Caged in

Amassing components for my Headstock I realized that I had two conflicting ideas for this piece. On the one hand I wanted to expand the mechanism and free it from its compression, on the other I wanted to keep it contained. After much research into support options and regret that I don’t have welding skills, I came across the gabion – a flat-packed, steel mesh cage designed to be put together and filled with rocks for landscaping purposes. The mesh was strong enough to support the reclamation yard finds, but thin enough not to dominate.


head gabion (2)

I started playing with positioning the three main axles so that there was interest from each side.

And then adding felt elements to them and considering the space as a whole. There were various configurations and it felt like moving furniture into a new house and then deciding which spaces were cluttered and which looked bare and needed more interest.

head positioning 2

Complex plans began to emerge, and not for the first time, did I feel that CAD skills might have been helpful!

head sketchbook

A friend popped in and asked me if it was going to ‘work’ as a machine. I was flattered by his ambition for the piece – it wasn’t possible..welll…not in the time scale for this exhibition…but it made me look at ways to link some of the elements and I returned to an earlier idea of felting drive belts.

head 4

I knew where this piece was to be positioned in the museum, and was keen for people to move around it in a way they cannot move around the actual headstock. That brought other considerations. Firstly that there should be elements which lead the viewer round from one face of the cage to the next.

head 11

And secondly that there should be holes in the cage to draw the viewer in to the internal life of the machine and also to allow the ‘machine’ to burst out in places. Holes needed to be positioned carefully so as not to compromise strength where it was needed. Thus far, the cage had only been held together with twisted metal foodbag ties, so dismantling was easy. Four hours in the sunshine with a hacksaw gave me the alterations I needed…and a few blisters.

Putting it back together needed a more permanent solution than foodbag ties! I wanted strength without too much bulk. In terms of appearance also some textural interest would be good and I needed to lose the incongruous shiny silver colour. After much thought, experimentation and a high dose of inspiration from one of my sculptural heroes, Phyllida Barlow, I gathered ammunition.

head materials

So I bound the edges with gardening wire, bound them with plasterers’ jointing mesh and added bonding plaster.

head bonding plaster

Once that was dry, time to undercoat, spray and hand paint to distress.

head priming

Process heavy, but worth the result!

head faux rebar

Time to reassemble now, to balance felt with metal, reconsider flow, work on the finer details and consider how to make it safe and durable for inquisitive little visitors’ fingers.

Still some way to go…but it’s coming together!

2 thoughts on “Caged in

  1. Another fascinating insight into your thought processes. I love that you plan to allow visitors to touch.


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