A subdued reverence permeates Messums Wiltshire’s 14thCentury Tithe barn: a monastic building renovated as an arts space in 2016. Occupying a third of an acre, its long stone walls and wide wooden beams present a spartan grandeur. At home within this historic space, and eliciting a similarly introspective wonder, are the enigmatic and abstract works of Spanish sculptor Jordi Raga, on display here until the 9thJune.
Although Raga has exhibited in group shows across Europe and the UK, and occupied residencies in New Zealand and Mexico, Between Order and Chaos Trilogy is the first solo presentation of his sculptural practice.The assembled body of work can be split into two halves: his formally playful, more modestly scaled productions, and three recently conceived monumental pieces. Despite their stylistic and thematic differences, they all share a sense of latent mysticism.
The trio of Ascension, Contention and Liberation (2019) were created with the intention of investigating “the relationship between the artist and their work during the creative process”: looking to understand how factors such as predetermined vision, degree of individual control, type of material and accidental deviation interact to shape the final outcome.
Ascension dominates at the far end of the barn, bestowed with a holy veneration. Softly backlit and framed by a triangulation of narrow windows, cylindrical carvings of black Marquina marble entwine like one massive tree trunk. It has a beatific aura similar to the monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, with Raga’s output likewise exploring humankind’s attempts to comprehend material existence.
Designed with 3D modelling software, scaled using robotics and completed by hand, Ascension was virtually conceived and largely constructed by machine. Liberation entailed the inverse approach: developed spontaneously by the artist in an unmediated communion with the material. Subsequently, it resembles a deity worshipped in some primordial jungle: stone protuberances pressed together as if squirming across the floor, its rough-textured marble snaked with white lines.
Contention’s approach meanwhile fuses virtual design with manual labour. Flat vertical planes of grey-hued marble reference the limits of the original block of stone, which then smooth into hand-rendered curves to foster the impression of lilting movement.
Raga’s divergent methods of creation here, exploring the various tensions between automation and unmediated action, posit intriguing conclusions. While the hand carved Liberation seems inherently of the earth – its wriggling form just inches off the ground – Ascension draws our gaze towards its towering mass, hinting at a link between the technological and the transcendent.
Raga’s work illustrates a discreet kinship with the existential concerns of science-fiction, such as the origins of the universe and humanity’s place within it. In particular, his flowing, organically-inspired sculptures seek to reveal a common nature underlying all life. Rosa Ventorum (2016) and The Hint (2014), with their evocation of mutable matter, both conjure the cosmic.
The latter’s right angles hold together planes that are collapsing in on themselves, a shadow being cast over its curvature of space like a black hole. Meanwhile, its white marble is permeated by zagging pink and red lines, with a swirling grain that reiterates a sinking impression. Beside them is The Genesis of Gaia (2013). Alluding to the ancestral mother of all life in Greek myth, it looks like a husk from which new life has burst forth.
Formed with Roman travertine, whose use dates back over two thousand years, its porous appearance, sedimentary colouring, and uterine connotations convey the inherently creative (and often violent) power of the Earth, from which it appears freshly wrenched. While inspired by classical Roman and Greek sculpture, Raga’s approach is far removed from antiquity’s anthropocentric focus, highlighting instead how inextricably linked we are with our environment.
Paradise Lost (2017) might be the most representative of his practice, showcasing his tendency to combine ostensibly contradictory qualities: form and formlessness, presence and absence, creation and destruction, order and chaos. It presents a column of marble whose centre has been largely excised, resembling a gnawed apple core that alludes to humankind’s biblical fall from Eden.
A multitude of bite marks suggest a historical litany of transgressions, while drawing parallels to the ecosystem’s tremulous current state. Most profoundly, Raga acknowledges the artist’s culpability in the destructive transformation required of creative endeavours. It’s an ambiguous, relevant, and wryly self-reflexive piece.
Between Order and Chaos Trilogy presents an idiosyncratic artist imaginatively exploring existential topics, with his sculptures effacing a distinction between ‘being’ and ‘becoming’. As well as their spiritual, mythological and natural inspirations, they provide a pleasingly tactile experience, with Raga’s admirable craftmanship drawing out the cool mass of marble, its intricate patterning and smooth textures. The only conceivable way his works could be elevated now would be to set them among the natural environment, from where they originated and of which they speak so eloquently.
Words by Daniel Pateman
Between Order and Chaos Trilogy by Jordi Raga runs until 9th of June 2019 at Messums gallery in Wiltshire, UK