When I first came across Sophie Gough's practice it was described as the work of a self-proclaimed onto-naut. This word, created by the artist to fill an etymological gap in which her practice immediately captured my imagination. Onto from the word ontological and naut coming from the Greek nautes meaning to sail.
Gough is indeed a sailor, taking to material exploration like Ishmael took to the sea, and much like Melville's uncatchable whale Sophie never quite gets to the heart of the issue of creating a readable narrative that consists solely of non-organic materials. This of course is to be expected, to be an ulterior object is by definition to be beyond the grasp of what is conceivable at present, the magic of Gough's practice lies in the gesture, where materials are imbued with power through their deliberate and careful positioning in relation to one another. The use of the term ontonaut is appropriate also in its association with space travel, a place devoid of human beings and yet - particularly in the low earth orbit of 160 kilometer altitude that most astronauts fly to - full of the detritus of human production, the flotsam and jetsam of discarded culture. It is a realm dominated by thingness where humans cannot exist without totally relying on objects such as airtight suits with breathing apparatuses. A place where humans are at the mercy of things.
Gough herself is at the mercy of things in her artistic process. Marrying materials together to create objects that are vibrant she embodies the 'artist- as-catalyst. These objects, when left to their own devices display a kind of agency that is completely dependent on their interconnectedness. The materials, through their various chemical and physical interactions change over time in a way the artist could not hope to predict and thus themselves become active, possibly even assertive, collaborators in the artist process. Concrete; ever strengthening, solid and familiar, forcibly married to plastic foam of uncannily artificial blue hues, begin to look like models of coastlines. But to see them as this would be missing the fact that these are not representative of landscapes, but are dynamic ecologies in and of themselves. What we see when looking at these marriages of material are unfolding narratives that spring from the interactions of two separate materialities.
These interactions take place at the periphery, the meeting point between the concrete and the foam the area where distinctions between the discrete properties of each element to break down in a kind of reciprocal dance that will take place over the course of millennia.
This brings us neatly on to the less visible but arguably more important aspect of the sculptures. Time. For implicit in this give and take between two distinct material zones is the fact that this vibrant and miniscule choreography that takes pace can and will continue indefinitely. While all objects created by humans will live many times longer than human comprehension will allow for Sophie Gough's objects make the viewer painfully aware of this fact.
"For there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men"
— Daire O'Shea
is a writer and sculptor currently based in Dublin.
All photographs from this exhibit are credited to Jed Niezgoda — venividi.ie