One of the main differences between the work we do as a design agency and the work of a sculptor is the intent of the work as it is being made. When we create our work, we are producing it for a very particular event, for a specific space, at a set time, and most often for a controlled group of people. We are inventing a visual RESPONSE to a set problem, and we are commissioned to do so.
The fine artist, on the other hand, is inventing his or her own visual problem, and then they set out to solve it. Very often, they are doing so without a set home for the piece in advance too. Case in point, Melissa McGill’s newest work is created on the dream of bringing a fabulous idea to life, on her own dime, and with the search for the appropriate home to showcase the idea to the fullest. In my estimation, that is harder than design. Not only does the artist have to come up with the idea, but they have to establish the problem they are creating an answer for as well.
I often look to the world of fine art for my inspirations because I marvel at the artist’s ability to create their own context and parameters for their work. You know, whenever someone says to me, “Make whatever you want,” I don’t have a single idea. But if my client likes a specific color, the event is celebrating something particular, is in a location that is ripe with detail or history – these elements all inform a rich creative journey.
Recently I had the chance to chat with Melissa about her creative journey . . .
David Stark: How did the idea of the piece come about?
Melissa McGill: In an earlier body of work, I made rubber casts from the hollow insides of found porcelain figurines that I bought at flea markets. Cracking the porcelain shell off revealed a ghostly mysterious resemblance of the porcelain original. In revisiting that body of work recently, I realized that there was more I wanted to explore there in terms of resonance, both physically and sonorously…the skirts of the female forms made perfect bells.
The forms are "found" forms, meaning I did not sculpt them, I just let them out of their shells. The sound of the bell is also a "found" sound - I did not manipulate it at all. The sound is dictated by the form.
I hang them in small groupings, in relationship to one another. They are all hung approximately 51" off the ground, so they create their own plane in space.
DS: I like the fact that you are casting (literally) against type. Cast bronze works have art historically been heroic, masculine, manly sculptures, but this piece has a totally different feel. Why bronze?
MM: The bronze is essential for getting that rich resonating sound.
DS: This piece is one of the first big pieces you have done since you have had your kids, right? How have your children informed your art making?
Watching them experience the world has influenced me enormously. It is no coincidence that this is a work that is allowed to be rung by visitors of all ages. I chose to make the clapper hang in such a way as to invite your hand to ring the bells.
DS: Where is the dream location for this work?
MM: In a large space with high ceilings where I could install at least 50 or 60 of them and where people could walk among them and ring them. The experience of ringing the bells and creating improvisational music together, walking among them and seeing others walking among them is what I am after.
DS: Are you looking at any particular artists right now?
MM: I was very influenced by Tino Sehgal's show last year at the Guggenheim, "What is Progress?".
And I recently attended a talk that Robert Irwin gave at Parson's, which was truly inspiring. His contribution at Dia:Beacon is ingenious. It consists of an overall plan for the museum building and its surrounding landscape. He was involved in the all of the environmental details that influence our perception of the space around us.
I am more and more interested in ephemeral works that invite and create experience, that include the viewer as part of the work.
DS: If money wasn't an issue and time wasn't an issue, what would you create?
MM: That would be quite something, wouldn't it?
I dream about pushing these ideas about creating environments or experiences to be enjoyed by the public in a larger, more ambitious way. For example, can you imagine what it would be like to be in a big space filled with 100 or so of these "Belles"?! The sound would be rapturous!
DS: I would LOVE to see that . . .
Melissa McGill is a dear friend, classmate from RISD, and three-year roommate in a funny apartment on Creighton Street in Providence, Rhode Island. She lives in Beacon, New York with her husband and two children and is an amazing artist and longtime inspiration.