Tim Silver’s sculptures beg to be touched. And we want to touch them, even though we know that we cannot, which is part of the point. Instead, we reach out in our imagination. More, we reach out with every sense of our corporeal being.
All sculptors work with touch. Shaping, smoothing, persuading, building up, paring back. Whatever their materials and methods, sculptors work with their hands, the reach of their arms, their height, cajoling new forms of life out of dumb material. It’s an old story: the Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea has long been relegated to the dustbin of aesthetic history but it does contain one kernel of truth–what the artist makes comes alive, and what is made out of physical substance matters in ways that are irrefutably proximate to us, that are particularly emotionally charged because they exist alongside us, in the same physical space.
The physical intimacy of sculpture is intensified with Tim Silver’s life casts. These living humans captured with modern moulding material are only several millimetres away from us, a measure of the thin skin of those casts.1 The mirroring of human form that all figurative sculpture embodies is here precisely positioned on that fine interface (that cast skin), exploring what the British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott called a potential space between ‘inner and outer reality’, which he argues is fundamental to negotiating life.2 Palpably real, yet simultaneously, strangely distanced, these entwined cast pairs of feet –Untitled (Inbetween Days)–or clasped hands–Untitled (Close to me)–stand in for the entire person; at the same time, their luminous pale green colouring, a happy accident of copper powder in the casting mixture that Silver uses, guarantees that what we are seeing is not simply a naturalistic representation of the body. It is something much more–an approximation of life, a thinking through of existence.
What sort of life, though, what sort of existence? Lockdown has introduced a repertoire of unfamiliar experiences, emotions, reactions, habits; we can all recite a litany of deprivations and losses, but we can also recount attempts at fortitude. Tim Silver offers a gamut of reports from the psychic front of lockdown, from the yo-yoing hand of Untitled (hang with me), which drily gestures to the volatility of the current emotional climate, to the tender affection of two hands poking out from between the sheets in Untitled (Close to me), based on an image of affection between men that he found on Instagram and treasures for its banal and sustaining beauty. These works are remarkably open to interpretation: shall we read the blanketed feet as enjoying happy privacy or withdrawing from the world? Is one state better than the other? And who can tell?
These fragments of human beings holding to each other for comfort are not the only form of life here. The remnant tree stumps, and the oddly amorphous donut forms, which were once knotty burls where a branch detached from a tree, were found near Silver’s family home in Tasmania. They propose a particular sort of doubling: for these works, whether from the Trauma or Scar tissue series, perfectly replicate the partial remains of once tall trees, now diminished by time, or fire or other effects of settlement, bringing them back to life in mourning dress. They are doubled, too, in their legibility but also in their formlessness. Are these things, or nothing at all? This elegiac project, now over a decade in duration, is a specific reference to land that Silver knows well, and to the environmental challenges that it continually faces, but is also a long song of lament for the passing of time. Here too is deliberate doubling that worries away at the nature of nature: look closely and you will see that there are two of every cast, one on the wall and one placed on the floor. Moreover, Untitled, 2021, is the original Scar Tissue of 2013, now cast in reverse and placed upside down. This is a resurrection of sorts.
Running right though Tim Silver’s Inbetween Days is a palpable oscillation between stillness and movement. Alongside these sculptural objects is Cacophony, a suite of drawings with black text on thick cream watercolour paper, insistent script skittering and chattering across each sheet. Line after regular line, each page filled. Paradoxically silent, perhaps silenced. This is handwriting, the artist’s angular cursive, but it’s not legible–here and there one finds the definite article, the ‘I’ that wrote these ‘texts’, but little else can be made out. It’s an elegant evocation of the moment, ‘a cacophony of voices’, as Silver says, or perhaps it is the familiar contemporary overload of information that is white noise, rather than functional communication. Each sheet is nevertheless quite distinct: here the pace is more frenetic, there it is quieter, less troubled; here the words coalesce in black clumps, elsewhere they flow limpid across the sheets. Again, there is evidence of direct touching: each sheet is an emotional seismograph, registering how the artist was, at that time, on that day, in thesein-between times, his hand on the pen, on the paper, marking time that always moves on, but also, simultaneously always seems to be standing stock-still.3
In 1985, the English band The Cure wrote, in the wry lyrics of the oddly upbeat chart-topping song that titles this exhibition:
‘Inbetween without you
The Cure’s lyrics for Inbetween Days might be an anthem for these Covid times, for the curious warping of time, as much as the song’s recounting of a love triangle gone pear-shaped, yet, with all that, the song pulses with rhythmic life. And Tim Silver optsin to life. Here, on a set of tall individual shelves, Tim has cast his hand clasping the hands of friends and studio pals, all different, all dear to him. Brief, precious moments from this year starved of human touch have been filed away for future reference, so we may remember that compassion and care, love and fellowship did not die in these InbetweenDays. Memorials are not made out of desperation; on the contrary, they are affirmations of hope. They gesture, most importantly, to continuity, to beginnings rather than to endings.
Touch is everywhere here. And that touches me.
1. Forton™ MG or FMG is a four component system consisting of an alpha gypsum blended with three additives. Silver has used this plasticised plaster for various works since 2017; it is far is more pliable and sturdy than traditional plaster.
2. See, among other texts referring to human development in conjunction with objects, D. W Winnicott, Playing and Reality, London: Tavistock, 1971.
3. See ‘Last Word: In-between Days of Tim Silver’, an interview with Alexandra Pedley, in Sullivan & Strumpf, Sept.-Oct. 2021, pp.72-6