Einstein observed that when velocity equals the speed of light, all moving objects viewed from a stationary system
'shrivel up into plane figures'. In Barbara Hepworth's sculpture, celestial bodies – sun and moon, planets and stars – become hollowed planes etched onto the surface of substantiality or voids in matter. Substance is the space in which heaven itself is held.
'The present moment is the only real time,' wrote Hepworth. In Sun and Moon
(1968) indented hollows in polished bronze dance – held together in a present moment – in relationship to the asymmetry of space. Moon Form
(1968) incises white marble with an open grid of lines that map the moon's position, a haloed hole that draws the viewer through to the other side.
Volumes both embody and dissect space. Figure in Sycamore
(1931) most definitely embodies it. The female figure stands solid, rooted and firm yet striding and full of potential. Her foursquare arms protect yet push, hold yet thrust. Her cylindrical base of sycamore doubles as an un-hollow solid, the figure's shadow and her organic origin.
The physicist J D Bernal said Hepworth had an intuitive grasp of the unity of surfaces 'which though separated in space and apparently disconnected yet belong together'. The surfaces of her sculpture – polished, smooth, burnished, craggy – are often elliptical, folding in on themselves or opening out, concealing or revealing. Coloured interiors, pierced, hollowed, abruptly disclosed, surprise and yet seem the most natural thing in the world.
(1954), the polished brown of guarea wood, spiralling, becomes matt white gesso; the interior of Pelagos
(1946), an enveloping form in elm, could be white or egg-shell blue, could be cream or grey or the shadow on sea.
Crisscrossed in a geometry of string, forms become both subject and object. 'The strings were the tension I felt between myself and the sea, the wind or the hills.' She connected with the Cornish countryside where she evacuated with her four children in the days before the onset of Word War Two: 'for a few years I became the object. I was the figure in the landscape and every sculpture contained to a greater or lesser degree the ever-changing forms and contours embodying my own response to a given position...'. Of the Cornish light: 'the colour in the concavities plunged me into the depth of water, caves, of shadows deeper than the carved concavities themselves'.
Hepworth, a Christian Scientist, held sympathy with the view that reality is spiritual, that her faith meant a return to a lost element of healing. When one of her daughters became ill, Hepworth befriended a doctor who tended her. After the crisis was over, the doctor invited her to witness an operation.
In Hepworth's hospital drawings, the figures of doctors, nurses, auxiliary staff are homogenised in their medical aprons, masked and gloved, but still display 'this special grace (grace of mind and body)'. It is in the compassion in their eyes and in the careful exploratory care of their hands that their individuality is made visible and even then only as a living component within a communal organism of which the invisible body on the operating table is a silent sleeping part, unconscious yet omnipresent.
Martin Creed performs at Summerhall, the former Royal School of Veterinary Studies. Here, in the Anatomy Theatre in days of old, the animal body was the object of scientific exploration. Semi-circular rows of benches rise above an intimate space where dissections or other medical procedures were witnessed. The stepped wooden benches and the hollow floor resonate like a drum and Creed announces his own arrival with a percussive thud, banging and hopping into the area of vivisection, semi-shoeless. He hops around, making eye contact despite his dark glasses, 'hello,’' he says gently, explorative, tentative, querulous, 'hello'. He picks up a coloured stripey brogue on the centre of the floor. 'Welcome to the shoe,' he says.
His clothes: a paper cowboy hat (Work N° 3565), a mismatching pinstripe suit with the pockets hanging out, a large floppy satin black bow-tie, dark glasses with different lenses (Work N° 3493); he has a chip on his shoulder (Work No° 3564) and darts are impaled in various places over his body – on a black brogue, on the other shoulder of his suit. He looks like Salvador Dali meeting his own sketched etchings of Don Quixote.
Einstein and the French philosopher, Henri Bergson, clashed over time. Intrigued by and questioning the principle of relativity, Bergson said there is temps
, the time of clocks, and there is inner time, durée
, the psychological time of memory, emotion, feeling.
Feelings are down here, says Creed wiggling his fingers, and words are up here. Finding the right words for the feelings is always almost impossible. It feels kind of, sort of 'religious' and then, 'oh fuck', it's all just too much, and he collapses his angular body in a quivering heap, jiggling around like so many particles randomly crashing around in Brownian motion.
Below words and above feelings – in other words in between – are clothes. Creed changes them often. He wears a geometrical hat with a cuboid top and a flat circular disc of a brim. He fluffs up his hair; he ties it in a knot. He strips down to his tights. He wears polyester trews.
He plays the piano with his bum and we laugh and clap. He sings to us and plays the guitar, he blows a mouth organ and stamps on the floor. We laugh and clap. He talks about vagueness, values imprecision. He plays vagueness, fretting with his frets.
He does a non-magic magic-trick engaging a member of the audience. 'Take your time, I wouldn't do it if I were you. Loath audience participation, myself.'
He tells us his performance seems like a load of beginnings because he wants to keep up potential. When he motions towards the clock that's facing him on stage, we guess there might be more than one ending.
He says love is the most important of all the feelings and writes l.o.v.e. on a blackboard. He says if you look at the word long enough it seems as if the 'l' of 'love' is a wall, the 'o' a hole, the 'v' something that can pierce you or you can fall into, and the 'e' is a vortex. He does a riff on word-play, writing 'hate' and changing the 'e' to an 's', making 'hats'. He talks about rhyme. 'People say life is hard,' he says, but he thinks the converse is truer, hence the title of the show: 'Life is Soft'.
And he does a real magic trick. Facing away from us, upstage, his voice relaxes and we, his audience, quieten. He dresses for the occasion by putting on a black dress-suit backwards. He puts his shirt on back to front. He takes off his elaborate tie and ties it backwards on his neck. It's like watching a painting by Magritte tacitly come to life.
And then he turns around to face us: 'I want to be your friend, I want to connect'. He hands out his card: Instacrap, Faecesbook, Shitter, Pootube, Whimeo, Peemail, Webshite.
And it's the real end at last and we clap and laugh and file outside past the pinned-up exhibition on the way to the loos about the origin of The Fountain
, Duchamp's famous urinal and whether in fact it should be attributed to the German Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, through the boozy smell of the bar in the courtyard and the real live electromagnetic mistress and masterpieces of costumed art, into Edinburgh towards the Waverley, and the dynamical fluid field of the fading summer night.
Dr Kate Robinson is an artist living in Glasgow