualised in his work, with the ink of a ghost (2023). Across an expanse of 122 by 264 cm, the artist performs a kind of automatic writing, allowing his stream of consciousness to spill onto the paper. Yet when one begins to look more closely at with the ink of a ghost, their gaze quickly becomes frustrated by the lines of text which stop short of forming decipherable phrases. The artist’s cursive always teeters on the edge of legibility, offering the shape of letters and the hint of a word. It flirts with our eye, suggesting the presence of text, while simultaneously withholding its meaning.
The process of writing is a deeply personal one, which almost always betrays something of the author. However, here, the implied contract between the writer and reader is broken, with the opacity of Silver’s text refusing this assumed insight. But that is not where the work ends; its conclusion is not simple refusal. In staging a kind of push-pull, which sees us both brought close to the work’s meaning and kept away from it, I can’t help but feel that Silver redirects our gaze to the urge—the need—that we all feel in reaching, across the spaces that separate us, and fumbling for connection. Because even if we cannot fully share the content of the words written here, we still feel the presence of the person that made these marks. Each line is a physical index of the movement of Silver’s body, over the course of minutes, hours, days, and weeks; the artist standing in front of the work in the same spot that we now find ourselves. It is here that the artwork reaches out and speaks to us, even in the absence of words.