Superstructure: Interview with Catherine Baum
CATHERINE BAUM How did you approach the invitation to make a piece of work for Superstructure?
DAVID HASTIE I have wanted to make a piece in a basement for a while. I always like to work out of the main arena or a little bit tucked away and it made sense, as if I was waiting for this basement to come along.
C Despite its appearance - a spanking new space? It seems to draw more attention to the inherent character of your materials, in contrast to those used in the redevelopment of the gallery.
D Yes, and in contrast to my studio which is on a farm in Gower. It was originally built as a riding school and has a sand floor which is absolutely filthy from 40 or 50 years of farm use. It leaks and there are lakes in the middle of the studio, but it all helps to create the sort of work that I do. I share my studio with a tractor and a couple of horses. There are also 500 bails of hay in there and I think it won't be long before I put 500 bails of hay in the gallery. It's almost like trying to find a line between what is actually my artwork and what is just stuff from the farm.
C So you are open to the random influence of your environment?
D Definitely, I think that's where you move on and find new work. And I am sure a lot of the constructions I make are copies or models of things I have seen in my life. They are things that are quite ordinary but have abstract qualities.
C Is the arrangement of the staircases pre-planned?
D I allow things to happen to a point by chance. The placement of the staircases works Iike a musical notation - a chaotic rhythm. When we came to the gallery we had a pile on the floor and we just put them up in the order of which were on top.
C Did you design the staircases?
D I started doing work with actual found staircases, full size. I started making copies of them, but narrower. I see these things as staircases for children, designed for little people and they each have a personality - they become characters to me. They are familiar because I have been working so long with them. They took six months to make, and have lived with me in the studio.
C But you are also interested in objects from your childhood.
D Yes, I have also used a replica lead castle with the staircases. That stemmed from a toy castle I had but also the Welsh castles we repeatedly visited as a child, which fascinated me. Similarly, the train set: me and my brother used to argue for hours over how the model train set rails should be arranged with the papier mache models. At the moment I am just making replicas of things, but why not the real thing. Maybe I should be making model railway sleepers, full scale, and bringing in the real train.
C And you have used lead to make the model toys.
D I see lead as magical. It sort of glows and it has a puttylike quality, that makes it easy to manipulate.
C But a dangerous material...
D Yes, there is a slightly sinister feel to it in relation to toys. But I'm looking for more than that.
C The stairs are for children and ready for climbing and yet they are huge and dangerous - they invoke the awe you feel as a child.
D The toys are models of real things which are dangerous. As kids we are quite involved in the locality of what we do. In fact there are important things, big wide world issues, that are looming, almost waiting for when you grow up. And they come to find us. Experiences that as children we have no control over. I think looming is a good way to describe how I see the bigger elements of the piece - just sitting there solid, it's not going to go away. And then the models are playful.
C You can't actually get into the piece but you are only allowed to view into it.
D Yes, I have often made pieces that you can actually get into. When I have done things with doors I have created a shelter, a lean-to structure. This piece is about the idea of not being able to get behind it - tantalisingly visible but not allowing access; a control thing. It's important that the glimpses through can be seen.
C It's easy to see that your work comes out of the environment you live, work and have grown up in. I wonder how you react to being put in a Welsh context for this show and all the readings that that will bring.
D I think it is a very difficult issue for me. The heavy, gritty earthy material I use brings it into a tradition. But I think the work is actually much more personal. So I work in a 'Welsh material' but I have come to it through being on the farm where everything is held together with nails. Which is just about being in a rural environment - not necessarily Welsh. My family has always had involvement with houses in Wales - as a kid we would explore wrecked properties.
C And you specifically look for materials with a previous life?
D Absolutely, I need things to have been something else to be interesting. These stairs are completely fabricated - but they are made of old construction materials salvaged and constructed into something else. They have a huge history. I have twisted that history. They are actually scaffolding boards used in construction. I got them from a company in West Wales called 'Roman Scaffolding'. Each of the boards has 'ROMAN SCAFF' imprinted into it and their advertising is 'Rome wasn't built in a day'. I have decided to call it 'Reclaimed' because it is reclaimed material, a hint at its history, but also here in the basement it also means something dug out of the ground, since the foundations were lowered to allow adequate headroom.
Superstructure: Catherine Baum: Centre for Visual Arts: 1999