E series Kettle’s Yard

Michael Harrison commissioned E series as one of a sequence of interventions by artists in the domestic interiors of Kettle’s Yard house. The work was first shown there in 2000 and was included in the 2008 retrospective upside down / inside out. One of the highlights of the project was working with Michael to identify locations and edit the surrounding objects. For example, the work on the Bechstein piano shares the space with Brancusi’s Prometheus, but one of Brancusi’s drawings on the wall behind was moved elsewhere so that reflections in the oil-black varnish were uninterrupted.

The following text is taken from E series at Kettle’s Yard by Simon Wallis, who was formerly curator there. It perfectly captures my intention for the works and explains why Kettle’s Yard remains so important in showing how art can impact on how we live.

Daniel Edwards’ cast concrete works have clarity of purpose and a quiet authority to their simple forms and subtle surfaces. Concrete is often maligned as a prosaic material associated with so many failed modernist architectural endeavours. Nevertheless, it is capable of being very beautiful if used sensitively, as is the case with Edwards’ discrete, elegant practice. Edwards installed his concrete multiples in Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, the highly influential former home of Jim Ede, who was a Tate curator and collector of modern art. The work was placed sympathetically within a modernist environment that emphasises the play of light and a calm, otherworldly atmosphere through contemplation of materiality in nature and art. This interior space keys the viewer into Edwards’ work, which uses the exacting language of minimalism to open up the subtleties and constructed order of daily experience.

Ede’s domestic environment emphasises self-containment and being at one remove from the fraught possibilities of the public world. This, according to Ede, would enable one to pay attention to materiality with a moral purpose that ultimately proposes a better way of living. Ede’s house therefore asks two interesting aesthetic questions that have relevant implications for Edward’s work: if we develop subtle criteria for judgement and appreciation of the material things and spaces with which we are surrounded, can we apply these values to everything else in our lives? And what might the world, and our relations to the people in it, be like if we did? In answering these questions Ede’s interiors allow attention to flourish and our experiences to unfold fully. Similarly, Edwards’ constructions emphasise the temporal aspect of our being. We have to invest time to develop an aesthetic experience with these works. They remind us of the value of visual attention as a discipline from which we can reap many rewards in dealing with an evermore spectacular and fragmented world. These works offer the opportunity to examine the often occluded and fleeting aspects of everyday life.

Edwards has a typographer’s eye for the rightness of things and, like Ede, takes consummate care in the placement of his works, much as he would with the arrangement of text upon a page. The contiguity of objects and materials has to be perfect as everything hinges on this delicate decision making. Edwards’ work embodies the poetics of light and proportion in sympathy with the organisational principles of Ede’s house. A small card produced by Edwards as an invite, and to sit on one of the desks in the house as an integral part of his work, emphasises the importance of reflections and shadows for his practice. It features a grey-green computer generated drawing that depicts the corner of one of his works, crisply top lit, floating just above a surface that mirrors back, in gradations, the work’s ghostly double. This fusion and juxtaposition of materials through the quality of light and reflection is vital to experiencing these works. They subtly change throughout the day as the light inflects on them, bringing out the beauty of their carefully textured cast surfaces. This mutability emphasises the inexorable processes of change that both sustain us and ultimately contribute to our decay. This is work that encourages us to be accepting of nature and to respect its fundamental influences upon our lives no matter how ‘cultured’ we find ourselves becoming.

Kettle’s Yard is a refuge for the mind and body to be in accord through an experience of works of art in a special, carefully considered, environment. Edwards’ work, in common with Kettle’s Yard, has a seductive clarity in its material form. It is redolent with subtle, sensitive, decision making. Materiality and space infuse our lives, influencing it in myriad ways; a fact the careful positioning of Edwards’ work examines and emphasises. He sets up a creative dialogue between different materials: the concrete work above an oak dresser; placed on a dark, cold slate surface; or on the lid of a beautiful Bechstein piano with its peeling black highly reflective lacquer. There is an erotics to this play of sensual differences showing how we animate our world with the palpable qualities of our own bodies. Appreciation of proportion, qualities of light, reflections and the subtleties of material difference are complex human judgements at the heart of artistic endeavour and the viewers’ reception of the resulting work. Edwards distils these in his ordered, careful practice and proposes a different way of directing our energies to the quotidian habits enforced by a frenetic, at times unthinking, world of consumption and work.