A Fall From Grace

(2022) porcelain, paper porcelain, concrete (jesmonite), steel, satin ribbon, butcher’s hook.

I intend to write an essay to accompany the piece, and I will be In Conversation with Inaya Folarin Iman, founder of The Equiano Project, at Jerwood Space 24/02/22.

Here’s the catalogue text written by the lovely curators at Jerwood:

A Fall from Grace is a sculptural installation which uses geometric language and repetitive processes to explore contemporary identity politics, proposing that ideas that can be a force for good can also become tyrannical when balance is lost.

At its core are two contrasting materials that are new to Anna Berry’s practice: porcelain, a fragile almost translucent ceramic, and concrete, a robust composite commonly used in the construction of buildings. In A Fall from Grace I, there is a gradual progression from individually hand-formed porcelain cones at the centre of the work, to uniform cast shapes as the concrete pulls down the tendrils of the sculpture. A Fall from Grace II sees one large concrete cone precariously balanced above a single porcelain piece, ready to fall at any moment.

In highlighting the tension between these contrasting materials, Berry reflects on balance, power and precarity. How can things at opposite ends of the spectrum co-exist within the same structure?

Here’s how I would say it more prosaically – with the caveat, I consider all my little offerings to be as open to as many interpretations as pairs of eyes lay upon them. However, if you are itching for a steer to know the artist’s intentions…:

The piece is quite a personal response to identity politics, meditating upon how an idea that was a force for progress in the civil rights movements of the 60s and 70s has metastasised to something incredibly destructive today. So I guess it’s about balance, and balance lost, and context. It’s a pair of sculptures, ‘A Fall From Grace I’ and ‘II’. They use the cone shape that comprises so much of my sculptural vocabulary. The title refers partly to The Left’s fall from liberalism to illiberalism, and my own fall from grace in their eyes for refusing to sign up to the current bad ideas. It has perhaps been the biggest test of my ethical mettle in my life so far.

The first piece is a sort of ‘fountain’ – each rod on the fountain starts with a delicately hand-built, very thin fragile paper porcelain cone. I suppose for me these represent the individual and authenticity. These segue into repeated cast cones – identical by nature of the process of slip casting. The ‘box’ and replication of ‘identity’. Three of the rods begin to be pulled down at the end by cones that are half porcelain and half concrete. Finally, an outlier rod has a whole concrete cone dragging it almost to the floor. I suppose I’m trying to convey a good idea gone bad, something ossifying, as well as the confinement and repetition of identity. All the rods ‘bob’ and have a sense of instability in the changing air currents in the gallery. The satin ribbons (in both pieces) are a visceral red, whilst the trite bows mimic the smiley pseudo-progressive face.

The narrative then moves to the second sculpture, which is a large concrete cone suspended precariously, almost on the floor, by a ribbon from a butcher’s hook, creating tension in the viewer. It is balanced above a tiny vulnerable hand-built paper porcelain cone, invading its space; threatening. This is really a self-portrait from this last couple of years, the constant fear of speaking out from beneath the looming bullying totalitarianism. We are in an era where merely speaking the truth is a radical act, and one risks everything in doing so.

Here is an interview with Harriet Cooper, Head of Visual Arts at Jerwood Arts:

With many thanks to: David Gilbert, Pangaea Sculpture Centre, Rui Pignatelli, Clive Doherty, and Susan Watkins.