A Chat about Sculpture in the Landscape

We had the pleasure of having Matt Toole and Ryan Madson with us at SSW to work with us on our project on the Lumsden Sculpture Walk, Sculpture in the Landscape, for the month of July.

Here are some excerpts from a conversation we had with them prior to their departure early this month.

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Above: Sculpting in Nature Workshop for local 7-14 year olds by Matt, his helper Sylvie and Silja from SSW, at Lumsden Sculpture Walk on the 24th of July.

Can you give us a brief overview of what you have been working on since your arrival to SSW?

We have continued to address the Lumsden Sculpture Walk and to develop concepts and studies for site-specific improvements, emphasizing landscape design and the formal, spatial, aesthetic, and experiential aspects of the Walk. Building upon conversations that took place at the Sculpture in the Landscape Symposium (summer 2012), we are also exploring ideas about sculpture and arts practices in the Aberdeenshire landscape more broadly. This summer we began documenting and interpreting the regional landscape by various means: typological analyses, field trips, informal interviews; studies of land use, agriculture, animal species and habitat, infrastructure etc. At the heart of the process is a dialogue or exchange between Matt’s artistic practice and Ryan’s design methodologies. We hope that this collaboration will result in a synthetic set of studies, proposals and texts.

Activities around The Walk this summer included cleaning and trimming the site, planting new varieties of both edible and non-edible plants, and establishing new partnerships with various community leaders within Lumsden, Aberdeenshire, and land owners.

You are working together as collaborators from two different professional and academic backgrounds. Could you tell us a bit more?

Ryan is trained as a landscape architect and town planner. He is a professor of architecture and urban design at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). He has worked as a planning consultant and landscape designer for offices in New York on projects at various scales, from urban parks to neighborhood revitalization. Matt is a sculptor who works primarily in two modes: metal casting/performance and constructions/assemblies of found objects. Matt is also a professor at SCAD, where he teaches sculpture and three-dimensional design and making.

With regards to SitL, Ryan is most interested in physical transformations of the Sculpture Walk that would establish new spaces for community activity and provide enrichment for everyday life and enjoyment of the immediate context. For example, the walk is presently used on a daily basis as a dog run and as a path to the Lumsden Primary School. At the south end of the walk is a site of archaeological significance with a human history dating back to Neolithic settlement. In parallel with Ryan’s interests in the site are those regarding the region and the various modes of “ruralities” that co-exist and overlap, including arts practices, alongside traditional uses and management of the land such as forestry, farming, animal husbandry, mining, tourism, and land conservation.

Matt is also interested in the physical transformations of the Sculpture Walk, and as a sculptor, his focus is directed toward material constructions that communicate aesthetically, inspiring new perspectives in interpretation and learning. With visitors to the Sculpture Walk in mind, Matt’s interests lie in the public experience of the site through a variety of ongoing and ephemeral activities. For SitL his attention has been centered around the rural experience of local animal culture. Using the German term umwelten to describe his approach, his focus has been on the different modes of how environment can be experienced and how to design spaces that utilise dissimilarities of sensory capacities.

Practically, how have you found the collaborative effort involved in the project?

Our collaboration has most notably enabled our individual studio processes and methodologies to influence each other. The exchange between artist and landscape architect has led Matt to consider landscape design as an artistic practice (and landscape as sculpture) as well as an exercise in understanding functional requirements of the landscape that can be achieved through the application of familiar artistic and architectural concepts such as form, space, color, material, and texture. Ryan, for his part, has sought to expand his design vocabulary with representational tools more traditionally associated with artistic exploration and to create images without the constraints of function, program or feasibility.

And what can you tell us about the next steps?

We hope to continue working with SSW to finalize a Sculpture in the Landscape publication and to develop a detailed proposal for potential improvements to the Sculpture Walk. This will be a sourcebook that serves as a textual and visual reference for artistic practices in the rural landscapes of the Northeast, and serve as a record of our visual analysis, studies and proposals for the Sculpture Walk.

Thank you both, it has been great to focus on an area of SSW’s history, and to look at how it informs our current practice.

It has been a great pleasure for us to return to Aberdeenshire and the SSW, to work and collaborate as artists/designers-in-residence. We did not work in isolation, of course. Many heartfelt thanks to Nuno, Emily, Eden, Sarah, Austin, and Silja at SSW for being such hospitable and engaged hosts, and for occasionally challenging us to both expand and refine the scope of our work. The conversations we had regarding the project and our mutual interests in the arts in Aberdeenshire and in Scotland enriched our thinking and studio processes immeasurably.

Thanks to George & Judy Beasley and Eden & Maxine Jolly for their generous hospitality and support throughout our stay. Thanks to Silvy Liu, who joined us from London for ten days and contributed her talents to the project. Thanks also to the artists-in-residence in July who contributed to the conviviality of the studio culture and the wonderful exchange of ideas and concepts — and especially drinks and meals and long walks!

Matt and Ryan’s work spaces in the communities room at SSW

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Community clean up volunteers having a wee break and seeking shelter from the rain

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Two pictures of Matt and Ryan working hard during the community clean up

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Site visit to Leith Hall Gardens in Aberdeenshire

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BBQ of Georgia style pork lunch at SSW, hosted by Matt and Ryan

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Another picture from the Sculpting in Nature Workshop

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