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Materials and surfaces: reflecting the landscape

These two sculptures were made for landscape settings. Both are formed of abstract shapes and both can be described as reflecting the landscape, but they look very different.

 

Henry Moore used the shapes and forms he saw in nature as inspiration for his sculpture: bones, rocks and stones, and the forms of the landscape itself. Large Two Forms is made from cast bronze. (You can find out more about Henry Moore's inspiration in this Tate resource.)

Still by Daniel Tyler and Angus Ritchie is a cube shape, open on two opposite faces, and with mirrored internal surfaces. The sculpture frames the mountains of the Highland landscape where it is sited. It is constructed from a timber framework, with polished stainless steel sheets attached to its surfaces.

Activity: compare and contrast

Ask your students to compare the sculptures. If helpful, use these prompt questions to get the discussion going:

  • how are the sculptures different?
  • are there any similarities?
  • think of words to describe each sculpture
  • what relationship do the sculptures have to the landscape they are located in?
  • how do you think the different surfaces change how we see the landscape?

Question guidelines

  • The sculptures are very different in form, materials and how they were made. The forms of Large Two Forms are rounded and organic, while Still has straight lines – and is more obviously a man-made structure.
  • The sculptures are similar in that they are both abstract shapes and both frame the landscape. Henry Moore often included holes in his sculpture, through which the landscape can be seen and in this way becomes part of the work.
  • The sculptures both reflect the landscape – but in very different ways. Henry Moore takes inspiration from landscape forms, so his sculpture reflects the landscape in this way. Still reflects the landscape in a much more literal sense – with the mirrored surface reflecting the mountains surrounding it.
  • Large Two Forms, with its rounded organic shape, seems to blend into the landscape. It looks like a huge rock or ancient monument that has always been there. The straight lines and shiny surface of Still have very little to do with the landscape. But because the reflected landscape can be seen in the sculpture, it becomes part of it. Still also distorts the landscape and makes us see it in new ways.

Rob Mulholland's mirrored sculptures

Elementals

Elementals

sculpture by Rob Mulholland (b.1962)

Sculptor and environmental artist Rob Mulholland primarily works with stainless steel. While some of his sculptures play with the material's structural potential, others exploit its reflective properties to mirror the environments they are placed within and the people who encounter them.

With your class, watch this short video of Mulholland's mirrored figures in a woodland setting.

Discuss the installation shown in the video with your students. Ask them to consider:

  • how is the landscape reflected in the sculptures?
  • imagine the sculptures in different landscape and townscape settings – how would the different settings change how the sculptures look?

Environment and meaning

Explore more mirrored sculptures with your class.

Discuss the sculptures as a group. You could consider:

  • who or what is likely to be reflected in the mirrored surfaces of each sculpture
  • how the artists have constructed the sculptures to best reflect the environment (think about the shape, the size and the angle of the sculptures)
  • how the shape of the sculptures affect how you respond to them (do you react differently to the sculptures that are shaped like figures than to the abstract sculptures?)
  • how the artists have used the titles of the sculptures to direct the viewers' response to the work
  • which of the sculptures do you like best? Why?

Sculpture in focus: ‘The Teardrop – Holocaust Memorial'

The Teardrop – Holocaust Memorial, 2015, commemorates the murder of 57 Jews in Bury St Edmunds on Palm Sunday, 19 March 1190. It takes the form of a stainless steel teardrop, a universal symbol of human suffering and sorrow. The teardrop stands on a round, brick base in-filled with 57 cobbles – one for each life remembered.

The Teardrop – Holocaust Memorial

The Teardrop – Holocaust Memorial

Abbey, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Discuss the sculpture with your students and why they think the reflective surface is important to the meaning of the sculpture. What (or who) is likely to be reflected in the surface of the sculpture?

The sculpture was commissioned by The Memorial Garden Trust. A spokesman for the Trust explained the idea behind the sculpture:

'The teardrop is a natural and universal symbol of pity and persecution, of human suffering and sorrow. It is made from polished stainless steel; its mirrored surface reflects back to us the role we all must play in opposing humanity's inhumanity.'

Activity: make a mirrored sculpture

Rob Mulholland (b.1962)

'Passage' installed at Douglas Academy, Milngavie

Rob Mulholland (b.1962)

Taking inspiration from the sculptures of Rob Mulholland, this activity involves making a mirrored sculpture for an outdoor location. It is inspired by a workshop that the artist led at Douglas Academy in Milngavie.

Materials

Students will need:

  • a pencil or pen
  • thick card – recycle where possible! (Or mirrored card, if you have it)
  • mirrored gift wrap or kitchen foil (if you don't have mirrored card)
  • glue or double-sided tape

Instructions

These activity instructions are written for students to follow.

1. Do a recce – explore locations!

Walk around the outside of the school building. Look at the different areas (plants, surfaces, buildings, bins, etc.) and think about possible locations to site your mirrored sculpture.

Artist Rob Mulholland with students of Douglas Academy, Milngavie

Artist Rob Mulholland with students of Douglas Academy, Milngavie

2. Draw out your sculpture and cut out your shape

Back in the classroom, draw the shape of your sculpture on your card. This could be an abstract shape or a figure or a plant shape. Cut out your shape.

Students designing their own mirror sculptures

Students designing their own mirror sculptures

Tip: think about where you will put your sculpture: in a garden or plant pot? On a path or paved area? Near a structure, or in the middle of nowhere? The location, and what your sculpture will reflect, might affect the shape that you choose!

3. Make it shiny!

If you’re using kitchen foil, wrap the foil around the card cut-out. Try and keep the foil as flat as possible so it's as reflective as possible. One side is usually more reflective than the other, so make sure this is the visible side. If you're using wrapping paper, place the card cut-out on the non-shiny side and trace the outline of your shape; cut the paper shape out, glue it and then stick it in place.

If you plan to stick your sculpture in soil or a plant pot, tape a rod or stick to the back of it.

Cutting out shapes and sticking on reflective surfaces

Cutting out shapes and sticking on reflective surfaces

4. 3D variations

You could make a three-dimensional sculpture by creating multiple cut-outs in your card that slot together, or make a spiral shape that pulls out.

You could also try wrapping foil around objects to create mirrored 3D sculptures!

Students at Douglas Academy explore making three-dimensional shapes

Students at Douglas Academy explore making three-dimensional shapes

5. You’re ready to go! 

Once you're happy with your sculpture try it in your planned outdoor location and photograph it from different angles.

You could also try it in various different locations around your school, or a local park or garden.

  • What can you see reflected in your sculpture?
  • Does it change how you see the environment around the sculpture?
  • How does it change in different locations?
  • Can you make it disappear?!

Try placing your sculpture among plants to make it disappear

Try placing your sculpture among plants to make it disappear

Extension activities

Discover more mirrored sculptures

This would work well as a homework or individual research/sketchbook project. Ask your students to choose a sculpture that includes or uses mirrors or mirrored surfaces. They could choose one of the artworks included in this resource or one they have researched themselves. (Yayoi Kusama, Cerith Wyn Evans, Robert Morris, and Anish Kapoor are some of the artists on Art UK's website who have used mirrored surfaces in their work.) Task your students with researching:

  • the artist who made the sculpture
  • the form or structure of the sculpture and materials used
  • where it is sited (was it designed for an outdoor location or made to be seen in a gallery?)
  • the artist's aims – why they used a mirrored surface
  • what your students like about the sculpture or why they chose it

Explore Land Art

Many of the mirrored sculptures included in this resource were placed in landscape settings, with the artists interested in how the reflected surfaces interact with and change how we see the environment.

In the 1960s and 1970s, artists began to experiment with using the landscape itself to make art. Explore Land Art with your class. Here are some useful links and resources:

Art UK – art term: Land Art
What is Land Art? A HENI Talks video
A series of short videos about Andy Goldsworthy



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