Her Time

Claire Morgan is one of Northern Ireland's best emerging installation artists

Imagine almost 1200 threads not less than three metres in length, vertically suspended. There are 3000 tiny dandelion seeds attached to the strings so as to make the precise pattern of an arrow in midair. This arrow is reflected above with light and below with small lead weights that also function to keep the piece from floating away.

This imposing, yet spectral, installation entitled ‘Come fly with me’ was part of the Royal British Society of Sculptors’ Annual Bursary exhibition in 2004. Claire Morgan, the artist, was awarded the Roy Noakes Bursary for best emerging talent.

Those following Morgan’s progress to date will not be surprised at the accolade. She completed with distinction the Foundation Studies in Art and Design programme at the University of Ulster in 2000, and went on to receive a First Class, BA (Hons) Fine Art (Sculpture) at the University of Northumbria in 2003. In the very short period since graduation Morgan has had a full work programme of exhibitions, commissions and residencies throughout the UK.

According to the official festival guide 2004 for the Westonbirt Festival of the Garden:

‘Experimentation, observation of change and the natural environment underpin the ephemeral installation by Claire Morgan. Surprising materials, impossible structures and the use of space have established Claire as a young artist whose work continues to move in challenging directions.’

A recent example of her work is Emotional Response. This site-specific installation spanned three large concrete spaces in the Lagan Lookout, Belfast (2004). A significant feature was an 8 metre tall cylindrical column of thousands of nylon threads stretched from the ceiling with a growing tulip bulb suspended from each thread. The bulbs continued to grow throughout the exhibition until close to flowering.

Morgan, herself, emphasises the processes involved in her work: ‘Labour intensive things like using a needle and thread and knots to attach 2400 strawberries to the ends of strings to create something that resembles a gothic archway.’ (All That is Solid, Grosvenor Chapel, Mayfair, 2004).

The strawberries decayed over the duration of the exhibition so that the initial form eventually disappeared.

Despite the patient nature required for such large scale, detailed construction, Morgan has a preference for projects that have an element of risk. The passage of time is her risk of choice. She reminds me that, for example, it will take a week to tie 2400 strawberries onto threads to form a specific shape. However, strawberries will remain fresh for a week at most, so it is a race against the clock.

Time plays an active part in the work she produces in other ways. Leave (Westonbirt Arboretum, 2004) is a simple and stunning example of her play with the effects of time. Collections of leaves from the arboretum sandwiched between double layers of perspex were suspended horizontally within the existing tree canopy of the Victory Glade. In their new environment, the leaves changed colour in a parody of the Autumn/Winter cycle. The leaves on the trees that surrounded them took the time allotted by nature to follow that same cycle.

Another effect of time acting on her work is, of course, that each sculpture needs to be remade each time, that producing identical sculptures is impossible and in her own words that ‘...most of the time they don’t even exist’.  Her processes bring to mind the compilation of an ephemeris – the tabulation of astral configurations at regular intervals.

It is scientific, precise, detailed and high volume work that uses the three components of position, object and time. The comparison ends there. The objects that Morgan uses are very much from the natural world, from dead insects to raw fleece. Unlike ephemerides whose information is used by others for direction or divination, Morgan has to convert her own plans into creation.

Morgan has clear ideas for her future. She would like to learn more about materials and composition whether through residencies or more structured programmes like a Masters degree. Japan and the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, USA have particular appeal, the latter because the ethos and facilities sound perfect. She wants her work to get bigger and more overpowering but acknowledges that a major obstacle to achieving this ambition is that most of the making must be done by herself!

Born in 1980 and very much at the start of her career – Claire Morgan has time. Standing large and calm in the Old Museum Arts Centre, Belfast (March 2005), dandelion clocks dissected and re-arranged to form the shape of an arrow point in the direction of time: forward.

Olive Broderick

Further Reading:
UK’s Sculptural Newcomers NY Arts Magazine, January/February 2005, Vol. 10, No ½; Claire Morgan takes prestigious art prize Circa (online), www.recirca.com, 28 October 2004.