Braddon Snape: Liquid and Ecstatic States

There is always pleasure in looking. Things catch our eye. They lure us in and awaken memory, and in turn arouse desire. Looking at art is not just an exercise of intellect and imagination but it also activates our sense of embodiment, our connection with other physical things. This is especially so with works of sculpture that intersect with social spaces marked by human habitation and meaning. Sculpture has a long social history in providing gestures of past grandeur, markers of civic pride and powerful emblems of future hope. In more recent times, sculpture has activated the realm of both architecture and landscape to shape and understand the human imagination as embedded in the natural environment. Such artistic gestures help us touch the world through our eyes and grasp a sense of belonging in the world we inhabit. 

Braddon Snape’s work demonstrates a knowing confidence in dealing with the tradition of an artist working in three dimensions. In his case, it involves a somewhat gruelling physical and mental rigour in turning materials into things that resonate in our visual imagination. Since 2014, Snape has been working with a unique approach involving the welding of steel sheets together and inflating them into a variety of forms with compressed air. These works literally express the process of inspiration, with the breath of a pneumatic pump giving them a unique presence and personality. Imitating puffed-up pillows, paper bags, wine bladders, that are leaned, strung, and manipulated in ways that work against the expectations of minimalist sculpture to be true to form and materials, these works are poetic, inferential, and incite the peripheral imagination. 

Working with these same materials, this new body of work provides an exciting if not visually exhilarating turn. The liquid and refractive surfaces of these new works serves to blur and destabilise their orientation towards the viewer. They seem to be literally unzipping the firm signs of their manufacture as steel sheets and appear to be spilling out into the surrounding space articulating both the light and the air. Not just mirrors, but a transformation of the movement of air and light particles into a liquid dance. This is like a moment of rapture, or even rupture, where things that have been held in, come spilling out in an ecstatic release. Breathing bodies understand such states as the rhythm of expiration and inspiration, the slow release of breath. It is the state also of wonder, where clear boundaries are transcended, not as an idea, but as a felt sense of delight! 

Braddon Snape, Allusive Object (3 Chamber Strip), 2021. Welded and mirror-polished inflated stainless steel with accompanying acrylic rectangle wall painting, 38 x 110cm \ 150 x 30 x 27cm.

There is great pleasure, mixed with a measure of anxiety, in looking at these works. I want to measure, categorise, establish boundaries, define understanding, while all the time the work is moving in the other direction, spilling out in excess. And then I remember what it is like to hover in the in-between spaces of existence, like hovering on a threshold or on the brink of a discovery. It is the fluid space of negotiating the collapse of edges, and the rush and ecstatic joy of letting go and finding release. Here, I want to reach for the geographies of the spiritual to explain this moment of ecstatic potential; the empty space between the fingers of Michelangelo’s God and Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or the tension of edge and centre in the shining white stone of a Zen Garden, or the stark light and dark shadow on a walk around the water-worn edges of Uluru. In these works, boundaries are let loose, no longer seeking definition, but allowing for the excess of freedom and visual ecstasy. 

Art has long carried this alchemical impulse to apprehend moments of transformation and change, like observing the moment when ice turns into water, and then setting out to turn lead into gold. The dance of particles that surround the liquid surfaces of these mirrored steel pieces allow for such imagining. Surface and depth merge, inside turns out, and the proper boundaries of definition and classification are left aside for the liquid transformations where art spills out into life. 

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ROD PATTENDEN IS AN ARTIST, ART HISTORIAN, AND THEOLOGIAN INTERESTED IN THE POWER OF IMAGES. HE LIVES AND WORKS ON AWABAKAL LAND.

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