Rowan Mersh is a textile-based sculptor who explores form and fuses
concept with technique, emphasizing experimentation as the focus of his
practice. A celebrated graduate of the Royal College of Art, Mersh has
developed a unique aesthetic, which is at once obvious upon encounter of
his various sculptural forms, whether it be textiles, sculpture, or any
other experimental agenda on which he embarks.
In Mersh's own words: Our environment, the people we meet, the places we visit, the music we listen to, etc, are what make us who we are. Series 1 was derived from this notion, examining aspects within my own environment that shape me. Utilizing objects such as coins collected on my travels, my CD and vinyl collection, a compilation of signatures from people in passing, to the literal interpretation of DNA structure, sculptural forms were constructed, encompassing these objects within fabric. The objects themselves become obsolete, subsiding to their affiliation with the fabric and the geometric landscapes they create.
Although all fabric sculptures are exhibited in an interior/gallery context, I am also drawn to the female form as a means to communicate aspects of scale and movement in these works. The body is fundamentally a three-dimensional form or space, thus can be treated so in the installation of a sculpture. Whether installed in an interior space or on the female form, it is the creation of an affiliation between sculpture and the space it occupies that determines the sub-sequential image or documentation of the work.
The Advocate: Why are you an artist?
Rowan Mersh: To better understand myself.
What catches your eye?
Anything and everything. Kedgeree on a breakfast menu, prefolded pages in a dictionary, single-syllable coffee brands, conjoining freckles, and a golden years aerobic class in Highbury Fields — a park in North London — would be my top five today so far.
Tell us about your process or techniques.
For the last two years I have predominantly worked on large-scale kinetic and/or interactive installations. Concepts for these projects are generally formed of an amalgamation of both emotive and logistical factors — my understanding of the client or commissioning body and time line for production, for example. Illustrations, renderings, and prototypes are produced at various stages of the project as an idea evolves, refining technical aspects whilst cementing desired aesthetics. Production/fabrication begins, I hold my breath, and with a little luck I am at my private view a couple of months down the line!
How do you describe your work?
An exploration of form and an exploitation of my chosen media and their inherent qualities.
What makes a good artwork to you?
That undertone of envy I feel from viewing the work!
What artists do you take inspiration from and why?
Top five today, again?! Diane Arbus — I am currently creating a series of three-dimensional portraits utilizing (for lack of a better word), marginalized people with in our society as subject matter; understanding how this has been approached in the past. Edgar Degas — “Art is not what you see but what you make others see” — enough said! Random International — they don't just break boundaries, they atomize boundaries, then choreograph the particles into incredible performance based, interactive installations. Olafur Eliasson — the way he sees the world. Tom Leamon — I have just had breakfast with him.
Fundamentally, tumors are caused by an accumulation of mutations within the DNA of cells that lead to their uncontrolled division and subsequently the abnormal growth of tissue. Series 2 was primarily derived from notions of such cell mutations. Items such as defaced coins, CDs containing corrupted data, and irreparably scratched vinyls were encompassed within fabric. My resulting desire was such that the sculptures themselves appear as an integral part of the female form, irreparably distorting the physical appearance; as External Tumours their application to the body seamless, as if they were bound, grown, and shaped by time.
An installation consisting of 25 kinetic/lighting sculptures, commissioned by Artwise Curators for a temporary show at Maison Blanche, Paris. Constructed from Plexiglas rod and tubes of fabric mesh, each unit within the installation was strung between a steel base and self-designed motorized mechanism. The bases acted as an anchor as the motorized mechanisms slowly coiled each unit into a spiral/helix structure. On reaching the optimum point tension (when each unit was unable to coil any further), the motorized mechanisms realized the coiled structures, at which point the velocity of the uncoil is such that the illusion of a “whirlwind of light” is created. This cycle is then repeated.
Abstract fabric sculpture, commissioned by Dickson Russell Art Management for the atrium of Pricewaterhouse Coopers. Untitled 07 measures 15 meters in length when fully extended and is constructed from knitted stretch jersey and wooden discs.
Abstract fabric sculpture commissioned by the Crafts Council for Somerset House, London. An exploration into the utilization of a variety of stretch fabric combinations.
A series of 12 wall-based canvases (90cm x 90cm) created utilizing a self-developed technique to permanently form any given fabric into any given shape. Molds for the canvases were created from adapted Ikea products such as a bed, a table and a chair cut into sections, with the intention of creating a paradox between the mass-produced and the uniquely handcrafted.
A collaborative project with Sarah Van Gameren, conceived as a giant timepiece — 100,000 matchsticks were aligned like dominoes and set ablaze. The installation was designed to burn for 12 hours, enabling the time to be taken via the kinetic movement of the flame.
Conceived almost 40 years ago by Archigram’s cofounder David Greene, The Electric Aborigine encompasses the notion of an individual consciously acting as a vessel for amalgamation of electronic and natural (nonelectronic) environments in the seamless creation of a new environment. A product of the audiovisual piece The World's Last Hardware Event (1967), in which we are challenged to imagine a world where man can wander, carrying his architecture in his pocket (perhaps originally a preemption of mobile technology and its affiliation with the user), The Electronic Aborigine serves to integrate or dissolve an individual into any given environment.
The exploration of these notions lead to the manifestation of Electro-Social-Camouflage, commissioned by the Architectural Association, London. More an embodiment of concept than functional garment, ESC is intended to create a new, virtual environment as a live, chameleon-like response to the environment it occupies. Constructed from 30 mobile phone screens/board cameras and various manually manipulated fabrics.
An interactive installation that invites the public to become the subject of unique digital pop art portraits. Using face recognition software, a digital camera is triggered to capture the portrait of the participant when they are positioned within a marked area appearing on a monitor next to the canvas (similar to the process within a public photo booth). This portrait is run through self-developed software that generates a large-scale pop art–style portrait constructed from thousands of smaller versions of the original portrait. This Pixel Portrait is then projected on a large framed canvas until the next participant is ready to engage with the project. The canvas was created from self-enhanced rear-projection fabric, enabling the projected portrait to be viewed morning or night. The process from portrait capture to Pixel Portrait display takes a matter of seconds. On generation each unique Pixel Portrait was also uploaded live to an FTS for the participant to download at their leisure. This self-generating project ran live 24 hours a day for a 10-day period at the beginning of October 2008 in Maria Luisa, Paris, during which time over 1,000 unique Pixel Portraits were generated.
A site-specific installation derived from the exploration of a derelict space in West London. I sought to challenge the notion of invisible boundaries created by passages of light and shadow within this broken environment. Over one hundred and fifty miles of cotton thread was used, strung between points of structural relevance, physically plotting paths of light and shadow throughout the course of the day. The result is the evolution of an alternative architectural landscape.
Fabric sculpture commissioned by George Frack for the opening of Great Western Studios. Derived from Parkinson's Law ("work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion") and created utilizing a self-developed technique, "the innate spiral," from which it is possible to generate an organically spiraling three-dimensional structure from a tube of stretch jersey and encompassed object. Currently measuring eight meters in length and up to 2.5 meters in width, Parkinson's Law is set to grow in size each time it is exhibited. Constructed from rubber balls and knitted stretch jersey.