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Five parts 1.5m (w) x 0.5m (d) x 5m (h)
Georgian wired glass, nylon thread
Commissioned by the Nexus Art on Transport for Tynemouth Station.
In 2004, as part of the Arts Council North East's Graduate Placement Programme, the artist Claire Morgan was selected to work with Nexus on the Art on Transport programme. This provided her with the opportunity to contribute to a commissioning programme set within the specific context of public transport and to observe from close quarters how the various, and often diverse, parties involved in any commission work together to achieve their vision. At one level the world of public transport, perhaps characterised by timetables, ticket inspectors, robust engineering and utilitarian environments, appears light years away from the seemingly delicate installations painstakingly created by Claire Morgan. However that would be to disregard qualities in her work, such as a demanding high level of precision and the use of repetitive processes, which have a resonance within this very different environment. As well as commissioning permanent artworks, integrated into the development of the Tyne and Wear public transport infrastructure, Nexus has also worked with artists to realise an intriguing folio of temporary works, many of which live on in the memories of Metro's passengers. These projects have usually arisen from artists working independently of a specific brief and they have often chosen to utilise specific elements of the Metro itself such as the escalators, ticket machines, metro maps and even the tickets themselves.
Claire Morgan frequently uses natural materials in her sculptural interventions that over a period of time change and decay, giving an added poignancy to the effort required to collect them and the labour needed to transform them into a three dimensional form. In "All that is Solid..." (2004) the artist suspended 3000 strawberries over a stairwell to create a gothic archway that dissolved into a rising organic form and in 'Come fly with me' (2004) thousands of dandelion seeds were suspended from nylon filaments to form an almost invisible sweeping arrow head. From the outset of Claire Morgan's placement Nexus envisaged that it would culminate with a commission for her to make a temporary work for one of the Metro stations, developed in response to a site of her choice. This would not be the first time that she had worked outside of the 'sanctity' of a gallery space as during 2004 works had already been created for such diverse locations as Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire and the entrances to Grainger Market in Newcastle.
'Shift' was a poetic response to the architecture of Tynemouth Station and was made within an area no longer in public use, but in full view of passengers using the station. Underneath the abandoned Victorian cast iron canopies, with their particular sense of faded English seaside grandeur, Claire Morgan suspended hundreds of pieces of shattered glass to make five separate forms. These cascades of glass created a shimmering presence which at a viewing would coalesce to imply the almost ghostlike shape of a human figure. The mood of 'Shift' changed throughout the day. In sunlight, the transparent nature of glass and nylon filament would cause the work to almost disappear but at the same time the sound of the glass pieces moving against each other in the breeze caused its presence to be felt throughout the station, to be heard if not seen. At dusk, as night time embraced Tynemouth, two artificial light sources came into play, triggered by trains arriving at the station. For a few minutes 'Shift' would be bathed in light, transforming the abandoned platform into a theatrical space of cathedral like proportion.
Having made 'Shift' in the station it was left in its 'completed' state for a few days. Then, over two weeks, the artist gradually cut the threads from which the pieces of glass had been suspended. The work literally disappeared from view to become another memory of a space so clearly associated with arrival and departure. Claire Morgan has described how she is, "fascinated by the constantly changing and cyclical nature of everything around me. I focus on the points where seemingly opposing forces merge and become one another; beauty and harshness, chaos and control, danger and safety, death and life and death in turn." For many of those who saw 'Shift' and experienced its presence in Tynemouth Station her sculpture lives on as a powerful experience of a transformative work.
Text written by Andrew Knight and taken from a brochure about Shift, produced by the Nexus Art on Transport programme.
Photos by Mark Pinder (first two) and Claire Morgan (remainder).