Sophie Ryder: Monumental


Remember the huge sculptures of hares that sprang up in Bath a couple of years ago? Well, the artist, Sophie Ryder, is back with even more monumental pieces at Bristol’s RWA.

There is a distinct multiplicity to Sophie Ryder’s work, achieved through the use of different media and techniques to represent repeated forms, most notably hares. By including many mediums, attention is drawn to the processes used to make the work. This gives Ryder’s art a memory – a memory of what it has been and where it has come from. The emphasis on the artistic process is important because it adds to the prominent presence of the artist within the work; Ryder is not only the creator but also the subject matter of many pieces because the sculptures are modelled upon her own body. She is simultaneously inside and outside of the artwork, dualities are constantly at play.

The exhibition is full of ‘internal’ echoes in terms of forms, themes, processes and production. Some pieces are repeated with subtle differences while others experience huge changes in scale. The viewer feels enclosed in a world of repetition. The changes make us see each form in a slightly different way, an effect of defamiliarisation. Ryder plays with our senses, questioning the act of ‘seeing’ and thwarting expectations by constantly showing shapes anew. Indeed, there is always an element of surprise, pushed to the verge of discomfort most pertinently in her installation Temple to the 200 Rabbits.

Ryder’s work specifically asks us to question and think afresh about the form and structure of the female human body. Often, Ryder combines a female body with the head – or mask – of a hare, an uncertain identity that ignites the curiosity of the viewer. The anatomy is slightly distorted, an increased limb length or muscle bulk to convey the athletic power associated with hares. This destabilizes preconceptions about female physicality as weak and delicate. By both evoking and challenging different myths a contradictory sense of being is created, giving these sculptures a sense of fragility and liminality. Their vulnerability is increased because the figures are simultaneously exposed to the viewer’s curiosity and hidden from it by the (literal and metaphorical) masks they wear.

The hares appear introverted; they are either in dialogue with another body (often that of a dog), or concerned with – and enclosed within – their own forms. Many of them are caught in moments of embrace or dance. We see them caught up in their own inner worlds, encourageing the viewer to imagine these worlds and engage with the artwork creatively.
The prominence, and even interrogation, placed upon the body emphasizes the physicality of the Ryder’s work. Though it seems drenched in mythology (such as those surrounding hares, or the female body and fertility), reality and materiality are exposed too. This not only adds to the complexity of the pieces and their meanings, but also emphasizes the tension between being ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, where one is torn between two different states of being. In this way, the hare sculptures hint not only at the multiplicity of character but also to dichotomies of being and becoming, the real and theatrical, and authenticating and performing experience.

Sitting Lady Hare Wall Piece is the only sculpture in the exhibition in a fragmented form – all the other sculptures have rounded, finished appearances regardless of whether they depict a whole figure or just a limb or detail (such as Nell’s Eye orSleeping Feet). Sitting Lady Hare Wall Piece therefore conveys a sense of transience – of simultaneously being present and yet only in part. It looks like it could disintegrate at any moment.

The artworks in Monumental resonate powerfully with one another, constantly unsetting and refocusing the eye. There is much to take in and think about. Many connections are waiting to be made between not only the works themselves, but also between art and life, art and mythology, and the human and non-human (or even non-humane).

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