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There’s more than one big surprise waiting for art fans visiting Bexley today

If you’re on the Gravesend bound train, glance out the window moments before the Southeastern arrives at Bexley station and you’ll see, peeking above the scrubby landscape, the head of a huge pink bear.

Welcome to Gallery No. 32’s third annual Winter Sculpture Park. Curators Meg Stuart and Kieran Idle have, once again, pulled out all the stops. WSP 2023 sees a panoply of more than forty compelling 3D artworks situated across a 4-acre expanse.


Words by Adrian Burnham

Paddy Docherty’s ‘Everything Within Reach’

The show comprises two distinct areas. The first sculptural encounters are variously displayed amidst an ancient orchard. There’s a through-the-looking-glass quality from the off. Artist and historian Paddy Docherty’s ‘Everything Within Reach’ comprises a flock of hands, cast from gloves and suspended by black tape from the branches of two adjacent trees. “It’s great to show work outside,” he explained, “there’s a sense in which you’re introducing a fourth dimension: the elements, weather, the possibilities of human or non-human interaction all contribute something unexpected.” Droplets of drizzle fleck the shiny, sinister forms quivering in the breeze.

Then, just a few feet away, there’s a giant, soft sculpture textile installation by Chloe Rochefort called ‘Unpuzzled’. Toddlers were tumbling over brightly coloured forms that seemed to glow in the grey February afternoon light. Rochefort’s practice aims to facilitate ‘mental wellbeing and community engagement’, the children’s delight and laughter certainly bore testament to art’s capacity to engender playful wonder as well as sober pause for thought.

Chloe Rochefort's ‘Unpuzzled’

Sara Osman’s ‘Looking but Not Seeing’ at first sight is both enchanting and disturbing. Elongated, tower block forms crafted from mirrored stainless rise out of the suburban sod. That their surface is super reflective makes the tiny pairs of cut out windows seem darker, foreboding. Though depending on where you’re viewing the work from you can see right through the scaled down structures which suggests a fragility, a threatened preciousness.

A plaque explains that the work is ‘Reimagining a new city for the Syrian city, Homs’. Homs was a centre of resistance against the corrupt, oppressive Syrian regime. Assad’s army besieged the city and after years of fighting eventually the rebels surrendered to government forces. Osman’s miniature towers may confound our idea of post-war ruins but as the artist suggests, ‘the viewer is invited to observe themselves in the mirrored surface of each pristine building, critiquing the Western gaze for its observations, but lack of action.’

Sara Osman’s ‘Looking but Not Seeing’

Visual poetry and engaged merriment, ribald fun and otherworldly performance, material bluffs and Lilliputian fantasy… I rated the show last year but the 2023 buzz of art wandering, wondering and delight was even more palpable. Nicola Turner’s pairing of incongruous materials – coiled horsehair in a glass paned confine – was anxiety inducing with its charred anaconda-like form, piled waist high and seemingly writhing to escape its transparent pen.

There didn’t appear to be moment when people weren’t engaging with Tabitha Weddell’s multi-faceted ceramic and wood creation. Part inspired by children’s activity tables, there were plenty of adults who couldn’t resist obeying the title of this work: ‘Please DO TOUCH the Sculpture Thank You’.

Nicola Turner’s 'ENCAPULATION'
Tabitha Weddell’s 'Please DO TOUCH the sculpture thank you'

Danny Young’s cartoonish clutch of seriously oversize whoopee cushions provoked many a wry smile, it’s a work that counters the artist’s experiences of mental illness, heartbreak and failure with pink dayglo soft sculptural forms suggestive of presumably very loud fart noises.

Multidisciplinary artist Olana Light’s alien/butterfly cross costume seemed to illuminate the overcast afternoon. Her wearable sculptures emphasise our reliance on and interdependence with nature as well as suggesting themes of transformation and renewal, “to make the world a better place for those around us and who come after us.”

Laura Such’s lifelike plaster cast doesn’t just fascinate because of its material transformation: we expect a pillow form to be soft, yielding. And with its abandonment on the cold, hard ground, there’s a haunting allusion to displacement and homelessness too.

Danny Young’s 'WHOOPEE'

Mia Jane Harris teamed up with John Matheson to populate a lichen covered tree with several small-scale buildings. The repurposed bird boxes were charmingly detailed and distressed properties. A tiny cabin, cottage hospital, a wooden chapel like construction… The effect was doll house charm shading into gothic noir.

Walking away from the orchard, takes us up an incline between Darcey Fleming’s gloriously shaggy, zany and clearly much-loved works. Adults, children, dogs… There were queues to take turns being photographed sat in the artist’s handwoven, gaudy coloured and fantastical furniture.

Reaching the ‘uplands’ of WSP 2023, art explorers are confronted with a giddying expanse of flat, open rough land. Gun metal grey clouds scudded over a dark, tree lined horizon. The wind much stronger in this locale, the sculptures dotted near and distant amidst acres of patchy green and yellowing shrubland.

Darcey Fleming’s artworks

We’re greeted by Natalie Coste’s work ‘AncêTres’, the title references the French word for ancestor or distant forefather plus there’s a trio of these black, sentinel like forms created from scooter tires and bicycle innertubes meticulously heaped, woven and pierced together. They wavered slightly in the gusty weather, these totems the artist has declared represent respect for and devotion to our antecedents.

There’s a well-trodden path that appears to take you round the works but it’s tempting to spot a form in the distance and head off crow like to investigate. Turns out the giant pink bear’s head is by an artist who goes by the name LUAP (aka Paul Robinson). His pink bear interventions on public space and hugely ambitious adventures around the world serve as a metaphor for discovery and exploration.

Natalie Coste’s ‘AncêTres’
LUAP's 'The Pink Bear'

Ben Oakley’s identical die cut angels in steel mounted on a box and surrounded by CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS tape is an intriguing work. They take the same form, both ‘pierced’ with shapes that repeat their larger selves. And both are sporting aerosol cans with a tiny spurt of paint on the nozzles: one orange, the other is pink. At the base of the sculpture there’s two sprayed stencil fairies that may constitute the crime referred to on the tape.

You could literally stumble across Erika Trotzig’s ‘No Frills’. Like a scaled down Christo and Jean-Claude curtain, except the London based Swedish artist sets out to be anti-heroic, contra-monumental. Trotzig’s low-lying, coarse material dipped in plaster wall viewed at ground level presents as an imposing rock face. Standing up, the hitherto insurmountable obstruction cuts a less imposing figure, a ludic barrier, around which we can walk or simply step over.

Ben Oakley’s artwork
Erika Trotzig's ‘No Frills..’

On the other side of the open land there’s three beautifully hewn propellers mounted on scorched and smooth branches. The propeller blades spun and pointed while the tails of the vanes quivered delicately. At the centre of these elegant forms a single thistle was set on a low pillar like plinth. This construction by Jamie Temple poses questions about humankind and its often-doomed attempt to control natural forces.

Alex Lidagovsky – originally from Huliaipole in Ukraine, now resident in London – presents a work that from a distance can look like a single, pink, pictographic-like figure standing alone. Up closer and walking round the work we see in fact its six continuous figures are constructed to appear made from one single sinuous length of plywood. It’s both a fulgent and thought-provoking work that seems to suggest that society is made of both ‘one humanity’ and, at the same time, a ‘disparate many’, depending on points of view adopted.

There’s more, there’s much more. I haven’t mentioned even half of the works that reward close attention. Meg Stuart and Kieran Idle have again curated a feast for the senses in spaces that add an extra dimension to the varied and fascinating sculptures on show. Walking tours with selected artists’ talks about the works are in the pipeline. See the WSP website for full details.

Alex Lidagovsky's 'SOCIAL SPRING'

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