James Prevett makes things to gather around – objects, events, text, video that are often combined together as sculpture. He has an ongoing research project Things for Homes / Homes for Things that explores peoples relationship to sculpture in the home. It was commissioned by the Thamesmead Arts and Culture Office (TACO!). As a part of this project, Prevett and writer Annie May Demozay created Conversation Pieces, a series of audio programmes where they interviewed people in their homes about things they keep around them.
We asked James to tell us about this project and his inspiration for it in anticipation of the series being broadcast between 14th and 18th of February on Radiophrenia, a temporary art radio station in Glasgow and also available online.
Conversation Pieces is a part of your larger THINGS FOR HOMES / HOMES FOR THINGS project. Where did you get the inspiration for that project, and was Conversation Pieces a part of the concept from the beginning or did that idea develop separately?
“I was invited by TACO! in Thamesmead, London to propose something for them– a project or idea or body of work. They partly invited me because of my Patsastellaan: Parties for Public Sculpture project, where I invite other artists to work with me to make new work for a public sculpture in Helsinki. With that I am interested in how sculpture is partly defined by its relation to its public(s). I visited Thamesmead and I was struck how there are no public sculptures there. It got me thinking about how sculpture is not often present in the home. I became really interested in whether sculpture needs a public and if sculpture turns into something else when it exists in the domestic. Does it become a hat stand, or a door stop, or a household object? I proposed to TACO! to make sculptures for local people’s homes in Thamesmead.
This began a conversation with TACO! about how this project has a public audience and how we get in contact with local people who are not ordinarily around art. Conversation Pieces came out of that process. We thought that radio would be an interesting way to get in contact with people. I invited writer and artist Annie May Demozay to work with me to interview people about the ‘stuff’ they have in their home. We started to think of sculpture and the home in relation to radio – bringing something inside other people’s homes through the radio. I saw the whole project as an exploration of sculpture by making different ways: a series of radio programmes, a series of sculptures given to people for their homes, and finally an artist book that will look at how the sculptures end up alongside some of the developments of the project.”
What has been the most challenging part of this project for you? How about the most rewarding?
“The part that I found most challenging was giving the sculptures to people. They did not know they were going to get a sculpture and I had spent the best part of 18 months making a new body of work. Twelve individual sculptures from cast bronze and aluminium that were made as a collected body of work and not for individual people. It is rare we give artwork away especially to people who have not asked for it. This also all happened over COVID which complicated the contact and how it happened so I could only send the sculptures to the recipients. It raised so many questions for me, like “what do I want from this act?” And “what will they think of the work?”
I think the giving of the sculptures was also the most rewarding. From all these questions has come such genuine warmth and a connection to these wonderful people I had the chance to meet. I hope they keep the sculptures for the rest of their lives. It feels very good that an entire body of work has a home and an audience. I am interested to find out how they relate to each other: the interviewees and the sculptures.”
As a part of the project introduction, you pose a number of questions: “Why is it that so few people have what we might call sculpture in their homes? Do our objects become domesticated? Does sculpture need a public? What is it that makes something sculpture or sculptural?”
Did the conversations you had or the project as a whole help you find answers to these questions?
“I have some answers but the project has not finished yet. I hope some of these questions unravel a bit more in the book that will come out in the summer 2022 jointly published in the UK by TACO! and in Finland by Rooftop Press. What has become clear for me is that objects and sculptures have become means for social activity and connections. Often our interview conversations ended up in unexpected places prompted by the ‘things’ in front of us.
One of our interviewees, who was living in a hostel for homeless gentlemen, described a sculpture he had lost as a ‘conversation piece’ – something to talk about or start conversations. It brought the name to our radio programmes and is something I will take from this project. Sculpture for me appears to have a social function. Classical sculpture has a focus on the body in space. I think it is not such an extension to see sculpture as exploring the space between bodies.”
Was the process of creating the sculptures for the project and the individuals (and their homes) different from that of creating sculptures for public spaces?
“I have never really made ‘objects’ for public spaces. Parties for Public Sculpture mainly make events or happenings with existing public sculptures. They bring a new focus to things often made in a different time. I also make objects or sculptures but mainly for exhibitions. I tried to work in a similar way that I usually do as I wanted this to be a new body of artwork in its own right. I thought that I could make how I normally would for a gallery and that this could then be given to people. That people could own a piece of art and not just something that was made specifically for their homes.
That said, I did intentionally work on a domestic scale. I took the scale of the objects from a series of exhibitions between 1949 and 1959 in UK staged by the Arts Council called ‘Sculpture in the Home’. This alongside a series of exhibitions in Battersea Park in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, called ‘Sculpture in the Open Air’ were a big influence on the project. Both pushed an idea of sculpture as a civilising and cultural force after the Second World War, pointing towards continental Europe, modernism and a new civil society. It incorporated the domestic into the idea of the civic and/or public especially through large scale public housing developments. Thamesmead can be seen as a later version of this public housing development and a vision of future civilisation that in many ways failed to live up to its promise. The sculptures reference this Post-war modernist sculpture but use bronze and aluminium casts of ordinary household waste. They are kind of mini domestic monuments.”
Visit James Prevett’s website here.
Text: Sanni Lappalainen
Image: Leena Ylä-Lylly