Rachel Kneebone in an interview

Rachel Kneebone, a sculptor, discusses her upcoming exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the new direction her work is heading.

‘My work is concerned with our visceral existence, with movement, and the sensation of inhabiting the body,’ says Rachel Kneebone in an interview.

Rachel Kneebone, a sculptor, discusses her upcoming exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the new direction her work is heading.

In nearly every sculpture by Rachel Kneebone (b1973), you’ll find groups of bone-white creatures writhing in a tangled tangle. However, a deeper examination reveals that you are only partially correct. Kneebone’s works include half-formed bodies. Legs are attached to truncated torsos that taper to third limbs, or they can live on their own without the support of the body.

Kneebone’s five-metre-tall artwork

Kneebone’s five-metre-tall artwork 399 Days, which was called for the time it took to create, must include thousands of severed legs. Its cylindrical design was inspired by Trajan’s Column in Rome, and it stood beside a plaster cast of its Roman forerunner in the V&A from April 2017 until December 2019.

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An artwork of 63 panels

The artwork is composed of 63 panels grouped around a central support and balances on a stepped base. It is topped at the summit by 13 squat pedestals with more amorphous shapes. Kneebone’s compositions have several classical references. The uncolored porcelain is reminiscent of ancient Greece’s time-polished sculptures, recalling the drama of works like the Laocoon, a Hellenistic monument to struggle and tragedy. Kneebone’s sculptures, on the other hand, defy narrative.

Emily Spicer (ESPN): How and why did your sculpture become so focused on legs?

Kneebone, Rachel: My art is on our visceral lives, movement, and the sensation of being in the body. Although legs are prominent, they are not the main emphasis. The leg is a representation of the classical body, particularly its mobility. It is a recognizable signifier that functions as a way in or a beginning point when gazing at a sculpture before attempting to decipher its significance. There aren’t many legs in my recent work.

ES: You frequently include a ball in your compositions. What is the importance of this?

RK: In general, the ball’s clean spherical form serves as a counterbalance to the work’s chaotic speed and asymmetries in other places. It represents the world, the egg, movement, the eye, the moon, a bubble, and even the fragility of life, and it embodies traditional geometric form against the abstract, fractured and shattered shapes inside the works. But it’s constantly connected, trying to balance out the sculpture’s other parts.

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ES: You don’t color your sculptures. Is there a special significance to the white of the porcelain in your work?

RK: Because of its whiteness, I opted to work with porcelain. The work’s whiteness, its blankness, offers a surface on which meaning may be projected. It is ambiguous, enabling the viewer to infer their own meaning from it. But I don’t view whiteness as a void; rather, I see it as a type of richness that invites a variety of interpretations since whiteness does not establish meaning the way color does.

ES: With female forms and porcelain folds that resemble labia, your works frequently allude to the feminine. Is there anything in your work that speaks to the feminine experience?

RK: Being human, being alive in the world, and inhabiting the body are all themes in my work. It would be hard to avoid making a statement about women’s experiences. However, everyone, regardless of gender, strives to inhabit their bodies, and I hope that my work addresses that aspect of our lives.

ES: In Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s church, your gigantic sculpture 399 Days will be complemented by a selection of your drawings. Could you explain your sketching process and how it connects to your sculpture?

RK: My drawings and sculptures are unique and separate from one another, yet they share a same goal: to capture movement and render permanent and still what is ephemeral and in continual motion. There’s also a connection between how I produce a drawing and how I build a sculpture: rotating the paper and porcelain, always assessing and making decisions as part of the producing process. My sculptures and drawings are not the result of pre-conceived ideas; rather, they are the result of the act of creation. I never work from blueprints or plans that have already been created.

ES: Ovid in Exile is the title of your drawings, and you’ve also created porcelain works based on the topic. What prompted you to write about the poet’s banishment from Rome, and how have you interpreted this story?

RK: In 2017, the Ovid in Exile paintings were initially displayed in Hong Kong alongside a collection of sculptures titled Salmacis, Daphne, Narcissus, and Pool. They were inspired by Ovid’s ideas of metamorphosis and transformation, which are directly relevant to my art because of their emphasis on regeneration, renewal, development, and the cycle of life. He was writing about exile, but he was also writing about a variety of other types of change and dislocation, such as societal change and even more intimate and physical changes.

ES: Could you tell me a little bit about the new sculptures you’ve created for Yorkshire Sculpture Park?

RK: I’ve created a series of wall works, Pulse II, Eddy I, and Whorl I, three of which will be on display in the Chapel. The movement in these pieces is less organic and plant-like than in earlier works, and more watery, resembling liquid movement. The architecture of the Chapel drew me to these forms, and I believe they will provide a crucial counterbalance. Thinking about and exploring the many types of movement in solids and liquids has been incredibly inspiring for me.

ES: Do you have any plans for the future?

RK: In July, I’ll have a show called Raft at White Cube Mason’s Yard, and in August, I’ll have Punoutua at the Serlachius Museum Gosta in Mantta, Finland.

  • On July 10, 2021, Yorkshire Sculpture Park will debut Rachel Kneebone: 399 Days.

From 14 May to 9 October 2022, Punoutua will be on display at the Serlachius Museum Gosta in Meintta, Finland.


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