Open Frequency 2009: Jill Townsley selected by Sanna Moore

Open Frequency 2009: Jill Townsley selected by Sanna Moore Jill Townsley, Blue Pyramid, 2003. Broom bristles and play pen balls. 5m x 5m x 5m

Sanna Moore profiles the work of Jill Townsley


Jill Townsley’s work is repetitive to the point of obsession. She creates large-scale sculptural works which embody hand-held processes in three-dimensional form. She often builds geometric structures which are constructed from a multiple element which she repeats. For example, ‘Blue Pyramid’ (2003), comprised of 84 individual elements, the base of each being a red plastic ball with numerous blue broom bristles exploding from its core. The 84 identical elements combined to form an inverted pyramid structure which hung from the ceiling (five metres square).

She uses materials that are common and everyday, such as staples, plastic spoons, bristles, plastic balls, brass wire, fishing wire and polystyrene beads. The sculptural forms she produces attempt to conform to the constraints of mathematical theory and geometric form but never quite achieve geometric precision. By repeating an action or an element countless times to create a large-scale work, Townsley strives for perfection in her process yet knows it is impossible to achieve. The nature of hand-held processes is such that it is impossible to repeat each action exactly as the one before; each element within the multiple is singular and unique. By trying to make a process faultless the divergence within the hand-held creates an overall structure that will never be quite precise.

She exploits small handcrafted processes by taking them beyond the domestic scale. A simple craft technique repeated obsessively becomes something outside itself, responding to its surroundings and exploring the gallery space. The resulting work, based on the endless duplication of a humdrum task, becomes a tool for destroying or eroding the concept of perfection. 'Brass Cube' (2003), a cube (two metres square) was constructed using the laborious and repetitive task of looping brass wire to form 40 large bales. These bales when slotted together formed an enormous cube. The chaotic spiralling process of looping the wire became constrained within the structure of the cube.

In more recent work Townsley has focused on the destruction of structure and form, undermined by the very process used to construct it. A critical point is reached by pushing the process beyond the achievable and sending the work into absolute chaos. She is also experimenting with repetition through time, for example, 'Spoons' (2008), a pyramid constructed from a multiple of three plastic spoons tied together with an elastic band. Over time the piece self-deconstructs through the degradation of the materials - the bands break and the pyramid slowly tumbles as the spoons are released from their constraint. This process of deconstruction has been captured on a time-lapse movie, speeded up we see the pyramid tumble as the bands give way, a process which took four months in real time.

Townsley's work has its origins in pure mathematics and geometry. The repetitive and obsessive nature of her practice in order to achieve large sculptural pieces exposes, yet celebrates, the imperfections of the human hand. Each individual element appears the same, but is different from the next, fractal or imperfect. The humanistic, chaotic nature of the making process combined with the geometry of the form creates a tension within the work. The structure of each finished piece controls the repetitive and chaotic nature of the making process, taming it into sculptural form.

Sanna Moore, September 2009


Artist's biography

Jill Townsley has an MA in sculpture from the Royal College of Art and a BA (Hons) in Embroidery from Manchester Metropolitan University. This highly unusual subject combination informs her work today. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, most recently in Second Lives – Remixing the Ordinary, the inaugural show in the new galleries at the Museum of Art and Design, New York (2008-2009). She is currently registered at Liverpool University for a practice-based PhD for which she received a Gladstone Fellowship from The University of Chester. Townsley lives and works in London and is a member of Bow Arts Trust studio.


About Sanna Moore

Sanna Moore is Exhibitions Curator at Towner (Eastbourne), a new visual arts centre designed by Rick Mather Architects opening in April 2009.

From 2001 - 2007 she was Curator & Gallery Administrator at the University of Hertfordshire Galleries, which comprises of two spaces - the Art & Design Gallery (Hatfield) and the Margaret Harvey Gallery (St Albans).

Moore has completed a BA (Hons) in History of Art and Film Studies at Middlesex University and a MA in Gallery Studies from the University of Essex. Between 1997 - 2001 she worked in a number of London galleries, including South London Gallery, the Institute of Contemporary Arts and Whitechapel Art Gallery- where she started as a volunteer and graduated to paid work. She also worked for a short time in commercial galleries but was never serious about a career in the commercial art world.


Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.