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October 2015
Vol. 34 No. 8

A publication of the
International Sculpture Center
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All Nature Flows Through Us: A Conversation with Marc Quinn
by Robert Preece
1+1=3, 2002

1+1=3, 2002. Mixed media with white light, water, and pump system, 10 x 25 x 40 meters.

Marc Quinnís All nature flows through us (2011) is an innovative, 10-meter-diameter sculpture sited in a small river north of Oslo, Norway, at the sculpture park of the Kistefos-Museet. It was no easy feat to install. The river had to be temporarily diverted, and the sculpture assembled on site. It depicts a human eye, with a bronze iris, water flowing through the open pupil and down the river. The imagery demonstrates humanityís reliance on the planet in an evocative way, as all nature flows through us.

Historic Corrections, 1998.

Sections trial-fitted to ensure correct alignment and then patinated.

Robert Preece: In 2003, I took a trip through north Norway and the Oslo area, where I found the landscape to be very impressive. Were you also taken by the Norwegian landscape?

Marc Quinn: Yes, it is epic and beautiful. Where All nature flows through us is sited, thereís a river valley with randomly carved brown rock. Itís obviously carved by nature, but it looks like thereís a kind of pattern, which reflects on the pattern of the iris in the sculpture. So, the sculpture fits almost exactly on that site.

RP: How did the commission for All nature flows through us come about? How was the site selected?

MQ: Christen Sveaas, the owner of the Kistefos Museum Foundation, was a collector of mine. Every year, they commission one work for the sculpture park. They asked me to come up, look around, and find an interesting site. I went and walked around, and my idea became fully formed as I was there. I wanted to work with the landscape as it was, with minimal intervention. The site selection was initially me saying, ďIíd really like to do something in the river.Ē Then I had to look at which parts in the river could work, where people could see it and where it would have enough space around it. I also wanted the work to relate to the small hydroelectric dam nearby, which powers the water through the eye. So, thereís a connection there as wellóthe human intervention in nature is actually powering the sculpture.

RP: How did you develop the idea for the work?

Historic Corrections, 1998.

Sections trial-fitted to ensure correct alignment and then patinated.

MQ: I had been making eye paintings since 2009. I guess that it came from that, because I started developing the sculpture that year, working with 3D scanning. I began with a photograph of Christen Sveaasís eye, representative of a human eye. I then made a 3D CAD file of the patterning and relief for the sculpture, which was carved with a router, first on a small scale and then on a very large scale for the sculpture. The eye is very much about the frontier between the figurative and the abstract: the idea that something that appears to be abstract, in fact, has a key to someoneís identity in it. The iris, doesnít change, you can use it for identification. This relates to my works dealing with DNA. This eye is also about our relation to nature, that humans are not separate from the planet. In a way, the sculpture is like a natural clock. Water flows through it, and that shows that humans are still around: if theyíre not, the hydroelectric dam wonít work anymore, and the water wonít flow. So, itís like a barometer of nature and the planet and a kind of monument to co-existence. Itís about time, and the relationship of time to landscapes; Iíve always been interested in timeófor instance, in the frozen sculpturesóor in stopping time and living forever.

RP: Are you also referring to ancient Chinese disks?

MQ: Yes. Iím very interested in them. As you know, they symbolize the universe. I saw them when I was in the Far East, and I made a jade version for a show in Hong Kong 18 months ago. The work also relates to The artistís eye, a smaller work that I exhibited at Gloucester Cathedral in 2010. That eye moves around, and you could view the landscape through the pupil.

RP: What do we see in the process and construction images?

MQ: First, youíll see the pattern on the iris, taken from the photograph of the eye, applied to a parabola of the human eye. It was then rounded. Interestingly, the patterning on the iris is like a map of the world, like reshaped continents. Thereís something quite terrestrial about it. Then you see the guys cleaning up the routing. They are sharpening edges, making sure that itís all in good condition. Theyíre working with polystyrene, which is very hard. After it was done, the pieces were molded and cast in bronze with high-precision sand-casting. Then you have the bronze cast, which is up to 10 millimeters thick. Behind it is a stainless steel structure. The bronze pieces were bolted onto the structure and welded on site. Because of the size, the work couldnít be finished at the foundry in England. Sections of the eye were transported by truck to Norway. The guys at the foundry worked on site for a few weeks, basically doing what theyíd normally do at the foundry, welding the pieces together and finishing the weld. We put it together at the foundry first to make sure it all worked, and then we took it apart and put it together again on site.

RP: How much were you involved in the process at the foundry?

Historic Corrections, 1998.

CAD illustration of iris for All nature flows through us.

MQ: Iím involved at every stage. Iím not personally pouring metal, but Iím involved in checking it. There were millions of phone calls and decisions; things like, ďDo you want to sharpen this up or leave it like it is?Ē Iíd go to see it regularly. Itís quite a slow process to cast so much metal. The whole thing took about 12 months. We worked with engineers on the internal structure, which has to withstand the spring melt. There can be very high water, which can go directly through the pupil. The structure has to be extremely strong because the water is bashing against the backside of the eye.

RP: The other side of the sculpture is flat.

MQ: Yes. Itís like a Chinese disk, featureless. You have the abstract and the figurative in one piece, the figurative on the front and the abstract on the back.

RP: What challenges were there for installation and maintenance?

MQ: The challenges were extreme. I think itís an extraordinary thing to work with a collector who really has a big vision, if youíll pardon the pun. Because we were committed to draining the river, to diverting it via a second tributary, in order to construct the concrete foundation, it was an immense job. We had to get permission from the hydroelectric company as well, and pumps took out residual water the entire time. During the installation, the riverbed was completely dry. The maintenance issues seem manageable. We havenít had any problems, touch wood. Youíd imagine that where the water comes through there would be discoloration, but that hasnít happened.

RP: What about the water flow and the pressure?

MQ: Behind the eye, thereís a vertical concrete element covered in water to which the eye is bolted. The triangular shape helps the water to flow around it. It was interesting to work with water as a medium. The fact that it is liquid is interesting, because so many of the materials that I use seem solid, but actually are liquid or are only solid under certain circumstances. What becomes a bronze object is really a liquid solidified. And the frozen head and other frozen sculptures are water thatís been solidified. Then thereís 1+1=3, the rainbow sculpture. I had to learn how rainbows are created in nature and how to replicate that.

Robert Preece is a Sculpture Contributing Editor based in Rotterdam.


Watch these videos on Marc Quinn and his work






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