I have always made stuff and played around with photography and image making … I make work that explores ideas or a narrative, that fluctuates between objects and images
Sandra Crisp LG: “Pin-hole cameras or magnetised iron filings atop a bar of soap are just some of the unusual materials employed in your sculptural interventions, and installations. For Waterloo Festival 2021, you’ve made ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ 7 metres high and suspended in St. John’s churchyard, created using discarded laughing gas bulbs collected from nearby parks and streets during lockdown. Your work has been described by Dave C. Smith as “[a] summation of qualities of aptness & economy & directness & banality & weirdness!” so it will be very interesting to hear more detail about your techniques and approaches.”
Paul Tecklenberg: “When you invited me to write a piece about the varied processes, materials and techniques I use, it gave me an opportunity to reflect upon my practice. I have always made stuff and played around with photography and image making. If I was to describe my process, I would say I make work that explores ideas or a narrative, that fluctuates between objects and images and there is usually a metamorphosis or transformation of the everyday into something that is profound, insightful or just funny. Aesthetics and the sensitivity I have with the materials I use are important. My practice is broad and covers pinhole, photogram and film based photography, sound art, video, installation, sculpture, silkscreen printing, fabrication and casting, but not painting. The materials I use can vary from bars of soap, sticks, wood, mirrors, concrete, plaster, silver nitrate bulbs, magnets, iron filings, and discarded plastic to the contents of a kitchen cupboard and a bathroom cabinet
“During the first lockdown, I found hundreds of shiny nitric oxide bottles, also known as ‘laughing gas’ bulbs, discarded in parks and housing estates in Peckham. I started to collect them to make sculptures, mindful that they are perfect vessel to carry the virus. Chefs use them to make foam and kids use them to get high. I made many false starts trying to join them with threaded rods, glue and magnets but it wasn’t working for me. They are charged objects. I was invited by Harry Pye to be in a show called ‘Smile”. This nudged me to make ‘Ha! Ha!’ I cast concrete into a squashed milk bottle and used the laughing gas bulbs as eyes and teeth. I like the dullness of the concrete against the shiny silver bulbs and the brutal humour. It effortlessly ‘floats’ on the wall even though they are very heavy. The handle doubles up as a broken nose.
“This was my breakthrough moment, which lead onto making an escape ladder by threading the bulbs with stainless steel cable. I didn’t know how many I had, so I weighed ten, which came to 210 grams, 21 grams each, and the weight of the soul according to Dr Duncan MacDougall. This inspired me to call it ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ and this will be on show at St John’s church, Waterloo as part of ‘Coming Up For Air’ sculpture exhibition for The Waterloo Festival June 2021, curated by The London Group members, Clive Burton and Bill Watson. I like the rigidity of the columns next to the fluid movement of the ladder by the wind and the poignancy that it is out of reach installed very high up in front of the church’s main entrance.
“The 21 gram bulb was significant because I made a body of work that explored what the soul could be through 21 objects that all weigh 21 grams. The work was based on research by Dr Duncan MacDougall who discovered in 1907 that the weight of the human body drops by 21 grams on average at the moment of death – The work is an object and text piece to find out what 21 grams actually looks like. It included: A roll of film, two fig leaves, a small book about angels, 42 headache tablets, a memory card from a PlayStation2, piece of coal, AA battery, hair, two walnuts and a piece of string, a lighter, a light bulb, thermometer, mirror, candle, sperm, glass vessel, ash, pack of tissues, three coins, iron filings, space ice cream and a bird with text that adds meaning to the objects. The objects and text were exhibited 2009 at the Swedenborg Society behind glass cabinets on bookshelves. Emmanuel Swedenborg was a scientist and a mystic who, through trance, went to heaven and hell and described his experiences of the soul and the afterlife – The work chimed with this environment.
“I was then invited by Vanya Balogh to show in an underground circular car park. It was a soulless place and there were over 200 artists participating, I showed 21 prints of ‘21 Grams’. It was a quiet piece but visitors who did look, spent time reading every one. I do embrace the environment a work is exhibited in and the restrictions it sometimes poses and I see this as part of the creative process.
“In ‘Soul Sessions’, an exhibition with Melissa Alley at St. John’s on Bethnal Green church, we were not allowed to drill into the walls because it is a listed building so I had to find a new way to show ’21 grams’ – I created a slide show and projected that onto the wall. The context of the space, for me, referenced the story of King Belshazzar’s banquet and the appearance of a hand writing on the wall. On the strength of this piece, Michael Roberts invited me to show in ‘Madeleine’ at Patrick Heide gallery. It wasn’t possible to show the slides or all 21 prints, so I reformatted the work as a video piece.
“During the many lockdowns, I had more time in the studio and I realized how much I value artists and curators who have invited me to participate in shows and how this is a catalyst that pushes my art and practice forward.”
Paul Tecklenberg LG, 2021
‘Coming up for Air’, The London Group and Friends exhibition, St John’s Church Garden, Waterloo SE1 8TY 9th June 2021 – 27th June 2021
‘In the Dark III: Being There’ The London Group exhibition The Crypt at St John’s, Sat 19 June – Sun 27 Jun 2021