Close Encounters of the Art Kind: GMS Frieden, by Richard Wilson
In 2002 Colin Painter recruited a variety of six contemporary sculptors and, through Brecknock Primary School NW1, a variety of six households – staff (teaching and non-teaching), parents and grandparents.
For six months, work by each sculptor was rotated round these homes. The householders lived with each for a month, siting them as they wished in relation to their own possessions. In the interests of spontaneity they were not told the artists’ names nor the titles of the works. The artists had no knowledge of the homes involved.
Below are the commentaries on one of these sculptures, GMS Frieden, by Richard Wilson.
'At West Hafen, in Berlin, large German barges used to moor. We were looking at a vessel there one day. I was by the bows. Silvia and our son Aldo were at the stern. This sea captain with a large silver drop-handled moustache appeared and said to Silvia, "I can see in your man’s eyes he wants to come aboard". So we went down into Captain Siegfried Schauder’s cabin. His wife Hildegard was there and we sat all afternoon drinking beer.
'He told me this story about another ship he used to own which I had admired in the harbour previously. He began as if he’d been talking for years. Somehow time became irrelevant as we listened. He spoke German. The piece is a direct translation.
'The artwork is a story that stays in your head – a very cerebral piece. You picture him unbolting the inspection plate to the diesel tank, the pumping, the smell, nude, diving down, the darkness, swimming down and grabbing a duffel coat, then climbing out and running a hot bath... There’s something very sensuous about the whole thing. And then this tragic bit at the end where his ship is cut up.
'He was so vivid in his description – how he had to close the orifices on his body with prop shaft grease before he could dive in. Imagine... being nude putting grease up your nostrils, up your bum, across your eyes. It conjures a very materially textured image. Everything taking place with the kind of materials I’d like to use. It would be great to make a sculpture using grease.
'For me the story is intensely sculptural. I suppose I want to put an extraordinary place in someone else’s space.'
Beeban, Spencer, Noah & Blaze
Spencer: 'Ironies abound here. As a non-believer in modern art, I saw this sculpture, which seemed to me to be a picture on the wall, and found I liked it instinctively. It fits into that space in the corner of the kitchen and simplifies what used to be the most cluttered and chaotic area.
'Once you read it, the story emits a powerful energy and takes me to that place with the sea captain. When I read it I was sceptical at first and then I began to think that, if art is about effort, then this was suddenly about someone’s life being that effort. He wasn’t going to be beaten by that oily rag. He got right in there up to his eyeballs to get rid of it, to sort out the problem. In that sense, maybe, the captain is an artist. The more cynical side of me could easily have said, "What’s that about?" Someone’s taken a story, used a certain type of font, had it produced on a background, put it in quite a nice frame and here it is on our wall. It’s not art, not sculpture – it could be a story from a newspaper clipping. But I do feel the story is coming out of the picture with a real sense of emotion and history – transmitting into the room.'
Beeban: 'Everyone who has walked into the kitchen has thought it looks really nice before they even read it. It’s bizarre that in this chaotic space everybody has appreciated the clarity of it. The story honours a particular relationship to work. There’s an atmosphere of pride and responsibility that is absent in the modern world. He was the captain so he couldn’t put that shitty job on someone else. As a culture we have lost a respect and regard for people like that. The boat was his lover, it was his vehicle, it was his life. If he was a cowboy it was his horse. In these ways the piece brings to light things of cultural importance. But the relationship between the visual and the narrative and the artist I am utterly confused about. For me this is a wonderful piece of oral history. I have retold the story many, many times and it’s still in my mind so maybe he created his space that way. But the form does not live up to the content.'
Gareth, Olwen & Rhiannon
Olwen: This is the piece that has challenged us most to accept it as art.
Gareth: It begs the question, ‘What is art?’ It’s like a report from a ship’s captain to the owners of the ship to hang in the board room. Once I found out what it is about – the story of the sea-captain – it made me think much more about art, particularly modern art. The whole concept of it – the oil from the story made up the picture on the wall and the story itself. I realised the significance of what he was trying to display.
Rhiannon: I don’t know why it’s called art. It’s more literature.
Olwen: There’s nothing aesthetic in it for me. I can see that the presentation makes people look at it more than if it was hidden in the pages of a book.
Gareth: I like sea stories, so in that respect I like it. It hasn’t been very noticeable to live with. Now and again you look at it and it’s almost glowering, dark….
Olwen: I could sense the claustrophobia. I felt he was telling the story because, for him, it was a very life threatening experience. He felt he had a duty to do it. He had no alternative. The way he describes it conveys a sort of panicky feeling. One sentence trips over another. He’s re-living it.
Lynn, Dot, Michelle, Stephanie & Jordan
Lynn: You relate it to your own life more than to the Captain’s who’s telling the story. It’s very moving. We don’t know him but we can feel what he feels because we can relate it to our own experiences. This guy’s had a life. He was happy at one point – fulfilled in what he was doing but sad when he lost it. You could visualise your life with a beginning, a middle and an end. My uncle’s just died of cancer. Reading this made me think of his life and all the year’s he’d lived. It’s about life isn’t it?
At first I thought it had nothing to do with sculpture, but I realised that it does because it’s what you imagine in your mind. You can see pictures in your mind. It’s not words. It’s something you’re building in your mind.
Dot: You can visualise him doing it. You can see him dripped in all that oil.
Lynn: More than that. You can really feel what he’s feeling – great sadness – particularly at the end. A lot of people have come in and seen it. They all said they liked it but none of them read it. It’s as though they just like the look of it. I think it’s the pace of life. People don’t have time to look properly.
Dot: You need someone to help you get involved with art. Then if you have some slight interest it can grow. You get involved. Most people don’t get the opportunity. They don’t come in contact with people who can guide them. Unless someone like a good teacher comes along and sees their potential they never get a chance.
Maggie & Sylvester
Sylvester: 'This has a familiar ring to it. Building problems and defects investigations are described like this. You have to struggle to understand a three-dimensional situation from a written description. I find the crossing of boundaries very interesting – from factual reporting to visualising – from visualising (as 3D sculpture) to presentation as a wall painting. But I wouldn’t want to have this. 17-year-old Ian put it rather well, "It looks like a memorial". I suppose it does a bit – the black and the way it’s spaced, like a list of names of people on a war memorial. It doesn’t look like it’s meant to be read because it’s not easy to read.'
Maggie: 'I don’t think this is sculpture. It’s a silk-screen print. I think the story is rather technical. It would make it easier for people if there was some sort of illustration with it. Perhaps you could have a sound track. Perhaps video could be used. It would be good as a set exercise for engineering students – to draw the inside of the ship from the description given. I don’t really think you get much enjoyment out of something which needs so much explanation. Sylvester was much better placed because of his background in architecture. I see sculptures as something you make by hand, or you have more contact with the material than there seems to have been.'
Mari & Michael
Mari: 'It looks very strange in this room. It’s big and looks out of place. As an object, it’s dark and uninteresting but it becomes much more interesting when you read it because it becomes interactive – as if you could dive in. The sculpture creates a strong visual image – a man taking all his clothes off to swim in a tank of oily diesel. This unusual struggle obviously changed his life.
Once you realise this, the sculpture is no longer just a picture, it is another person – another life in the room. It makes it deeper. Two dimensions become three.
The words describe an unusual incident. It is very visual and creates images in your mind – the dark space, the diesel, the taste of it. It’s disturbing in a way. It’s written as though it’s just happening – so detailed. But at the end you realise that he’s looking back at it years later and as a significant event in his life – a turning point.
It’s a weird story but it’s believable because of the dates and places mentioned. It’s quite poetic – and that is partly because it is an extract – told from the start as part of a continuing saga. Once you read the words you realise that the black shape fits what is being said. The reflective surface of the glass is like diesel oil and it makes the words look as though they’re floating.
It makes you think more about words as "art". Reading them is not just about a story but, like extracts or quotes, they can evoke feelings or emotions just like sculpture can.'
'I like the physical demands this piece makes on me. I have to imagine and compare dimensions and shapes. I am given geographical points of reference (I looked in an atlas for Weser-Kreuz, Hanover and the Rhine). Speeds of passage and capacity of fuel... There is a sense of drama, especially not knowing what is in the fuel tank and why.
I’m not sure why it’s called a sculpture. But I travelled along the text with him, going into the fuel tank... In that way, it might be considered a sculpture because he talks about the smell of diesel, the greasiness, rubbing his body with grease and having to get the rag out of the tank... It’s quite sensual. Very vivid. The smells, sounds and other sensations; that small space... It’s very calm, still. You can almost see past the text into the blackness.
I connected with it. I identified it, I suppose, with the smell of my father who was a garage mechanic as well as a stoker in the merchant navy. I thought Kapitan Schrauder could be him. I’ve no idea why the text was put into a black square. I don’t know what shape fuel tanks are but I might have thought the text should have been in a circle or an oval, but perhaps that would have been too obvious. It has been at home here. It lives here.'
Written to accompany the exhibition Close Encounters of the Art Kind.