Author: Clare Lilley, 2003
Although Jenny West trained in sculpture, drawing has bee her principal medium for at least twenty years. She thinks about drawing in three dimensions and early works, such as Crossed Beds, in the collection of Leeds Museums and Galleries, clearly indicates her desire and ability to consider and combine the two disciplines.
Architecture is another concern and the series of her drawings with which I was first familiar, in1987, were of the extraordinary17th century astronomical observatories in Jaipur and Delhi. Initially I was surprised that West had not visited India but rather had transformed the objects into highly complex yet insubstantial linear constructions from studying photographs of the buildings. On reflection, these powerful, dynamic works were dazzling in their imaginative intricacy and observation of the laws of geometry.
West's association with Yorkshire Sculpture Park began in 2001, using a series of architectural sites to conduct research into the 'hybrid nature of sculptural drawing' as a research fellow at Loughborough University. She turned first to the early nineteenth century Camellia House and then to the mid -18th century Bretton Chapel. In both spaces she developed site-specific works, which made reference to ordinary domestic utensils such as the sieve, colander and funnel. West takes pleasure in the preparation and cooking of food and enjoys the seductive quality of simple kitchen utensils - how they exist in the world as both functional and aesthetic objects and, importantly, in their symbolic connotations and meaning. Using plaster, soot, pencil and thread she unfolded and extended their form and interior space into the space around them. No longer confined to representation on a flat surface, the drawings began to occupy a three-dimensional space.
Invited to make a work for the YSP Centre, West responded thoughtfully to some of the hidden strengths and discrete spaces within the building. On the top corridor she has highlighted ceiling buttresses, lit by high windows that might otherwise be overlooked. These cool, white surfaces are now interrupted by a series of eight grey/blue funnels drawn onto a gesso grounds that diminish in size as perspective recedes, ending in dense black versions. They are united by red and brown threads tautly drawn through the eyes of 169 sewing needles inserted around the edge of each carefully mapped shape, seemingly piercing and re-emerging through solid wall, and establishing a visual sonority and reverberation.
Adjacent to this installation, sharply defined rows of red fishing line are drawn in fifteen groups of five across a diagrammatic image of inverted funnels coloured a deep red, this drawing acts not only as a working plan for the funnels above, but as a continuation of line and movement 'running out' through the space beyond. The lines are fastened by fishing swivels, intriguing fixings that are delicate but extremely strong. The lines can be read as musical staves and as they stretch into space West acknowledges musical forms such as fugues, where a phrase is introduced and then taken up by successive voices or instruments to create an interweaving composition. The lines disappear around the corner of a stone aperture that cuts through the upper storey into the high void above the 100 metre long concourse below. From here they stretch diagonally across the space to the top of the windows, where they are collected by holes drilled through a steel ruler at 1cm intervals and from which they finally descend, each anchored by a steel plumb bob and caught together into a cascade of shimmering steel. Plumb lines are used to locate or determine the vertical in an architectural space and for West, whose drawings are made according to a rigidly constructed perspective; they are functional, beautiful and symbolic.
As with all of West's work, the installation, which in its entirety is titled Entrance, is both light in touch and extremely powerful. Walking along the stone concourse you are aware of the vivid red threads drawn tightly above which are resonant with light and movement. They are read as a multitude of spaced lines and, in combination, as a dense red line that cuts through the space. The object - funnel - has melted into the space and the installation as a whole is both miniscule and grand in scale. In this transformation of material, West revels in the shift between form and idea.
The third part of the installation is situated on the upper level, a hovering platform that overlooks a broad landscape. Here West has joined two sides of an alcove with drawn thread screened by a series of thin lead lines, each weighted with small steel plumb bobs engineered specifically for this work. The introduction of lead reminds us that this base metal is present in all of West's drawings, as the substance of the drawn pencil line. That such delicate, fibrillar materials as pencil marks, lead solder and thread can extend with such sharp clarity and strength into space is quite remarkable. West's interest in using concise instruments and exact measurements to make her work introduces the notion of science, of order and logic, and fixes in space something that is inherently uncertain.
The layers of light, translucency and opacity offered by the architecture of the Centre are a perfect ground for West. The weight of the building is a foil to the insistent pulse and weave of the threads and pale plaster. The first commissioned work for the interior of the Centre, Entrance draws attention to some of its hidden details and to the void which forms the largest single part of the building, articulating it in tremulous, reverberating colour, and drawing the intimate into the open.