Architerior talked to London based artist Zuza Mengham about her colourful resin sculptures to learn more about the stories and techniques that lie behind her popular artworks.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself, Zuza?
I am 28, live in London and I’m half English, half Polish.
How did you find your way to working with art?
I always spent a lot of time creating in my childhood and the enjoyment never really waned. I studied Sculpture at Wimbledon College of Art in London and spent my degree squirreled away in the metal workshop, welding steel into sculptures as big as I could find space for (or not – I had to destroy a lot of them because they were so big). After my degree I worked as an artist assistant and installation technician for galleries for nine years. A big reason for that was that I wanted to learn to make things with as many materials as possible, so that I could get to the point where materials and processes were in no way an obstacle, but instead an influence and motivation for exploration.
You are famous for your resin sculptures – please tell us more about the idea and technically how they are made.
The way in which the resins are manufactured means they are shaped by a mould, cast and excavated again. As resin shrinks, then I loosen the layers at a certain decisive point and the work has to be knocked back again, re-shaped, gouged out and unearthed. I like to think of it as mirroring its natural gemstone or mineral counterparts.
A large interest for me redarding the resin sculptures is the recurrent point of catalysis. Everything revolves around the possibilities, which exist in this window of time and opportunity. A genuine exploration of the materials comes about by allowing the natural densities of each material to drop and rise according to innate characteristics and characteristic movements. It is only during the working process that one can discover how these materials might marble, if they are capable of marbling, and how they might sink in layers and so on.
How do your artworks connect to or disconnect from the history of sculpting?
There is definitely a little reference to historical sculpting. I love a lot of the metal work that came from sculptors during the 60s. There is a distinct sensitivity to the weight and balance of the material and the way in which the aesthetic conveys the unapologetic burden of its density and its strengths defying its elemental forces.
Are you interested in ancient sculpting also or do you stay in the modern era when searching for inspiration?
I think I do keep certain ancient sculpting aspects in mind when creating, for instance the idea of contrapposto, which originated from Italian sculpture when they would carve complex figures from a single block of stone. The idea was that there would be a base element which was made to look like a tree stump or something similar, which would act as an anchor of the weight. The rest of the work needed to stay in balance to keep an even distribution on any stress points. If the right leg was forward then the hips should twist and the left arms should be pinned back a little. Not only did it keep it physically balanced but aesthetically balanced and dynamic. Most of all it created a sense of mid-movement, or the intention of flow. Even though my sculptures are geometric I like to use the idea of the physical balance to evoke a sense of movement and captured energy.
How do you determine the colours of the sculptures – is it on purpose or by accident?
The colours always depend on what I’m trying to communicate with the project and then turn ito the individual piece’s story. For instance during the project Laboratory Perfumes I needed to think about the perfumes ingredients and how to convey them in colour. Colour plays such a vital part in people’s visual recognition. Gorse was an interesting one in this respect as it smells like zesty coconut from the gorse flowers infused, but using a white-and-brown coconut colour scheme wouldn’t describe the character of the scent effectively, so I decided to focus on clear yellow for the citrus part and soften it out with pastels in pink, grey and milky white to try to characterise its qualities without going too literal. Others are slightly more direct; Tonka has pink pepper and tonka beans, and I felt like it needed to be energetic and exotic. Various hues of orange and pink describe the mandarin and pepper, and by keeping the majority of the sculpture clear, it enables the light to pass through and keep the orange fiery and luminous.
Which of your sculptures, or other artworks you’ve done, would you say is your absolute favourite, and why?
I really loved working on the As Above, So Beneath project because it was a personal project I was really interested in exploring. Each of the powdered materials in the sculptures was linked to a turning point in societal advancement and a change in the cultural landscape. They link to the means by which different civilizations have earthed their own systems of agriculture, manufacture, economy, science and religious practice in the substances of the earth. Each sculpture refers specifically to materials caught up in definitive crucial moments of catalysis in human history. The series is comprised of six materials: Copper, Bronze, Iron, Slate, Marble and Salt. All of these are sourced by means of one kind of excavation or another. They are tied to the earth and the excavation of the earth and epitomize the accumulated layers of minerals that humans have tapped into, creating bonds of significance between the landscapes of human history and the geology of the earth. I was thinking about how archaeology has made use of the terms, the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age to indicate the physical basis of human progress marked through historical time in tool-making technologies. So I created each piece by using the materials in powdered form to explore their characteristics visually, allowing each material to drop or spread as it wanted to naturally to accentuate the stories and densities which lead to its uses.
What is the best thing about sculpting, compared to other art forms?
I think sculptors create because they have a joy of creating something with their hands. I make all my work myself and don’t outsource any elements because I love to make them. If there is a new material to work with I figure it out myself so it has my own language, and I hope that can be seen in the work. When you have a piece of sculpture in front of you there are clues to the fabrication and style of the maker. I love painting and drawing too but for me sculpture offers the opportunity to create an awareness of oneself in their given surrounding. You have to move around the sculpture, it forces you to encompass it and its character changes drastically depending on what kind of light it sits within. There is something meditative about it because it exists very much in your space. Also, my work has always been seated in a deep preoccupation with materials, how things work, why certain materials react the way they do, what you can create at a material’s point of volatility, fragility, and capturing the momentary. I think working in metal in the past was deeply tied in with these ideas. Steel needs to be manipulated quickly under immense heat, and you have a small window of time and then the outcome is very permanent. This same interest in this momentary point of permanency is also fundamental in the way I work with resin, which I started seriously experimenting with around a year ago. There is something innately human in sculpture because you are always offering up a sense of time in a piece. Whether capturing a moment or manipulating a material, you are conjuring a sense of its process and creating a juncture from the ideas into the physical world.
What are you working on right now, and what type of art can we expect from you in the future?
I’m currently working on a new series of Jesmonite sculptures to release in the next month or so. I’m really excited about these as Jesmonite is an amazing material and I love how you can create beautiful and varied characteristics. It’s very versatile and I’m really enjoying the different textures you can achieve in it.
See Zuza’z artworks at the upcoming Affordable Art Fair in Stockholm 12-15 October.
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