Open Frequency 2009: Sam Aldridge selected by Chris Brown
Sam Aldridge, Aerated Blocks on Wooden Pallet & Safety Helmets (Installation view), 2009. Variable. Cardboard, glue, and coloured paper
Artist, musician and co-founder of the artist-run organisation g39, Chris Brown profiles the sculptural work of Sam Aldridge
Sam Aldridge’s sculptural work uses low-fi construction techniques to create replicas of objects or environments that we encounter daily. Using a limited range of cheap, readily available materials, his subject matter has ranged from shower units to cutlery, breeze blocks to refuse skips. With a seemingly limited ‘palette’ of corrugated cardboard and coloured A4 paper, he has the basic requirements of representational sculpture: structure and appearance.
Corrugated cardboard is constructed in a way that fully exploits the limited amount of structural strength a piece of paper has. It utilises a simple but highly effective fluting technique to greatly enhance the paper’s load-bearing capacity, introducing an improbable new super-property to this humble material. It feels appropriate as a choice for Aldridge’s ‘signature’ material, since he performs equally improbable manipulations of the material to create highly satisfying analogues of objects.
Aldridge is able to command both an engineering sensibility and an accuracy to detail that is often breathtaking. He is heading up a lineage of representational sculptors that can be traced back to the likes of Claes Oldenburg (b.1929), an American pop artist well known for his ‘soft sculptures’ that conveyed a condition he wanted to express about ‘form’ by making an unlikely marriage of subject and material. Oldenburg's ‘Soft Drum Set’ (1969) is an accurate representation of its subject in all ways bar one – the structural integrity of forged steel and taut skins is replaced by the yielding properties of soft coloured vinyl. The drum kit is rendered useless.
Similarly, Aldridge’s imposing ‘Skip’ (2009) is a perfect-scale cardboard representation of an eight-tonne refuse skip, which would, however, wilfully collapse at the prospect of containing even a fraction of that weight in rubble. If we were to identify a vernacular difference in the visual languages developed by Aldridge and Oldenburg, it would be in their respective decisions of how to balance the representational accuracy of a sculpture with faithfulness to the properties of the materials used. Whereas Oldenburg falls into the latter camp, Aldridge I would argue falls into the former.
What both artists share is a cartoonish or caricatural representation of objects: the anthropomorphic depiction of a subject matter. But in Aldridge’s works this is not immediately obvious, since their faithfulness to the original makes this cartoonish quality rather subtle, overshadowed by what is apparently an unemotional replication process. His works are illustrative, accurate, and appear not to exaggerate or edit – if anything, it is the limitation of the materials that bring caricature to the works, as with the shiny metallic ‘scribble’ used to represent a shower hose in ‘Shower Cubicle’ (2008).
But Aldridge’s process is not unemotional or objective. Incredibly, he makes a point of working from memory in producing his sculptures. Instead of referring to the original, he employs a method of attempting to memorise the object, drawing it from memory and subsequently constructing a new version from these drawings. This removal, then, gives the viewer an impression of our world, rather than a mechanical replica of it.
Chris Brown, August 2009
Sam Aldridge graduated with a first class BA (Hons) Fine Art Degree from Cardiff School of Art and Design in 2008 and continues to live in Cardiff.
Recent exhibitions include Auxesis: Performance, tactileBOSCH, Cardiff (2009), September XVII, Bristol Diving School, Bristol (with artist collective BRG) (2009), Prop, National Theatre Wales HQ, Castle Arcade, Cardiff (2009), Wouldn’t Be Worth It Without the Struggle, Howard Gardens Gallery, Cardiff (2009), The Judge, Elysium Gallery, Swansea (2009), Liverpool Biennial 08, (ongoing mail art project with artists Matt Blackler and James Pancheri), Experimentica 08, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff (collaboration with performance artist Ruth Bamber), Acceleration – Track & Field, tactileBOSCH, Cardiff (2008) and Works On Paper, Elysium Gallery, Swansea (2008).
About Chris Brown
Chris Brown is an artist, musician and co-founder of the artist-run organisation g39. He is responsible for g39's strategic development within Wales, the UK and beyond. He is also Magazine Coordinator for a-n The artists information company, and acts in an advisory capacity for a-n's NAN and AIR initiatives. Chris is currently studying postgraduate Composition and Jazz at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (Cardiff) and is a member of Go Faster Stripe, an independent collective that promotes high-profile UK comedians through its programme of live acts and DVD production.
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.