James Capper

James Capper makes mobile sculpture to be used in action in varied terrains and with a wide range of materials. His works are sculpture and sculptural tools in – or ready for – action. He adopts the techniques, materials and complex problem-solving processes of engineering and invention to develop his work.

Capper’s way of making mobile sculpture consists of three distinct but interrelated processes – drawing, making sculpture and experimenting with the capacities and application of the sculpture in action. The sculpture in action is understood and developed through field testing and topographic demonstrations, recorded on film.

Whether in his pincered excavators or Tetrapod walk-machines, the works situate themselves in a long dialogue between human craft and biomechanics: in the 19th century we had looked to model transport mechanisms on the body of a cow; in 2016, we have now designed soft-robotic pneumatic systems with the exact anatomy of a living octopus.

However, by removing himself from the utilitarian lexicon of professional engineering and the deterministic narratives of evolutionary biology, Capper’s sculptures stand as their own aesthetic representations. Despondent with the deluge of ‘artificial intelligences’, each sculpture finds a simplicity yet radical form in a mutual co-operation between human and machine.

Drawing is an important part of his practice, developing large numbers of drawings of all kinds – from concept drawings (defining, developing and outlining new ideas and concepts for sculpture), technical drawings (line or filled-in drawings used to work out how the sculpture moves) to presentation drawings (spectacular, often large-scale, coloured drawings showing the sculpture in its complete form) and in-action drawings (complex drawings showing the sculpture in movement across space and time). In this method, for every realised sculpture there are a large number of drawings accumulated from conception to after completion; it is characteristic of James to draw his sculptures well beyond the fabrication period and even to return to specific sculptures through drawings years after they are made.

To consider his vision in short: traditional frames of sculptural reference are radically revisited, and if real-time technological advances in heavy industry fall behind or advance ahead, Capper’s own arrangement of ergonomics, hydraulics and aesthetics allows his work to exist autonomously.

Hannah Barry Gallery — Peckham

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