01 Oct, 2009

David Nash at Abbot Hall

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Abbot Hall, Kendal

Thirty years ago, David Nash rolled a roughly carved hunk of wood into a stream in north Wales, creating one of the longest-running and most enigmatic pieces of land art in the country. The Boulder, as it came to be known, made slow, irregular progress towards the Irish sea, sometimes disappearing for years on end, then suddenly re-emerging several miles away. It was last spotted wedged in a sandbank in the Dwyryd Estuary, where it protrudes at low tide like a surfacing whale.

A detailed report on the Boulder’s progress – with maps, drawings and a commemorative DVD – forms part of Nash’s exhibition at Abbot Hall. A bigger retrospective is due at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park next year, but this is a fine introduction to the art world’s most creative tree surgeon.

Nash does not work with wood so much as submit it to the force of his will, hacking at raw stumps with a chainsaw and frequently charring the results with a blowtorch. The objects he creates have a rugged, unfinished feel, like pagan monuments or primitive furniture created by a giant woodsman. A piece titled Rough Cut Dowel Box has a metamorphic quality: if Michelangelo’s prisoners are sublime forms breaking free from the marble, this is a home-made wheelbarrow escaping from a tree.

An Awful Falling is an offcut of beech that Nash had discarded until he noticed its resemblance to the shards left after the World Trade Centre attack. It might have been more powerful if he hadn’t appended a comment comparing the protective clothing he wears to the rescue crews in New York. However, this might just be an example of Nash’s soundbite being worse than his bark.

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