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Contemporary Art

Marc Quinn: Fragments of Time

Marc Quinn's art looks at our relationship to time, and 'what it is to be human in the world today'. His practice has seen him explore materials in increasingly innovative methods, including freezing blood, suspending flowers in silicone and making forms from 18 carat gold, steel and water. As well as pushing the boundaries of materials in the studio, his large-scale sculpture commissions can be seen in locations around the globe. Most famously, his Alison Lapper Pregnant graced the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in 2005, and a larger version, Breath, was subsequently shown at the 2012 London Paralympics and the Venice Biennale. Throughout his career, Quinn has exhibited at the world's leading institutions including Fondation Beyeler, Tate, National Portrait Gallery and Fondazione Prada. His current solo exhibition Drawn From Life is at Sir John Soane's Museum. He will be discussing his work and influences at this year's Art Out Loud at Chatsworth House, sponsored by Sotheby's. 

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MARC QUINN, ALL ABOUT LOVE "NATURE'S", 2016. COURTESY AND © MARC QUINN STUDIO.

Let's begin by talking about your exhibition Drawn From Life and the All About Love series that's currently on display at Sir John Soane's Museum. What is the significance of showing these works in this context?

What is interesting about showing the pieces at Sir John Soane's Museum is that in a way these are sculptures that look like fragmented classical pieces that have been repaired and stuck together. But in fact, they're life casts — and they're about relationships. By placing them in this context, I was using a slightly dusty language slightly irrelevant to modern life, and using it to speak about something that is relevant to every person: Love.

You mentioned the fragmentary nature of these works, why did you choose to present them on the packing cases?

When I made the first one, I had a packing case in the studio and I just placed it on top of it to look at it; it struck me that it was a very interesting addition to the sculpture. The things printed on it, Handle with Care, Fragile, This Way Up — are about delicacy, and can just as easily be applied to relationships as they can to art. There's a sense of things in a precarious situation. A relationship is a moment when things come together and create something new, but who knows how long it'll last or where it'll go. It's a beautiful balancing act.

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MARC QUINN, DRAWN FROM LIFE AT SIR JOHN SOANE'S MUSEUM, LONDON. COURTESY AND © MARC QUINN STUDIO. 

Can you explain the process of making the work, because you are the subject?

My arms were in the sculpture, in an embrace of my ex-girlfriend.  For a year and a half we worked on them and moulded ourselves; I would hold Jenny and interact with her, and her hands would intertwine with mine. Then we would cast the whole thing, standing there for hours at a time. A test of endurance, which of course, love can be. So there is an entire language of how these figures hold each other. There is reality to the intimacy. Because I used a special silicone for life sculptures, it gets every single hair and nook and cranny of the body. So they have this reality to them in their unreality that grounds them in the real world. I used the same technique to make a series called Emotional Detox, in the early 1990s. 

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MARC QUINN, ALL ABOUT LOVE "HEAVEN", 2016-17. COURTESY AND © MARC QUINN STUDIO. 

You use elements of the historic and classic in your work, whether through material or the way the work is presented. What is it about incorporating those elements that makes a contemporary work interesting?

The form of these works has references to the classical, but the fiberglass material is completely contemporary; it has more reference to the car body shop than it does to the Parthenon. But I think it's always about balancing form and content and somehow making the work have a conversation with the rest of art in some way — the history of sculpture and the history of art.

A lot of your work looks at time: suspended time, frozen moments or the passage of time. What is it about it that you find so fascinating?

It's the one medium that we all live in that we can't change. Even though we've given it a word, it's an incredibly unknowable thing. We still don't really understand it and it's uncontrollable and I find that fascinating. There's a profundity to it. It is the one element of your life that you can't control.

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MARC QUINN, GARDEN, 2000. COURTESY AND © MARC QUINN STUDIO. 

Let's look back slightly and talk about Self, which is one of your most well-known works and made entirely of your own frozen blood. When did you decide to embark on that project?

I think through wanting to make an artwork that was beyond just an object and beyond just aesthetics. I always want to make art about real life, and this is the ultimate self-portrait. It is not only a representation of the sitter, but also made of the sitter. It became a reduction to the absurd, making it out of the subject — which in this case is ten pints of my own blood.

So it's like a sacrificial act. Is there something about that ritual that you enjoy or do you feel that it's somehow a necessity?

Of course, the work itself is not one piece. I make a new one every five years.  I was very inspired by Rembrandt's self-portraits, and the anecdotal accounts he writes. These are a like a Rembrandt, but done by Beckett: it's just the same — but repeated. It's different — but there's no development. It's a slightly randomised progression. If you gave someone all six and asked them to put them in order I'd be very surprised if they could do it. You could make ten sculptures in one day and they would all be different, because they are made from life. 

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MARC QUINN, SELF, 1991. COURTESY AND © MARC QUINN STUDIO. 

Many of your works are quite topical. What do you think can be learnt from looking back in time to discuss the present?

All art was once contemporary. I'm doing a series called History Painting that I've been working on for five or six years, which are paintings and tapestries of the riots that have been happening around the world, starting with the London riots in 2011. History Paintings existed at the top of the pyramid of artistic achievement in the classic world, and were always about power. They were painted for a king or an emperor or a general to celebrate their status quo, their victories and their possessions. By contrast, these paintings are about recording events that have been created from the bottom up through social interaction, through social networks and through people coming together to rebel against established orders. So they're an inversion of the idea of traditional History Paintings.

How do you decide on what's the most appropriate medium when you embark on a project?

Often I start with an idea. And then as I make it I try and see what the best material is to finish it off, sometimes that might be the most difficult part of the process, but it is different in every case. 

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MARC QUINN, HISTORY PAINTING (LONDON, 6 AUGUST 2011) WGPRBB, 2011. COURTESY AND © MARC QUINN STUDIO. 

Can you describe the experience of making the Alison Lapper Pregnant sculpture, and its eventual unveiling on the Forth Plinth in Trafalgar Square?

That was a really important piece because it was about something that doesn't really happen, which is having a public sculpture that has content. Very often they are just decoration. So again it was important to me to make a piece of work that was about the real world, and according to several disability activists, it changed the way people thought and talked about disabled people a lot. It was really pleasing to make something about a subject that interacts with the real world perception of that subject, and change the discourse for the better. A version was also shown in the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Paralympics, and then subsequently in Venice, so it's a historical piece.

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MARC QUINN, ALISON LAPPER PREGNANT, 2005. COURTESY AND © MARC QUINN STUDIO. 

It had to be big enough so you could see it, but it had to appear suddenly so I made it as an inflatable. The original idea was a practical one but when I made it I realised that actually it was very profound because this sculpture now lived and breathed and was soft and warm. It was like a living version of the original marble one. It was also very much like Self in that if you unplug it, it just disappears into a pile of fabric. So it had a sense of being vulnerable and human as well. To me, that made it really interesting development of the marble original. The same sculpture can inhabit different spaces and have different lives.

Marc Quinn will discuss Contemporary art, old and new at Art Out Loud at 10am on the South Lawn. You can book tickets here. His exhibition Drawn from Life is currently on display at Sir John Soane's Museum, London until 23 September.

Art Out Loud runs from 22—24 September 2017 at Chatsworth House, and is proudly sponsored by Sotheby's.

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