The installation brings together new sculpture, new media and print, to question what is real and what is constructed. The artist explores the materiality of objects, the physicality of their being, and their semantic language.
A sense of immersion and play intervene throughout Duncan’s exhibition. His central work ‘like swimming, 2015-2017’ comprises a navigation of electric blue and yellow buoyancies recast in concrete. Here the artist skilfully plays with the objects materiality to give us a float that will not float.
Bitten into, scratched at, and clung to, the objects allude to a primal fear and desire towards water, and an impulse for control in a changing environment. All the while, the artist’s aesthetic takes the viewer to an unexpected edge between reality and illusion, provocatively questioning our own sense of such certainties.
Duncan draws inspiration from the fragility and power of the natural world and spends as much time in the landscape as in his studio picking through the detritus he finds beneath his feet. He has a rare talent as he selects and recreates, forever conscious of the changing and vulnerable environment.
Washed up by the Thames’s tide, Duncan commonly discovers earplugs, and, like the floats, these items sit on the edge of two diverging states: noise and silence. ‘Surfer’s ear’ is a replica, but not a straight replica; a solid earplug is as useful as a concrete float. Hand carved from a found whale ear bone, this item alludes to the unknown effect that oceanic noise pollution has on a mammal’s communication, and refers to a bone growth caused by extended periods of immersion in water - the human body’s reaction to its environment.
‘Netsuke’ is a series of recreations of a Japanese sushi soy sauce bottle, and is one of the exhibition’s most enchanting works. Fascinated with the decadence of the object, and the imagery of a small fish, the artist worked closely with a contemporary netsuke carver, elaborating on the design and meticulously hand carving from bone. Unique for Bilbao, Duncan has elegantly recreated the object in porcelain, and continues his theme of material movement from one part of the world to another.
Duncan’s new series of float prints ‘like swimming (red room)’ emphasise scale by creating a stark contrast with the miniature objects situated throughout the gallery. The large energetic block prints cascade across the gallery walls, creating a fluidity of motion across the exhibition. The float’s primitive markings, hiding unseen events, reappear here with the title referring to an unseen space on the dark web, an existence yet to be proven or verified as a false entity.
Duncan’s interest in the representation of immersion is consistent amongst his latest works. The ceiling casting of ‘frothing’ suggests a continuous ocean, with a hint of surf wax echoing the rhythmic way a surfboard is buffed. The otherworldly ‘hold down (off Biscay)’ portrays a body pushed to its limits, tumbling in a superhuman lengthening of time underwater. Seamlessly created from found footage shot off the Basque coast, this latter work questions the disconnection of our sensory experiences in the ocean, and offers an opportunity for submersion within water to identify new and non-human peripheries.
By substituting the natural for a man-made equivalent, blow in highlights the complexities of contemporary experiences of real and fake. Duncan makes the familiar unfamiliar, to provoke our certainties and to question how we respond to something that transcends two divergent states.
Parallel to the exhibition, Duncan will present an ambitious new project suspended on Bilbao’s iconic La Carola Crane. Opening 16 May, the work is inspired by the city’s historic connection to its waters and explores ideas of renewal and existence. Supported by Aldama Fabre Gallery in partnership with Bilbao Art District and Ria de Bilbao Maritime Museum.