“Of all weathering, that of limestone, as a rule, is the most vivid. It is limestone that... is carved by the very breath we breathe out. It is limestone that forms new skins and poetic efflorescence… Even granite is heightened by human touch.” Adrian Stoke; extracts from ‘The Pleasures of Limestone’, Stones of Rimini (London: Faber & Faber, 1934); reprinted edition (New York: Schocken, 1969), pp. 47-52.
There is much “dekay and ruyne of said castell,” a Nottingham survey reported in 1525. And yet today, Nottingham Castle basks in the beauty of its breakdown. Located metres above the natural forms that inspire them, the Plasticine creations of artist David John Scarborough - exhibited as part of Nottingham Castle’s Café Table Commission - encapsulate the turbulent past, delicate present and evolving future of the landscape below.
Brought up in Hertfordshire and educated at Loughborough University School of the Arts, Scarborough connected with sculpture through the work of Anish Kapoor when visiting the Royal Academy during his foundation year: “Kapoor’s Svayambh was the first time I really reacted to the art and felt like I got it,” Scarborough explains. “The title means ‘self-made’ and the piece supposedly makes itself as it goes through the archway. I’d never seen anything with this kind of materiality or scale.”
Materiality would later become a central feature in Scarborough’s work. However, looking past materiality per se, the artist seeks to explore the relationship between humanity and the material world: “A lot of my work is about creating an immersive sense of materiality that is immediately engaging on a sensory level,” says Scarborough.
Referencing the installation artists, Phyllida Barlow and Nicolas Deshayes – the latter of which he interned with during the summer of 2013 – Scarborough draws from both in his work: “Barlow draws you in to navigate around her works, I like how your body kind of reacts to the spaces as you are walking around… I want there to be immediate access to my work. The forms I use are built to draw the viewer in. I was looking at organic structures that appear; like, if you poke them, they would almost instantly fall apart – like they could be disintegrating and growing at the same time. I want my work to carry a sense of possibility - that there is a possibility to touch, to change and destroy things.”
Scarborough’s Dekay and Ruyne, however, presents a unique dilemma for creating such possibilities. In conjunction with Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Scarborough was curated by University of Lincoln MA student, Danielle Bastiaens, to produce a series of six pieces to be inserted into glass-topped vitrines as part of the Café Table Commission. Prohibiting the possibility of touch, Scarborough explored the relationship between humanity and materiality on a different, somewhat larger, scale.
“I began researching the castle – the sandstone structures underneath Nottingham, a landslide that happened here in 1996 and the resulting man-made attempts to conceal damaged sandstone by producing cliff face forms out of fibreglass,” Scarborough explains. “I explored the relationship between the natural world and man-made structures, things falling apart and our human desire for maintaining things. In the 17th century, for example, the caves were used as homes. Now, we are tourists in those places – our relationship to them has transformed from one of closeness to one of distance. The work in the café lends itself well to that, as there is a distance between the glass tops and the work below, similar to when you look through a glass floor.”
The possibility to destroy may be absent, but themes of formation and deterioration remain paramount: “The lines created reference contour lines and geological processes like erosion. I grated loads of coloured Plasticine and built structures with them using MDF and wire mesh – the works kind of look like they are crumbling apart” – a subtle nod to the castle itself.
He continues, “the Plasticine I used is relatable to sandstone as a material because they are both so soft and easy to sculpt,” Scarborough continues. Indeed, equally they reference sandstone in some of the colours used – oranges, yellows, reds. However, Scarborough can let referencing wane to playfulness: “It can be a serious topic thinking about the ruinous nature of architecture and our natural environment; I wanted to playfully approach the subject.”
And Scarborough continues to play, build, shape and break, not only through his own work emerging from his Loughborough-based studio, but also through curating the work of others, most recently Records Ruin the Landscape at Backlit Gallery, Nottingham: “Recently I’ve been working on a number of exhibitions that I am pulling together, which will be happening in Nottingham later this year.”
David John Scarborough will be exhibiting his work in a show entitled Gustatory Delights, which will open September 24, at the Lace Market Gallery, Nottingham. Keep in the loop by visiting davidjohnscarborough.tumblr.com.
Words: Elizabeth Neep
Photography : John Hartley