by British artist Jonathan Baldock is a monumental installation comprising precariously stacked ceramic columns. Evoking both ancient ruins and a surreal vision of the future, these hand-crafted forms reflect the artist’s interest in myth, folklore and narratives associated with ‘outsider’ practices. Baldock’s prevalent use of blue, almost Yves Klein-like in its intensity, makes the work shimmer and glow with a spiritual, alchemical quality.
Protruding from the columns’ vibrantly glazed surfaces are casts from Baldock’s body: disembodied ears, beckoning fingers, and hands pushing and punching in mid-air. Shaped as if in the process of coming to life, the installation echoes the artist's ongoing interest in making objects that are frequently activated by performances. Audible groans, whistles and chuckles stream through concealed speakers and accentuate the work’s exploration of types of communication that evade verbal articulation. The overall sense of physicality finds humorous counterweight in the application of clay tokens engraved with emoticons, pictorial representations of facial expressions that capture a person's feelings or mood for the purpose of expediency.
This installation is the second major work born out of Baldock’s residency at Camden Arts Centre, London as part of the Freelands Lomax Ceramics Fellowship. The residency resulted in a solo exhibition that opened at the institution in April 2019 before touring to Tramway Glasgow and Bluecoat, Liverpool in 2020. Baldock’s research included studying the British Museum’s collection of Mesopotamian clay tablets, which trace the linguistic evolution of pictograms into cuneiform script, the world’s oldest writing system. Inspired by these ancient modes of communication, the artist explored the potential of clay as a tool of expression. The title of the installation and exhibition drew on George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘1984’ when the protagonist Winston Smith uses the term ‘facecrime’ to describe how “to wear an improper expression on your face is a punishable offence.” Baldock explains, “I thought the idea of policing expressions was interesting because so much of [my] work is about facial expressions or how we communicate non-verbally.”