Image of Alison Wilding, Melancholia . Photo ©  Cambridge
Alison Wilding, Melancholia . Photo © Cambridge

Alison Wilding

Work exhibited: Melancholia.

"Sculpture is that oddball thing that can side-step language – this is why it frustrates writers… When I think about how baffling sculpture is to many people I think of those time machines in SF books and films which are always seamless monoliths made of unknown materials with no obvious way in."

Although any encounter with works of art as complex and ambitious as Wilding’s can create a feeling of exclusion, there is another sense in which her remark has a specific relevance for her own practice.

A number of her constructions seem to propose the imagining of an interior that is intended to be inaccessible. The obstruction of knowledge is not as obdurate as in the contemplation of a Whiteread threshold.

In the spaces mapped out by Wilding’s creations, there seems to be a shifting frontier between the possibility of accessing, and the realisation of failing to acquire, the necessary information. The negotiation of this no man’s land is set in train by a juxtaposition of different materials and structures. The viewer’s enquiry is stimulated by an uneasy rapprochement between counteracting elements.

This carefully orchestrated lack of resolution is a feature not only of individual sculptures but of projects that involve repetition with slight variation of a given template, or that constantly revise the mutual relations of a group of works each time a new component is added to the series.

The capacity of Wilding’s oeuvre to accommodate these modifications is testimony to the consistency and intricacy of her concerns. The formidable coherence her work has achieved is particularly well illustrated by the construction over many years of the several parts of the Contract series, one of the most powerful and resonant artworks produced anywhere during the last 20 years.

Melancholia (2003) bears a strong family resemblance to Largo (2002), the symbiotic relationship between the two increasing the tension between the alternatives embodied in the slightly different materials employed in their composition. The choice of title is especially apt in its immediate suggestion of a missing counterpart: the accomplishment of mourning. Mourning is posited as the stage subsequent to melancholia, implying the acceptance of loss. Melancholia is a condition whose negotiation with memory, repression, and revision is unfinished business.

Hear from our students