New York-based sculptor Carol Bove makes work that slips effortlessly between the natural and industrial, the found and made, order and chaos. She tells us about experiencing art, bringing colour into her palette, and her love of crushing things
What do you want the viewer to experience in this show?
'In staging the works throughout the space, I want there to be surprises in the way that things unfold: how you're always looking at one thing through another. There are particular routes suggested and choreographed around the galleries because I want people to think about being in the space. It's intentional that one of the galleries feels as if you’re barred from entering because it's kind of crammed with too much work. And I'm completely immersed in thinking about what a sculpture does on and off the plinth. Whatever display strategy you use as an artist will change the perception of the work.'
Why four works in each of the four galleries?
'That wasn't something I set out to do but it's not a coincidence, it's how things gelled. Four seems elemental and is a cardinal number, but it's also symmetrical, so it gives the works an awkwardness.'
Is the exhibition designed especially for London?
'When I started working on the show over three years ago, I thought: what does London need? It needs a forest! Then I thought you should be able to go into the forest and touch it and it will have some sort of sexuality.'
So we can touch the sculptures?
'That’s where it gets complicated. It's actually really okay to touch 'Blindsight' (2014). It's made from petrified wood, which is confusing because it looks exactly like wood but it's stone. There's this cognitive dissonance to it. Also, you can't fathom its age: it’s 30 million years old and that pulls you into a different kind of space, to think about something that prefigures humans and history. It's like a witness in the gallery space.'
But you've bolted an I-beam to it!
'Yeah, I love I-beams. There is something very elegant and awkward about them.'
The works vary from raw to slick textures. Is variety important to you?
'I want to have a variety of different feeling tones, that's part of the use of materials. Rusty metal, for example, is really substantial, which is partly about romance and violence. Sometimes, though, it’s totally a slick finish fetish.'
In previous shows you've referred to or worked with other creative figures. Why go it alone here?
'This is an unusual exhibition for me because there's no other artist or author in it. One of the shaping principals in making this show was not to have any other direct reference points. It partly addresses referentiality in art, which is a habit of our time. When we look at artworks, we have a tendency to see the constitute elements, do a DNA analysis, and say: "It's part Brancusi and Jeff Koons". There is a reductionism that happens with that, whereas I'm trying to make things that suggest a different type of viewing that solicits certain types of referential readings, but then frustrates them so they never sit comfortably and get resolved.'
Some of the steel works are colourful. Is that a new development?
'I wanted to have colour in the show. Sometimes everything is so brown and tasteful, and I wanted something that is tacky and harsher. They also look like what they are, but in a way they don't. I think they look very spontaneous, soft, and as if they've been made in an easy way, which is true. But they're not soft, they're pretty thick steel. I have a hydraulic press in the studio that you can just put them into and crank on it to manipulate the form.'
That sounds satisfying.
'At a certain point last year I thought I wanna start crushing things. Crushing things is really fun!'