superstructure (public image), 2023
stacked embossed ‘epi’ leather sand cast in aluminium; palm tree parts lost wax cast in aluminium;
chrome plating; hot dip galvanised threaded steel rod; fixings
commissioned by Devonshire Collective in partnership with Eastbourne ALIVE, in celebration of the Turner Prize 2023
all photos: Thierry Bal
Superstructure (public image), 2023 consists of several aluminium and steel structures, made specifically to be fitted around selected palm trees and cordylines on site at Marine Parade Road, Eastbourne.
The aluminium shapes encircling the trunks of the trees are cast from layers of embossed leather, cut to the shape of the re-scaled and stretched eyeholes of knitted balaclavas the artist re-made in 2019, after a 1986 series of works by Rosemarie Trockel. Re-adapted from their previous use in Lenses and Can(n)ons, a Static Cling Vinyl work made with Alice Channer in 2021, here these apertures direct and fix a gaze around the trees, where they are held in place by standardised industrial hardware.
The walled raised bed that forms the plants’ involuntary habitat suggests a public stage, on which the trees become protagonists or subjects; addressed and dressed by the sculptures around them. The metal ‘superstructures’ made for the site are undergirded by the living system of the planting bed both above and below ground, as well as its implicit entanglement with colonial legacies of plant hunting.
Spiked pieces of fallen palm bark collected from the adjacent planting bed have been multiplied in aluminium via lost wax casting and bolted into the structures, as well as the woven fibres of two Trachycarpus fortunei (or windmill palms – named in Latin after Robert Fortune, the plant hunter who smuggled plants from China and Japan to Kew Gardens) ‘weaponizing’ the surface of their trunks.
Chosen initially for its pleated, bark-like texture, the embossed ‘epi’ leather used to form the sand cast aluminum parts of the work has also been used widely by Louis Vuitton in the production of leather goods, bringing the sculptures into close contact with the circuitry of fashion-fronted capital. With parts glamourised in a hard and reflective layer of chrome, the work approaches the political potential of shine and surface within systems of production, circulation, and power.