Suspensions: Anne Mudge

Material Memories: Sculptures by Anne Mudge

Over the past decade, Anne Mudge has explored forms that repeat and mutate with a sense of methodical purpose similar to the making of a nest or web. These organic forms that feel as though they belong to a fecund world we have yet to encounter. Clusters of forms allude to fertility in a state of constant mutation and evolution. Often ephemeral in their delicacy, these organic forms reveal Mudge’s ongoing exploration fertility, kinetic energy and material memory.

Seeds are a readily available resource for Mudge who has lived with her husband on a seed farm in Southern California for the past fifteen years. This daily connection to soil and natural growth inspires and directs many of themes and materials she sculpts. Mudge explains that the mundane nature of the materials she works with and their availability are important aspects to her working process. But so is the loaded symbolism that seeds provide. Seedpods brim with life and can be viewed as energy stored for the future: captured growth waiting to burst forth.

From these associations Mudge constructs clusters of shapes that feel as though they are waiting to unfurl and grow large. Alongside the inevitable references to fertility that her materials offer are secondary sources: secretions such as wax and tape that capture stems and seeds, bind and secure the joints of vegetal growth, conceal and protect the precious task of reproduction and cover or seal surface wounds. Works such as “Nexus”, made entirely from balls of string coated in graphite and wax, explores organic repetition and evolution. The sculpture hangs like a nest of eggs or pods one might stumble upon in the dark corner of a disused attic or the bottom of an overgrown garden. This work, and many others, feels as though its rightful place is in the natural world rather than a fabricated one. While it is the artist’s hand that fashions these beguiling forms their manner is disarmingly similar to the forms and textures nature creates.

In addition to fertility, much of Mudge’s sculptural work involves the capture of potential energy. For example “Concretion” uses wrapped wire around a core of branches that are bound under as much tension as the artist could muster. The cocoon-like web articulates the idea of potential energy waiting to spring from the tension it resides under. While “Concretion” remains bound by it’s captured energy, “Broadcast” captures that energy escaping into the air. The work illustrates the far-reaching arc of seeds that are thrown to the wind by hand and scatter over a large area, rather than sewn by machine or planted individually. Mudge explains that her titles often act as a form of concrete poetry that often comes to her as she is building the piece rather than an afterthought. Titles such as “Broadcast” offer additional layers of interpretation to these complex works.

Material memory is also central concern to Mudge. The corkscrew of an original cable strand, the twist of a bobbin, the coil of a bound bundle all offer Mudge a kinetic energy that her sculptures can either chose to resist or enhance. This memory infuses otherwise ephemeral works with a considerable life and strength. In the delicate forms she constructs there is a sense that something is captive, something brewing beneath the delicacy that is stronger than first appearances may suggest. For instance, “Repertoire” is built around several flexible sticks around which string balls were wrapped. After wrapping the individual bundles, Mudge continued wrapping the thread between the masses to enclose the space between the spheres. Eventually the central spine of sticks was removed, leaving a void that runs through the centre of the sculpture. The diameter of the once vital sticks can still be seen in the tail of the work, now a hollow wrapping of thread supporting thread. Traces of original elements, such as the now absent spine, remain central to the work. Similarly, traces of kinetic energy and material memory are also felt in the seeds and seeds pods central to Mudge’s work for they too represent traces of contained energy.

The symmetry of biology is evident in much of this work. Mudge explains that an exploration of symmetry is often evident in her work, but once in a while she finds herself challenging the tidy organization of symmetry. “Tangent” is one such exploration. Suspended from the ceiling the cantilevered arm, uncanny in its resemblance to a human arm, was an attempt to extend the cantilever as far as possible. Building from the centre out, Mudge learnt that it often took no more than a single strand of wire in the wrong place to tip the sculpture off balance. Such lessons provided vital to the large-scale installations that have been the immediate focus of Mudge’s studio work for the past several years.

“TapRoots” a public commission for the San Diego Transport Company and San Diego State University has required Mudge to turn from an intimate scale to the mammoth, combining her investigations of fertility, material memory and kinetic energy in an ambitious series of five large-scale steel sculptures for the underground trolley station. Open to the public in the autumn of 2005, the series is sculpted through a process of careful unwinding and reconfiguring of steel cabling. The bundles of steel wire were reorganized into the organic forms of roots and seeds similar to many of the forms explored in earlier works. Instead of the gallery, these sculptures are suspended thirty feet above commuters’ heads and reside in a concrete underworld of commuter transport. Wind from the arrival and departure of trains will cause the sculptures to swivel and offers an ever-changing play of shadow against the cold concrete of the station walls.

Inevitably, the shift of scale required for the “TapRoots” series demanded a dramatic change in the artist’s working practice. Rather than the contemplative pleasure of working alone with materials that bent under the artist’s own strength, the public commission required work in a studio vast enough to allow for the fabrication of these eighteen-foot tall works. More drastic was the departure Mudge had to make from the strength of her own hands and pliers to a team of assistants, blow torches and ladders, all necessary to configure the large gauge steel required of the project. It is testament to Mudge’s eye as an artist that these ultimately unyielding materials continue to exude the pliable and ephemeral feel of the quarter scale models for materially at least this is far from their nature.

When observing Mudge’s work over the past decade it becomes apparent that certain forms appear in uncanny repetition. “Conjugation” for example takes on a great similarity to “TapRoot E” the first large-scale sculpture created for the SDSU Trolley station. These repetitions of form, if not scale or material, are an important key to understanding this artist’s work. Mudge sculpts in a variety of materials and scales while maintaining a consistent aesthetic vocabulary that reflects the energy that resides in nature. It is a language which speaks through an observation and intuition of the energy that is central to the fertility and growth of a natural world similar - but somehow distant - from our own.

Craft Arts International (No. 63, 2005: 101-102)