THROW­ING SHAPES

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Lizzie Gore-Grimes meets sculp­tor Eva Roth­schild, the artist cho­sen to rep­re­sent Ire­land at this year’s Venice Bi­en­nale

LIZZIE GORE-GRIMES meets sculp­tor Eva Roth­schild, the artist cho­sen to rep­re­sent Ire­land

at the Venice Bi­en­nale, to talk in­ter­na­tional suc­cess, rais­ing boys and tak­ing up space.

I’ve ar­ranged to meet sculp­tor Eva Roth­schild in the Shel­bourne Ho­tel and it’s fair to say I’m feel­ing suit­ably in­tim­i­dated. And so I should be. Eva is one of Ire­land’s most in­ter­na­tion­ally suc­cess­ful artists; her work is col­lected and ex­hib­ited from New York to Am­s­ter­dam and Mi­lan to New Zealand and this May sees her cel­e­brated as the artist cho­sen to rep­re­sent Ire­land in the Venice Bi­en­nale – one of the most im­por­tant in­ter­na­tional show­cases for con­tem­po­rary art in the world.

We’ve never met be­fore but the mo­ment she walks in I know it’s her. Dressed in easy den­ims and a faded navy sweat­shirt, em­bla­zoned with bright shards of colour, she is ef­fort­lessly in­ter­est­ing look­ing with heavy framed state­ment glasses and close cropped dark hair. As soon as she sits, she puts me at ease as we do what Dublin­ers do and spend a few min­utes trac­ing all the var­i­ous peo­ple we have in com­mon and con­clude that there’s barely one de­gree in it af­ter all.

But then Eva is not some­one who stands on cer­e­mony or sees her prac­tice as an artist as a rar­efied thing. Ten min­utes be­fore we met I had been glued to YouTube watch­ing a clip of a film she made called Boys and Sculp­ture for The Whitechape­l Gallery, Lon­don in 2012.

In the video you see a group of boys, aged be­tween nine and 12, en­ter the ex­hi­bi­tion space where sev­eral pieces of Eva’s work are dis­played. The sculp­tures are strik­ing – some spindly and del­i­cate, some more spher­i­cal and sturdy – each ex­ud­ing a slightly alien yet playful pres­ence. At first the boys are nervous, giddy, dart­ing from one thing to the next, eager to as­sess the space and these un­usual com­pelling forms. Af­ter a while a few gather in a group around one par­tic­u­lar piece. You watch with bated breath... un­til one boy does what you know he will. He prods it. And so the rip­ple ef­fect kicks in. Ten­ta­tive at first, they are then all com­pelled by cause­and-ef­fect cu­rios­ity to see how far they can, lit­er­ally, push the pieces. Even though the YouTube clip is only an ab­bre­vi­ated five minute ver­sion of the full 25 minute video piece, be­fore it fin­ishes cer­tain sculp­tures lie in a heap on the floor while oth­ers have been dis­man­tled and are be­ing tossed in pieces be­tween the boys.

At the out­set of that video piece, Eva sim­ply told the boys that once they had fin­ished ex­plor­ing the work with their eyes, they

were free to touch it, and, cru­cially, she added that they would not get into trou­ble. “As the mother of three young boys I was in­trigued to see how it would un­fold. I was curious to ex­plore our gen­dered re­la­tion­ship with space: the con­cept that boys, and men, are more con­fi­dent in the ma­te­rial, phys­i­cal world. There is a cer­tain will to power in re­la­tion to the phys­i­cal world that I see as male while the fe­male trait is more ten­ta­tive.”

Eva was also keen to play with the idea of trans­for­ma­tion of ma­te­ri­als. “There is an idea that once you cre­ate a piece of art, a paint­ing or a sculp­ture, it is then set. Im­per­me­able. Other el­e­ments in our life: clothes, elec­tron­ics, fur­ni­ture pass through stages of wear, use and re­dun­dancy; whereas art is an eter­nal pres­ence. Or is it?

“Each piece I make is made up of el­e­ments,” Eva con­tin­ues. “I wanted to see what would hap­pen if the work went through a fur­ther trans­for­ma­tion at the hands of the boys.” Eva goes on to ex­plain that the full 25 minute video piece re­veals all sorts of fas­ci­nat­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal and so­ci­o­log­i­cal pat­terns as the older

play with,” re­calls Eva. “Kirsty asked me to think about what I re­ally wanted to make, and I replied: “I’m think­ing a se­ries of tri­an­gles, made out of per­spex, like gi­ant Swiss cheese, all stacked to­gether” – so that’s what we did. It marked a real leap for me as an artist – from not want­ing to take up space to rel­ish­ing tak­ing up space.”

But she doesn’t do it all by her­self. Eva laughs good-na­turedly when she thinks of peo­ple ask­ing her how she makes her work. “I have been asked that ques­tion in re­la­tion to my sculp­ture in the Du­veen Gallery [an ex­traor­di­nar­ily am­bi­tious lin­ear sculp­ture that stretches nearly the full length of the neo­clas­si­cal gal­leries in The Tate Bri­tain]. I didn’t make it, is the sim­ple an­swer! It’s over 70 me­tres long and weighs over 1.8 tonnes. I worked with a team of en­gi­neers, fab­ri­ca­tors and in­stall­ers, as an ar­chi­tect works with a team of builders.”

To­day Eva works with a tight team in her stu­dio work­shop in Hack­ney in East Lon­don. “I have four peo­ple who work with me very reg­u­larly and then we pull in oth­ers with spe­cial­ist skills where needed. The lovely thing about this up­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion at the Venice Bi­en­nale is that for the first time we will all travel as a team to the ex­hi­bi­tion space and be in­volved in the in­stal­la­tion to­gether – along with curator Mary Cremin – and be there with the work while it is on view. I’m de­lighted ev­ery­one gets to share the full ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Other than that, Eva is not al­lowed to say much more about the ac­tual work that will be re­vealed in the Ir­ish pavil­ion in Venice on May 11. “You’ll just have to come to Venice to see it for your­self,” she fin­ishes. How I wish, but whether I make it over to the la­goon or not, I am cer­tain that the work will res­onate with strength and pres­ence, wit and flair, as its cre­ator does. boys break off pieces of sculp­ture to bran­dish as swords and guns, while the younger ones start to pick up the dis­man­tled art­work and re­build it into new forms, which the older boys then move in to de­stroy. Lord of the Flies in vis­ual art form.

There is an un­flinch­ing in­tel­li­gence in Eva’s steady gaze as we chat; she is clearly a woman who knows ex­actly what she wants to ex­press and how to ex­press it – traits that no doubt have played a huge role in es­tab­lish­ing her as one of the world’s fore­most con­tem­po­rary sculp­tors. “I op­er­ate in a world of power tools, spray paint, con­crete and metal,” she says. “Yet I went to an all girls’ pri­vate school in Dublin, where there was sim­ply no al­lowance for my in­ter­ests. Other than Home Economics there was no op­por­tu­nity to study ‘mak­ing’ of any kind. But hope­fully this is chang­ing. I was so ex­cited when I saw my sons’ GCSE choices come in and there was a sub­ject called ‘re­sis­tant ma­te­ri­als’ – ob­vi­ously open to the girls as much as the boys as they go to a mixed school.”

Af­ter school Eva went on to study fine art in Belfast. “The great thing about The Uni­ver­sity of Ul­ster de­gree course,” ex­plains Eva, “is that it was an open fine art course, which is quite rare, so I got to ex­per­i­ment with dif­fer­ent gen­res. I loved print-mak­ing but was drawn to sculp­ture.”

Af­ter Belfast, Eva moved to Glas­gow and cred­its this pe­riod in her life as cru­cial to her de­vel­op­ment as an artist. “Dur­ing my time in Glas­gow, I be­came in­volved with the Trans­mis­sion Gallery and found my­self sur­rounded by a dy­namic group of peo­ple who had a real sense of agency around their prac­tice. It meant that, cre­atively for me, there was no slump af­ter my col­lege years.”

The mo­ment that Eva re­calls as piv­otal in es­tab­lish­ing her as a large-scale sculp­tor was in 2000 when she was pre­par­ing for a show in The Show­room in Lon­don with curator Kirsty

Ogg. “It was the first time there was a lit­tle bit of bud­get to

“There is an idea that once you cre­ate a piece of art, a paint­ing or a sculp­ture, it is

then set. Im­per­me­able. Or is it?”

Venice Bi­en­nale runs from May 11 to Novem­ber 24, la­bi­en­nale.org; cul­tureire­land.ie/venice Ice­berg Hits ex­hi­bi­tion, Lon­don, 2018 ABOVE The Fal­low­field marks Eva’s first foray into ta­pes­try weav­ing, 2018

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