I wasn’t familiar with El Anatsui’s work and have looked at it in relation to patchwork. It is so much more, I have concentrated on the incredibly dynamic, textural sculptures he has created by piecing together bottle caps and other found metals with copper wire.
http://www.design-milk.com’s website, David Behringer, reporting on an exhibition at the Jack Shainman Gallery from Nov 2012 and Summer 2013 describes El Anatsui as “one of the greatest recyclers on the planet. Dirty, rusted and smashed liquor bottle tops are transformed into incredible tapestries that sparkle like precious metals.”
One of the most fascinating things to me is that the pieces take on different forms each time they are installed. The enormous sheets have a ‘fluidity’ and can be manipulated in many ways. Some are designed as wall sculptures and others for the floor. The following youtube video of Brooklyn Museum’s installation “Gravity & Grace: Monumental Sculptures by El Anatsui” shows their versatility to change state:
The artist describes his work in the following clip:
El Anatsui has worked with bottle tops for at least the last 10 years. He feels it is important to work with a newly discovered medium until you really understand it and can “get something intrinsic out of it”.
He was initially inspired by a bag of discarded bottle caps and began linking them with copper wire. He made blocks containing 200 or so tops and then arranged and rearranged the blocks on the floor until happy with the composition. On hanging a sheet of bottle tops for the first time, he discovered it creased in different ways which he found “very interesting and worthy of exploration”.
The art work is very textural with each small piece of metal joining another, with slight differences in angle, reflecting light at difference intensities. Some pieces are coloured, others just shiny silver, the bottle tops are used whole, flattened or distorted, cut to leave a flat disk and a ring. In some pieces, many rings are combined to give a chain-mail type curtain. Tiny pieces of the same colour are massed together to create blocks, or placed to produce pattern, contrasts or harmony. A close inspection will reveal the brand names of the beers, an overview, a completely different visual.
Some of the floor pieces are constructed with milk cans, also linked with copper wire. These cans too are retrieved and recycled from rubbish. El Anatsui feels that the layers of people who have handled the cans or bottle tops, from the producers, consumers to him and his workers give the final pieces a spiritual dimension.
The scale of his work is big, described as ‘monumental’ in the Brooklyn Museum Exhibition, pieces are large enough to hang on the sides of buildings several storeys high, others suspended from high ceilings in galleries to fall in gathers on the floor.
The structures are strong. In the following clip, his workers are seen to pull blocks of pieced bottle tops demonstrating their strength.
It has been a delight to be introduced to the work of El Anatsui and a very contemporary approach to piecing materials when compared to traditional patchwork.