Rupert Norfolk – Beach (2011)


The creation of a discrepancy between presentation and representation, of optical illusions – these are typical features of Rupert Norfolk’s oeuvre, which consists of drawings, but primarily of sculptures and installations. Norfolk (b. 1974, Abergavenny, Wales, lives and works in London) makes subtle interventions on familiar, sometimes everyday objects, changes that often can only be seen with closer study and which create an effect of alienation. Wall (2006) is a limestone wall that appears to have been transported in its entirety from its original site to the exhibition space. If you take a good look at the stones, you see that they exhibit an unlikely symmetry. Norfolk has finished one side of each rock so that it displays exactly the same natural inconsistencies as the other side of the rock, making both halves mirror images, down to the millimetre.


Guillotine (2007) is a  replica of a stone cutter. Norfolk’s replica is made of aluminium and sprayed with grey acrylic paint and lacquer. The artist has in fact incorporated a dual optical effect into this work. The sculpture represents something that is at odds with its appearance and the surface of the work also features a trompe-l’œil. The shadows on the gleaming material are not real, or at least not all of them are. Norfolk sprays paint over shadows cast by elements of the sculpture itself, so that the appearance of the object at that specific moment is captured for eternity. When viewers walk around the sculpture, they notice shadows appearing and disappearing, but some are permanent and do not depend on the light source in the exhibition space. Distinguishing the real shadows from the hand-painted ones requires a considerable effort.


Norfolk often works with hard materials, such as steel and stone, but has also made a series of Aubusson tapestries: decorative rugs and wall hangings hand-woven using a traditional technique, which originally came from the French region of Aubusson. These Pixelweave tapestries appear to have been spread casually on the floor without being smoothed out, and therefore exhibit all kinds of folds and pleats. Some of these undulations turn out to be real, but others are illusions, caused by distortions in the pattern or shifts in tone that have been incorporated into the fabric.


For Lustwarande ‘11, Norfolk has made an extremely disorienting installation. In the middle of a path, a section of beach or desert suddenly appeared. This typical beach or desert relief is made up of a repeating pattern of sixteen different concrete sections, 500 in total, cast by Norfolk on a vast, wintery beach in the north of Scotland. The shadows of the light through the trees also played an essential role in this work. This not only made the work more graphic in appearance, but also created confusion about the nature of the surface. Norfolk has taken his inspiration for De Oude Warande from Spanish beaches and the unexplored remains of the Mayan culture in Mexico, to create a cocktail of landscapes on an area of 8m2, soft in appearance, fossilised in character. Whether stone or fabric, Norfolk’s extremely precisely finished objects created confusion for the public, about light and shade, depth and dimension, form and function. His work requires curiosity and time for all of its puzzles to be solved and to be fully appreciated.


Manon Braat / translation Laura Watkinson