House for an Art Lover (HAL) are working in partnership with the Scottish artist Kenny Hunter, commissioning the creation of a ‘life-size’ elephant cast in part from scrap sections of trains that were originally built in Glasgow and exported to the Commonwealth.
The Elephant has a direct connection to the countries where many of the trains were deployed, such as India, Pakistan, Kenya and South Africa; either as a form of transport or a creature of symbolic power.
But it can also function as a symbol for Glasgow’s role as workshop of the world, in particular the often-overlooked human role and effort extolled in creating that output…the industrial workforce of Glasgow, a beast of burden, which took to its role with diligence yet could also stretch its chains and panic its masters.
The transformation of metals contains the ability to express great historical change and meaning through the process of recasting – from swords into ploughshares or statues into cannons etc.
The elephant carries the message of transformation and memory, whilst on an emotional level – it communicates inner strength and endurance.
This 10 ton, Public Artwork will be located at ground level on the site of the famous 1938 Empire Exhibition in Bellahouston Park – where it will gaze down toward Govan and the Clyde, Glasgow’s former artery to the world – creating a looped energy across time and place.
The Elephant will become a new symbol for Glasgow, celebrating the city’s strength and contribution to industrial and cultural development across the Commonwealth – whilst also addressing and re-imagining the legacies of the past.
The life of An Elephant for Glasgow began with this lovely clay maquette. This was modelled by Kenny Hunter and then cast into iron by a Scottish foundry (based in Yorkshire) who will eventually cast the life-size sculpture. This small model is very heavy – giving an idea of just how heavy the actual sculpture will be. It is on display at the Heritage Centre at House for an Art Lover.’s new ART PARK Glasgow, Centre for Arts and Heritage. In time, you’ll see that you’ll be able to spot many differences between the original model and the final sculpture.
To work out the scale another model was made using a 3D printer. Having a scaled model and digital files allowed access to printed images of what a 2D cross-section of the elephant would look like at different points along the length of its body.
As these 2D cross-sections were mapped onto a grid, each could be scaled up. By drawing the larger grid on the floor, technician Kenny MacKay was able to outline each 2D cross-section of the elephant in chalk. He then bent 6mm steel bar following the shape and welded each section.
By the time he was finished he had approx. 20 cross-sectional pieces of the elephant, that would form the basic volume and outline the dimensions of the life-size elephant sculpture.
All of the 2-D cross-sections would then be welded, upright, in at the correct distances along the length of the body. The uprights were then re-enforced with more steel bar to map out the rest of the elephant’s shape, resulting in a solid, elephant-shaped armature (i.e. the skeleton or underlying support structure of the elephant). At this stage each section has a bottom bar to help it stand in place more steadily. Later you’ll see that these bottom parts were cut away as the armature is built up.
We are delighted to be awarded Big Lottery/Celebrate funding which will enable a series of talks and tours of the Elephant for Glasgow Public Art Project – entitled access ALL areas, which will take place in the open studio where Kenny Hunter and his team will spend the summer of 2014 modelling a life-size elephant from steel, chickenwire, clay, plaster, fibreglass and polyester resin. Members of the public can visit the project at the ART PARK art sheds opposite the Studio Pavilion which is currently exhibiting Hunter’s Kontrapunkt exhibition as part of the nationwide GENERATION programme, celebrating the best of contemporary Scottish Art from the past 25 years.
access ALL areas is open from 10am to 4pm daily, Monday to Friday from 28 July 2014 to 26 September 2014
In August we will embark on the second stage of our project when The Elephant in the Room will see children from P7 at Mosspark Primary School and adults aged 55+ take part in willow weaving workshops that encourage them to create some wild willow sculptures inspired by the structure/frame of the Elephant whilst senior pupils from Hazelwood School for Children & Young People with sensory impairments and a group of Asian ladies from Glasgow Women’s Library will explore clay and ceramic techniques in workshops linked to the clay modelling of the elephant. Details on the Hazelwood School workshops can be accessed here
The 2D cross sections of the elephant were welded in place, and the overall shape of the elephant was completed by bending steel bar to the correct shape, based on the earlier models – like drawing in space using steel. Each part was reinforced to ensure a strong standing structure that will later be able to support the weight of clay and a plaster mould.
At this stage the armature was still still slightly smaller than the intended size of the finished elephant. This was to allow for the layers of chicken wire and clay that will come in the later stages and add to the overall size of the sculpture.
Then came the cladding stage. To ensure that the clay has something to attach to when modelling the elephant, we added chicken wire to the armature. The entire elephant was wrapped tightly with two layers of chicken wire. The first layer is secured with wire bag ties using a bag-tie twister. Then another layer is added to make the gaps in the mesh and this is also secured to the first layer and armature. We snipped the ends of the bag ties and fold them into the armature so that they do not snag on our hands or stick out from the clay when we start to add it later on.
Having a good armature, or underlying structure means that it will support the weight of the clay and plaster later on – when we make the mould, it also means that you don’t have to use as much clay when you are modelling the sculpture.
The clay was added in 2 inch thick slabs to the wire mesh. It was flattened into the wire mesh to make sure it is secured in place and also so that it spreads out more thinly on the elephant. Each clay slab was fixed very closely to the next one so that they joined and formed an overall skin.
Once the first layer of clay was on, it was possible to see where the armature might need a change here and there. For example, Kenny decided that the back feet were too big so we had to peel back the mesh with clay still on it and cut some of the steel armature back. This was then re-welded, the mesh rejoined and the clay pushed back into place.
Now that the clay is on, it’s important to make sure that the clay does not dry out, as this would form cracks and it would be impossible to work with. So, the elephant is regularly sprayed with water to ensure the clay stays damp and workable.
Overnight, she is wrapped in damp cloth and then covered in plastic lining to ensure that she does not dry out overnight. You can imagine it takes a lot of cloth to cover a whole elephant, and we do this carefully every night once we finish working.
Now that the elephant armature is fully clad in clay, the next stage involves giving the elephant some detail and character. we start by making initial marks to indicate major folds in the elephant’s skin using a wooden stick as a mark-making tool and using toy models and photos of elephants as a reference point.
The challenge is to give the elephant just the right amount of detail without articulating every fold and crease, whilst also maintaining a level of symmetry in the marks.
The whole process necessitates a lot of looking and walking from one side of the elephant to the other to ensure that the marks are even and symmetrical.
The final stage of the clay work is underway. This involves combing the entire surface of the elephant (apart from the nails), with a grooved tool to give the surface a texture that is reminiscent of the wrinkles on an elephant’s skin. To create an interesting textural pattern, the strokes are loosely made in different directions, whilst making sure they follow the form of the elephant.
There’s quite a large surface area to cover as well as some trickier curves and folds to get around. In these areas, smaller tools were used to create the texture.
To finish, a wet brush is gently brought over the combed area to remove the bits of clay left on the surface of the elephant
G41 is an ambitious education project linked to Kenny Hunters’ exhibition in the ART PARK Studio Pavilion which will inspire S2 and S3 pupils from the Glasgow Gaelic School and Bellahouston Academy to explore the conceptual, cultural, creative and curatorial aspects of contemporary public art and sculpture, funded by Creative Scotland as part of the nationwide GENERATION Public Engagement Programme.
Taking place between 18 August and 20 October 2014, the pupils will attend weekly half day workshops with our team of GSA intern artist-facilitators who will encourage them to experiment with lots of different materials, techniques and processes linked to Kenny’s work and the Elephant commission.
Further details of the G41 project at Bellahouston Academy can be accessed here
Once the work on the clay texture was finished, another stage of the process started – building the plaster mould. The mould was created by by dividing the elephant into different sections, 36 in total. This is done by building clay walls and putting plaster directly onto the clay surface.
Once a bucket of plaster is mixed up it is quite runny and needs to be applied by flicking it on. After a couple of minutes when the plaster has thickened a bit, it is easier to apply it by the handful to cover bigger sections. A layer of scrim is added to strengthen the mould.
It is very important that the seams between the plaster mould sections are neat and accurate as the plaster moulds (with an added fibreglass re-enforced plastic layer in each) will be reassembled later on in the process.
The surface of the plaster mould sections need to be smoothed as much as possible as an uneven surface makes the mould more prone to cracking when taking them off. When the plaster is about to set, steel handles are attached to make it easier to remove the plaster mould segments later on.
‘The ‘plaster elephant’ didn’t survive long. As soon as the last segments had fully set it was time to remove them, revealing the clay layer once again. But this time, nobody was precious about the clay layer as it had already done it’s job. Now, each plaster mould sections is handled carefully and any clay residue is washed off.
It actually looked quite destructive when the clay elephant and steel armature were being dismantled. But the process has already progressed to another stage. As the clay elephant disappears, a plastic elephant emerges!
Does it still look like an elephant?
This is how the elephant now looked:
Some segments are easier to recognise than others:
Once all of the plaster mould segments were washed and dried, work on the elephant continued.
Firstly, a layer of sealant was applied, followed by two layers of wax – which makes it easier to remove plastic moulds once they are ready. Then, two layers of gel coat were added to each section. Gel coat is a polyester based resin, formulated for high quality, cosmetic surfaces.
Following the gel coat layers, each mould segment was reinforced with a layer of fibreglass which was applied with a more fluid resin called Resin-A.
Next, we’ll look at the process of assembling the elephant again!
There are over thirty polyester resin mould parts in plaster casing now. All of them need to be joined together from the inside by applying a fibreglass and resin layer on a seam.
A decision was made to allow more time at this stage to carefully consider the production of each join in order to reduce any inaccuracies that might occur over the course of making a number of different joints. This was a time-consuming process that allowed only a couple of joints to be made each day.
The elephant is slowly starting to get its shape again. Some plaster case parts have been removed revealing the elephants’ side and belly, this time made out of polyester resin.
To those who have been following the project in it’s earlier stages, the elephant in plaster segments with the handles sticking out might look familiar. The main and most important difference is that now there is now a polyester resin layer underneath.
Once all of polyester resin parts are joined together, the elephant finally ventures out of the shed so surface work can be carried out. This involves filling in uneven areas or joints with car body filler, sanding it down either with the electric sander or manually where it is more difficult to reach and…repeating this again, for three or four times…a labour of love!
The elephant rests on its side in the sun during one of the last days of work at this crucial stage. Only one more day of sanding left!
Friday 3 October saw the opening of the elephant in the room exhibition of work made by four different community groups as part of our education/outreach programme linked to Kenny Hunter’s Elephant for Glasgow commission.
School children from Mosspark Primary and Hazelwood School attended along with their friends and family, whilst a group of local ladies from Glasgow Women’s library and adults from our willow weaving course came along to see their work presented within the group exhibition featuring prints, ceramics and woven willow sculptures in the ART PARK Studio Pavilion.
The G41 project aims to inspire young people to engage with contemporary visual art – specifically sculpture and public art.
S2 pupils from Glasgow’s Gaelic School and S3 pupils from Bellahouston Academy took part in workshops that explored the conceptual, creative, cultural and curatorial aspects of contemporary sculpture in a project inspired by Kenny Hunter’s Kontrapunkt exhibition at House for an Art Lover – which was part of the nationwide GENERATION and Culture 2014 programme.
Encouraged by the artists Freya Fullarton, Tess Vaughan, Vivienne Priestly and Zivile Siutilaite from Glasgow School of Art, the pupils have developed their ideas to create an exhibition of their own contemporary sculptural works using a variety of different materials and processes.
Private View Monday 20 October 6.00-8.00pm
Exhibition runs from Tuesday 21 to Monday 27 October in the Studio Pavilion, ART PARK, Glasgow