Sculpture: "no time like now"

Transformer and Red Cross

Two sculptures for Waitakere City

I was commissioned by Waitakere City in 2006 to make a sculpture for the new civic centre, and I responded with the work called Transformer that now stands outside the Japanese garden. At the time I indicated that there could be another element to the sculpture, a second stone, and in 2007 I was asked to proceed with that work, Red Cross, that now sits outside the café, across from the main staircase and the pou.

Both sculptures are made from the same stones, a grey basalt from South Canterbury, New Zealand and a red sandstone from Rajasthan, India.  The basalt came from the eruption of the volcano, Mt Horrible. The lava flowed more than 30 kilometers to reach the coast at Timaru, resulting in the gently-rolling hills and the coastal reefs that form the sheltered harbour. The porosity in the basalt comes from pockets of air which became entrapped in the molten lava as it flowed from the erupting volcano about two million years ago. 

One explanation of the standing stone Transformer is that it is an expression of a modern digital code imbedded in stone, but it could equally be an ancient core from the earth showing the sedimentary layers and revealing geological events from the past.

The Red Cross could reference the markers of place or the symbols of identity so important in our society, in the way that survey points delineate land boundaries, or perhaps it could represents “plus”, the mathematical sign for addition, or simply it could be itself - a red cross - the sign of succour and refuge.

Together, the two sculptures took over six months to make, and both represent important steps forward in my art practice, with Transformer (2.5 tonne) being the tallest and the Red Cross (3.2 tonne) being the largest sculptures that I have made to date.

While Transformer is tall and perhaps somewhat daunting on a human scale, the Red Cross is tactile and welcoming and I hope that people will want to sit on it, feel it, explore its wonderful porous texture and contemplate the ageless nature of stone and its place in the modern world.

John Edgar

May, 2008

Title: Transformer, 2006

Artist: John Edgar

Location: Civic Square, Waitakere City Council Precinct, Henderson Valley Rd, Waitakere

Dimensions: 4.2m x .5m x .5m, 2.9 tonnes

Kind of work: Stone sculpture ? a four-sided pillar with a pyramid-shaped apex

Media: Timaru Bluestone ? volcanic basalt from Canterbury, limestone and red  sandstone from Rajastan, India

Notes on technique: The sculpture is made up of 25 blocks which have been dried out at 20 degrees celsius, for three weeks. John and his assistants worked in a heated chamber, placing alternating bands of coloured stone from India between the layers of basalt and securing each layer with epoxy resin and weights. These stone laminates were then carved back to their final form. A steel rod runs through the length of the work.

In John’s greater body of work “he always either alters and enhances extant forms, or he dissects the stones and replaces parts of the form with materials like glass and other stone. His altering is done with immaculate precision, diamond blades, grinding wheels and carborundum and hard work are his tools. The amazing thing is you cannot see how he has done it. It is alchemy turning base stone into wonder... Edgar says in his catalogue notes: "… my primary objective was to work the stone so its aesthetic qualities would make it precious. A  transmutation of the base to the precious, a metamorphosis." (Galvan Macnamara, Sunday Star Times, Feb 02)

Subject matter: John describes the work variously as a digital totem, an obelisk, a standing stone and a landmark.

Compositional information: The coloured Indian stones are laminated, in alternating layers with the basalt, forming a pattern or ‘code’ not unlike a barcode.

Artist/s’ intention/what are they saying: John intended Transformer to “provide a link or intermediary between the human scale and the surrounding built environment… I wanted to come up with something greater than the human scale ? but less intimidating than a building.”

The ‘digital codes’ embedded in the pattern, echoing a bar code, is to be decoded by the viewer, transforming them into a barcode reader. The work poses many questions: ‘What do these codes mean, what is their coded message, these algorithms of undecipherable information?’ What does the artist mean to convey? What does any digital information mean? It is up to the viewer to decode, if at all. Transformer is in good company ? standing stones the world over do not easily reveal their meaning.

Civic context: Transformer provides a landmark or visual anchor to the adjoining Japanese garden, drawing people in. It also provides a visual connection when viewing the garden from the rail over-bridge. Transformer’s layered stones reflect the layering of the Japanese Garden elements and the concept of rock layering that also inspired the Civic Square design. John, long fascinated by the geological layering inherent in stone, calls stones “the bones of the land”.

Title: Red Cross, 2008

Location: Civic Square, Waitakere City Council Precinct, Henderson Valley Rd

 Dimensions: 1.5 x 1.5 x .6 metres, 2.5 tonnes

 Kind of work: Stone sculpture

 Media:  ­Timaru Bluestone ? volcanic basalt from Canterbury and red  sandstone from Rajastan, India.

 Notes on technique: The basalt and sandstone are laminated together, then carved back to their final form.

 Subject matter: This work draws on an ongoing series of work with ‘altered stones’, John has exhibited these stones with the title Calculus. John describes a similar work as “a remnant left from some long-eroded beach, high and dry, a memory of some time past when the world was inhabited by greater life forms”.

Compositional information: (layout, shapes, patterns, textures etc) Red standstone is laminated into the basalt pebble to form a bold red cross, or ribbon, that both intersects the basalt and wraps or encircles it.

Artist/s’ intention/what are they saying: John is interested in multiple readings ? the viewer decides. The pebble might represent a small stone used in counting on an abacus, which was the original meaning of ‘calculus’. In this context the sandstone cross might be a plus sign, suggesting addition - adding things up. A common symbol, perhaps it marks a cross roads. John also describes the work as a worn-down remnant of another (broken) standing stone, alluding to the passage of time, and how even stone monuments wear away, leaving fragments as the only record of a civilisation. The pillar and the pebble appear very different things but they’re actually the same. Something big, grand and formal will eventually become dust or sand, reflecting John’s ongoing fascination with long term geological processes.

 “This serves to remind the viewer of how even the greatest markers of our civilisation will in the end erode away, leaving only fragments, and then dust…But unless we carefully remember to preserve that past, all signs of it are worn away…we need reminding that human time (especially in this land), is so short compared with geological time. We need to understand and acknowledge the past in order to plan for a sustainable future, and my sculpture is a reminder of this.” [JE, from his website]

Context of the work: John was asked to make a second work after finishing ‘Transformer’ that worked alongside and complimented the standing stone. They are related through their use of common materials, but also one can be seen from the other.  Creating contrast they also compliment each other ? one has a severe formal structure, the other is soft and accessible.