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James Angus on sculpture (Ara Jansen)

December 23rd 2007 04:00
Extracts from an article entitled "Twisted reality", by Ara Jansen, reviewing an exhibition by sculptor James Angus at the Art Gallery of WA until 2 March 2008.


What if? It's a question artist James Angus asks in each of his sculptural objects.

What if a manta ray wasn't grey? What if a Disney-style castle mimicked a fascist building? Could this shift the way you think? Would it challenge you to change your mind? ...


Bugatti Type 35 is based on a 1920s Bugatti racing car and is made of machined and handmade components, featuring impressive detail. What makes it unusual is that the whole vehicle is anamorphically distorted 30 degrees to the right, a little like what it might be perceived to look like if it took a tight corner very quickly ["contorted as if cornering G-forces had altered its shape"]. It can't stay balanced and the car's whole physical shape shifts; circles go oblong and right angles become obliques.

"When you look at it, the first thing you see is a grand prix car," says Angus. "Then when you look at it again, it starts to fall apart. There's a moment of panic where what you thought you were looking at is no longer what you're looking at."

Panic, perplexity or plain amusement: Angus' work seldom fails to evoke a visceral response. Three years ago, he squeezed a giant Mack truck into a narrow room at the Art Gallery of NSW, a feat worthy of Harry Houdini.

Rhinoceros (1996) [or click here] will perhaps be one of the most popular pieces of the show.

"It's an immediately recognisable form in nature and many people have not seen them other than in a zoo or on TV," says [curator Rachel] Kent. But its colour and placement offer a total switch from the expected.

"Because he has presented it as bas-relief protruding sideways from a gallery wall, it's very clear he has not attempted to reproduce from nature but a form that has gone through an ever-greater transformation. It's not a natural colour and is almost like a hallucination."

The rhino is just one example of objects from everyday life with which Angus works. Like the line between fantasy and reality or a visual illusion, nothing is quite as it seems with an Angus work. There are plaster and bronze teapots, but you'll find them turned inside out in an attempt to hold the world and infinity, not just the liquid which once might have been inside.

Or there's the soccer ball and basketball, both dropped from 10,700m, showing what replicas of the actual balls look like after falling from a great height. It is movement meets stillness as Angus' pieces capture the ball on the moment of impact.

In an added dimension to the work, Angus doesn't just imagine what happens if a ball fell from such a great height or a car at great speed tilts 30 degrees, he spends large amounts of time researching, consulting experts and working with computer simulations to find out exactly what would happen.

Manta Ray (2003) is an exact scale replica but instead of being dark grey or black, Angus chose white and has mounted it on a plinth so it floats gracefully in mid-air.

"The replica hasn't been altered apart from the colour," explains Kent. "In part, that refers to art history and the idea of classical marble statues and people learning about art from white plaster casts." There is also the idea that people make assumptions about the manta ray because of its colour it's like a stealth bomber moving through the water. In making it white, Angus hopes to give it more of a neutral reputation and the possibility of creating another visual illusion.

"I believe in total saturation when it comes to colour and learning about what I am doing," says Angus. "I read newspapers regularly and have boxes of clippings that I have torn out. That might provide an idea.

"I just keep stuff going into my brain and allowing it to accumulate somehow. I've started to send emails out about a project I was thinking about 16 years ago that has just come back across my radar."

Angus keeps rudimentary diaries but a lot of his information and ideas are rather disorganised. He says it's a deliberate plan because if he categorises it doesn't give his ideas a chance to cross-pollinate.

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