It has become easy to forget – or even disregard – the human processes that informed many of the world’s most formidable architectural structures. With the reign of mechanical replication, a shift into 3D printing, and the impending revolution that will likely see artificial intelligence absorb the diminishing contribution human beings still make to such structures, can you imagine a world constructed by hand today?
Tom Freeman’s latest solo exhibition, ‘Brick’ appears to be asking that very question. Presenting the viewer with 16 works of sculpture, made up of augmented found materials – most predominantly, bricks – Freeman looks to investigate, and celebrate, the forgotten art of handmade brickmaking. A craft, which up until the turn of the 19th century, and the industrial revolution that followed shortly after, formed the structures, which are likely to outlive us all. Through an insouciant use of repetition, text, and earthly additives, the show gently prods at the roles of craft, trade and tradition in modern history, and whether we might have reached a stage where they are no longer compatible with modern living.
The first work to catch your eye, Bricks On Bricks Around Brick (2019), plays on the coupling of a machine-made brick enclosed within a structure of miniature handmade bricks, which have been sculpted, fired and glazed by the artist. Here, we become privy to the use of repetition and juxtaposition which comes to speak for the entire exhibition writ large. The result, as it were, lures the viewer through what have become an estranged series of ceramic processes in modern construction. Each of the miniature bricks, inconsistent in size, colour and form, reflect the intricate consideration required to achieve architectural uniform throughout a sizable structure, made entirely of bricks. It becomes clear that Freeman intends to illustrate his difficulties, not by hoping to achieve uniform, but by offering us deformed renditions of it.
The work lends itself to a broader exploration of the playfulness which often comes with working on ceramic objects, and how imperfections summon a teasing naivety, and an appreciative respect for just how challenging it can be to work with materials such as clay. It’s with this teasing naivety, and the tongue-in-cheek aesthetic dialogue that emerges in tow, that we are able to unpack – with Freeman’s jovial guidance – how ceramic processes can often guide their craftsman.
This reveals itself again in Four Loops (2019), and Stacked Arches (2019), where Freeman has allowed for the features of machine-made bricks to guide their own childlike augmentation. With Four Loops, Freeman has once again looked to repetition to weave a series of clay loops through the holes found in many generic machine-made bricks today; experimenting with the ways in which clay unpredictably responds to the firing and drying processes, and ultimately, renders the brick itself, functionless.
As is also the case with Stacked Arches (2019), which steers your focus from the brick to the arches that rest above it instead, perhaps the most functionless brick of the whole show, Freeman invites us to ponder the mastered craftsmanship of the arched structures referenced in the work. And it emerges as a reminder of the mastery required to build such a structure, and that the foundation of most grandiose architectural gestures, is indeed, a flawless brick.
The ways Freeman straddles the duality of handmade and machine-made objects comes to an apex in Homemade Handmade (2019), a handmade brick he crafted atop its machine-made counterpart. Emblazoned with the words “HOME MADE”, Freeman’s DIY caricature of the brick it rests upon offers us insight into the role of the human hand throughout the course of history, and ultimately, the challenges faced by human labour amid a society co-opted by commercial machinery. Complete with the holes and dimensions observed of machine-made bricks most common today, the work crystalises our defeatist affinities with what it means to make functioning objects by hand, and that sadly, most of what is made by hand today, could generally be assumed functionless.
John Buckley writes on art, fashion and popular culture.
Cool Change Contemporary
2 to 25 August 2019