Alex Chinneck: Architectural Sculpture and Illusion
By Claire Robertson
British sculptor Alex Chinneck creates surreal architectural sculptures that show social awareness, humour, and an interest in regeneration. The artist is a Chelsea College of Art alumnus and is a member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors. He moves beyond traditional expectations of high art by creating a significant number of works in low-income residential areas with the aim of furthering community engagement, and by employing industrial methods to create his works. His pieces merge sculpture with architecture to create masterpieces that play with both our visual and social expectations.
Telling the Truth Through False Teeth (2012) displayed an ephemeral quality as the building was due to be demolished, and dealt with social issues regarding the 2012 London Olympic Games. The abandoned Hackney factory was located only a mile away from the city’s Olympic Stadium, in an area that hoped to thrive economically after the games. While the neighbourhood did not benefit significantly from the Olympics, Chinneck wanted to create something positive in the area through an engaging piece of public art. Importantly, he wanted to assert that broken glass was not necessarily synonymous with decline, but could be associated with creativity. He created 312 panes of identically-smashed windows to highlight this point, with the aim of broken glass being reclaimed and made into something positive. Chinneck repurposed this abandoned factory to create a playful piece of work that residents could interact with.
Chinneck set out to create a light-hearted, positive work with From the Knees of My Nose to the Belly of My Toes (2013), by toying with our expectations of reality. Here, he used a house that had been unoccupied for eleven years, and created a large-scale surreal sculpture from it. He exposed the building’s top storey, and let the entire façade seemingly melt into the ground. The artist explained that he was drawn to the Cliftonville area of Margate because he wants to encourage public art and engagement. The area has been in decline for the past three decades. Chinneck aimed to turn the area around again by creating a fun, accessible work that would make people proud to live in this area. Sandwiched between a plethora of ordinary houses, the piece created something inventive out of a place that had been abandoned, much like Telling the Truth Through False Teeth.
Take My Lighting but Don’t Steal My Thunder (2014) is another example of Chinneck creating an unexpected illusion, this time in the historic area of Covent Garden, London. The piece’s location on a large square with many passers-by allowed countless people to be taken by surprise by his surreal sculpture. Chinneck’s aim again was to make an engaging piece of art, and the element of astonishment combined with its bustling urban location certainly made this goal successful. It appeared that the upper half of the building was floating, and had been ripped apart from its base. Here, he collaborated with a structural engineer, and used polystyrene, steel and paint to create the impression of levitation, and at the same time to blend the work into its surroundings. As well as a being a skilled artist with a clear vision, he utilised building and digital design skills to create the desired effect.
Six Pins and Half a Dozen Needles (2017) is Chinneck’s first permanent work of art. The sculptor has adapted this residential street building by adding a cracked façade. Chinneck achieved this effect by digitally scanning a ripped piece of paper and using this as his template. He aims to create an inclusive work that everybody can interact with and understand. While we normally expect to find sculpture within an art gallery, this is a rare chance to find it on a normal city street. Moreover, Chinneck involves a plethora of collaborators who would not usually be associated with high art. This work is the result of over a year of working with brick-makers, engineers and steelworkers. Six Pins and Half a Dozen Needles is a lively and humorous piece, which is bound to surprise and delight passers-by.
Chinneck’s works successfully challenge the way viewers think of high art. He uses normal urban spaces, not art galleries, to showcase his works, and collaborates with engineers, steelworkers and brick-makers. He also creates positive pieces with a playful nature, and boosts public art in places such as Hackney and Margate. The artist says “Art reinvents and reinvigorates the world around us. Architecture is a fantastic subject matter because it makes up the world around us. I want to make the everyday seem extraordinary.” Chinneck certainly creates exciting pieces that ignite a renewed sense of wonder in the built environment.
Six Pins and Half a Dozen Needles is located at 77 Fulham Palace Road, London, W6 8JA.
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