Artrudge – Yorkshire Sculpture Park

by Elliot Davies

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Artrudge is a semi-occasional feature in which one of our number trudges around a place looking at art. This time, we’re roaming in the gloaming through the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

By the time we arrived at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP), there were around two hours of daylight remaining. However, we got there just in time to see the Ursula von Rydingsvard exhibition in the Underground Gallery, on the very last day of a nine month residency. Not only was this the largest collection of her work to ever grace a European gallery, it was also the single biggest exhibition of her work to date. Not to be missed, so I’m glad we didn’t miss it.

Rydingsvard crafts immense psychic landscapes and alien objects. She mostly uses cedar, but she’s not afraid to stretch lengths of cow intestines when she needs fleshier textures. She doesn’t work from plans or drawings, as she believes they’d restrict her flow and vision. Instead, she lets her mind and her circular saw guide her work in real time. It’s cedar jazz!


From certain angles, these creations resemble crawling lifeforms. From others, towering cliff faces and sprawling jagged environments. It’s possible to make out faces among the ridges and curves, but it’s almost impossible to resist running your hands across the surfaces, which are surely designed to tell stories of their own.

These are desert island sculptures, as you could likely continue to find fresh points of wonder even after years of daily exposure. On top of that, the natural materials and organic construction means that these sculptures would blend seamlessly with their new tropical surroundings. Finally, over the years, these sculptures would probably take on even more fascinating forms as they were gradually weathered by the elements and reclaimed by nature.

Desert island sculptures – choose your ideal aesthetic companion for the duration of your marooning. Ursula von Rydingsvard, I choose you.

When we left The Underground Gallery, we found that it was nearly dark, which unfortunately left us with very little time indeed to explore the remainder of the park. It might be argued, though, that there really is no finer time than the gloaming to view such strange sculptures. It was a muddy waking dream, like sauntering through Wonderland to find that all of its inhabitants are shagged out and listless.

At one point we heard what sounded like temple bells emanating from some trees, so naturally we tried to find the source of the sound. We couldn’t, but convinced that something must be triggering the sounds, we started shaking the branches of an ancient tree. It didn’t work. By that point, we’d spent less than an hour in YSP, but already we were manipulating trees in the hope of hearing temple bells. It’s that sort of place.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

This Artrudge was so lacking in structure that it was only towards the end of our ramblings that I realised that close to all of the works in the YSP are some highly informative explanatory plaques. This means that all of the above works will, unfortunately, have to go uncredited. The junk collage trees may be by Oppenheim, but beyond that, hell if I know. What a shame. If you can place names and/or stories to any of the above pieces, please get in touch.

For the following pieces, though, I actually have some idea just what the hell I’m talking about!

Marialuisa Tadei Octopus

This is Marialuisa Tadei’s Octopus. At this point, it’s worth mentioning that the octopus, along with all other cephalopods, is my greatest fear. They make my skin crawl; and if I dwell for long enough on the idea that one might one day land on my face and, in blind panic, proceed to peck wildly…well, that’s a great way to induce a cold sweat if ever there was one.

Can you imagine anything worse than octopus rain? Imagine that. Imagine if it started raining octopuses. It would be a nightmare bloodbath, with vomit in lieu of blood. A nightmare vomitbath.

This octopus, though, looks good enough to eat. I could even find myself loving this here octopus. Rather than cold and sinister, its eyes look sad and soulful. Rather than grappling wildly for a kill, this one looks as though its lazily allowing for its tentacles to explore the world around it, in the hope of finding something that’s fun to hold.

It’s the colour. Things this colourful are always going to have a hard time inducing terror. Tadei claims that her use of mosaic is inspired by the digital realm. She draws comparisons between small square mosaic tiles and electronic pixels, which of course form the very building blocks of digital images. This octopus looks as though it could have escaped from an early 90s graphical tech demo. It’s just begging for a seapunk/vaporware soundtrack, so allow me to provide one:

Finally, take a look at Tom Price’s Network, which I think you’ll agree is rather stunning:

Tom Price Network

Price is drawn to strangers. His sculptures explore the ways in which we form immediate opinions of people we’ve never met before based on their appearance alone.

At nearly three metres tall, Network is his largest sculpture to date. It’s a bronze depicting a man consulting his phone. He looks relaxed, but I can’t help but detect a sadness here. Perhaps it’s the look on his face, or perhaps it’s the setting sun and the dying light. Or perhaps it’s just that, whenever I see anyone adopting this pose in real life, I cannot help but assume the worst. Everywhere I go and everywhere I look, I see people getting bad news.

I liked the YSP, as it brought back weird memories of some of my earliest perceptions of art. For children, “art” is whatever adults tell them it is. Can you remember learning about “art” for the very first time? I’m not talking about glitter and paint in primary school. I’m talking about early exposures to the idea of “art” as something much bigger, as a world of its own.

For me, this early exposure involved similar sculptures to the sort that are found in the YSP. It was somewhere in Liverpool, possibly in the gardens near the museum. There are loads of statues in there. Big and foreboding, to children they must emit a strange and beguiling sort of energy. So they ask an adult – what is that? It’s art, they reply. So “art” instantly becomes an inscrutable yet alluring concept. Slightly terrifying, but too beautiful and fascinating to be ignored.

There were loads of children running all over the place as we trudged across the YSP. Who knows what they made of the sculptures they saw? Were they enthralled, bemused, or terrified?

In any case, it was a nice thing to see. It felt as though many a wondrous curiosity was kindled that afternoon, the initial stoking of fiery obsessions that could potentially blaze for life.

Have you been on an Artrudge? Would you like to go on an Artrudge? If so, we would like to hear from you. For more information, contact