Bronze - Permanant sculpture
1200 x 60 cms
Both comic and provocative, Nail is a 12 metre bronze sculpture, treated as the title implies, to appear like a giant rusty nail. Standing at the entrance French architect, Jean Paul Nouvel’s shiny glass shopping centre, One New Change with the grand sixteenth century architecture of St Paul’s cathedral in the background, Nail is hammered between the ancient and modern. At the intersection of these two worlds, Nail is a nostalgic recollection of tools traditionally used by the construction industry and favoured by Turk’s archetypal white van man, now of less and less necessity in the modern architecture of One New Change. Its rustiness, meanwhile underscores the uselessness of this once useful object, while also suggesting the creep of the natural into the territory of the man-made. Not only a literal object, the nail doubles as a psychological object which suggests “nail in the coffin” and “nailed to the cross.” Rather more humorously, viewed from a certain angle, Nail appears to pin One New Change into the ground, although viewed from other angles, it hints at the empty space where what was nailed has long since been removed. A giant magnification of a miniature object, the closer the viewer stands to Nail, the more comically abstract the object appears, as by contrast, both the viewer and its surroundings appear to shrink.
Interview with Louisa Buck:
What made you choose an oversized nail as the subject for this sculpture?
The nail fitted for me because it’s a symbolic object that you can attach meanings to: it’s a floating signifier that can stand in place of things. It’s almost like something that might appear in dreams, a kind of psychoanalytical object. It’s immediately recognizable, although due to its scale if you get close to it you won’t be able to see what it is, it becomes abstract and you’ll only really be able to see it at a distance. It was also to do with being asked to get involved in an architectural exercise and thinking about architecture and construction and, within that, the nail itself. I don’t think nails would have had much of a role in the making of this building!
So it’s quite nostalgic in a way?
It’s totally nostalgic! Also the fact that the nail is coming out of the ground is a sign that maybe something else – a larger piece of wood or material – was being pinned by that nail and has now been removed, so it almost talks about the space around the thing itself and the nail becomes like a kind of gap or hole.
Is it based on any particular kind of nail?
In fact it’s a nail for wood but I see it as an archetype, the most generalized form of nail. I want the viewer to feel that they can understand it in their own way – that they can understand it more generally rather than having to feel specific about it. Had it been, say, a square nail for a floorboard, a horseshoe nail or an upholstery tack it’s particular purpose might stop you from being able to think more widely about it. It’s function is to be a nail and nothing else.
Is it important that this is a rusty nail and so appears to carry a previous history?
The rustiness talks about the use and function of the thing itself. It implies that it has already been used and so now is not that useful. If it had been a newish nail it would have been more about its potential use, whereas by being already rusty it can only get more rusty still. The fact of it looking like its been there for longer than anything else in the surrounding area offsets against the new modern glass building; and I was also interested in the idea of involving a natural process to suggest the idea of the elements interfering with a man- made thing.
How did you decide the scale?
I wanted it to be big enough so there’s a point where you come into contact with it, you can touch it but you can’t see the whole sculpture. It vanishes as a nail and it just becomes a tree, a kind of organic pole or column where you can only see the intricate surface. It has a kind of Claes Oldenberg slapstick comedy to it as well, just enlarging the size of something has the effect of miniaturizing everything else around it: there’s a kind of comic element to it, it’s possible to imagine a huge hammer banging it in.
You’ve cast other everyday objects in bronze – apple cores, spent matches, dustbin bags. By casting the most ordinary of ordinary nails in bronze are you playing with and off the whole art historical heritage of such a grand monumental medium?
I think that Nail is quite self consciously a sculpture. What I tend to do is cast something in bronze and then paint it back to look like the object that it formerly was, whereas in this case I’m creating this nail in bronze then patinating it using a heat process and various ferric patinas to make it look like a rusty nail. In itself this is a process that’s developed for putting things outside, a bonded surface which will keep it looking rusty – although its not going to rust any more. I’m not making it out of Corten steel like an Antony Gormley or a Richard Serra sculpture where the steel rusts to a surface and then seals it, because the rust would then be at a natural, small scale. What I wanted was to present rust on a large scale, so that the rust as well as the nail is blown up.
The nail also has a very specific Christian connotations, was this a factor in its conception?
It’s certainly an obvious point of reference and it may be a route into thinking about the piece, but I’m not necessarily talking about that. Of course I am very, very aware and conscious of St Paul’s and to do anything in this part of the city has to take the cathedral into consideration and to have a relationship with it. There was also a real concern about sightlines and looking through the building and still being able to see the cathedral and so on a formal level I found myself thinking about something tall and thin which could be positioned on the outside of the building. In a way it’s like a big marker to the site, saying ‘I am here’.
This is your first permanent outdoor public sculpture, did you approach it differently from your other work?
It is a very hard thing to do to make a successfully functioning public sculpture. You can either make something that’s acutely local and specific and part of the education of an area, or maybe you make something so abstract that everyone is equally unable to recognize it. I suppose I’ve done something in the middle: I’ve made something that is abstract when you are close by, but when you get further away you might recognize it as a giant nail. Quite often what happens is that people take a smaller sculpture and then blow it up really large to make a public sculpture – I took a rusty nail that was already made and I blew it up really big and hopefully that direct approach can be communicated to the person who recognizes that it is a nail. There’s one point where, at its slight 5ºangle, the nail seems to pin the building to the ground: the building has been described as some sort of stealth bomber and I like the idea that the nail is holding it down.