Form and Function

1 Apr 2019 – 3 Nov 2019

Event times

Daily 11-5pm

Burghley Sculpture Garden

Stamford, United Kingdom


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In 2019 the gardens at Burghley have become the grounds for a debate between Form and Function. A conversation between the needs of purpose and the liberation of pure geometry, spoken through the language of sculpture. Form and Function is an outdoor exhibition of over 20 large-scale sculptures.


Participating sculptors have played with the scale of objects, reconfigured them or undermined purpose through material selection. Others have ignored function in favour of the formal language of sculpture; where point, line and plane combine to encapsulate volume and define mass. The realm in which surface qualities, the interaction of units, responsiveness of materials to light and the use of colour become the sculpture’s narrative.

Excitingly, the show’s theme has allowed us to bring in some super-sized sculptures that play with functionality through scale. Foremost amongst these is Owen Bullett’s Garland Necklace, which is reminiscent of a floral garland, albeit on a humungous 5m scale. His gigantic sculpture introduces a welcome flourish of colour to the gardens. Each of the roughly hewn wooden beads has been painted on one half, with remaining half left as bare wood.

Rather than scaling functional objects up or down, some artists have favoured truth to scale. Even so, Down Two Earth by Hex is the biggest sculpture in the show. A life-size 11m depiction of a German WWII Junker 87, Down Two Earth is anatomically correct but materially divergent. In contrast to the original, Hex has chosen to construct his Stuka dive-bomber entirely from stainless steel. According to the artist the plane “crossed the Bermuda Triangle, The Battle of Britain and fallen through time”.

Django Rhino (Origami Skip) by Alan Williams repurposes a single object, albeit a giant one! He has chopped and folded a skip into an origami Rhino. One cannot help but sense the physicality of its production, scarred into the metal through welded seams and cut edges. Williams’ impressive ‘cut and shut’ job has created a charming mosaic of blue and yellow painted patchwork that now defines this prehistoric beast’s armour-plated hide.

In Lepus Complicabilis, Pete Rogers unfurls a sequential revelation of how to create sculpture from planar materials. A rabbit has sequentially bent itself from flatness into a fully formed and rounded creature. His metallic animation has parallels in Eadweard Muybridge photographic studies of motion in humans and animals; and results in a sculptural stop-motion. Here, function demonstrates how laser cutting perforations into outlines can enable volumetric form.

The next sculpture marks a shift in direction. Lee Brady’s Hercules In A Modern Society metaphorically sits on the fence of our FORM / FUNCTION divide. It consists of a common garden shed, from which bursts forth a bulging expansion of boxes. Erupting exuberantly, its blocks high-rise into a shocking pink vision of pixelated fungal growth. This is a gardener’s nightmare, where the potting shed has been taken over by Brady’s mysterious sculptural growth. Brady’s sculpture is a fascinating hybrid of the mundane and entirely incredible.

Sophie Marsham’s Stacked Form relies on the interaction of identical units and variation in their orientation to create a subtly meandering visual energy. Hers is an elegantly elongated wave of steel lozenges; these are truncated at both ends and this tapering creates visual gaps that amplify the sense of torsion that runs through their arrangement. From certain viewpoints her sculpture appears to be flat, but a slight shift in the viewer’s relative position dissolves the planar into torsion. This reveal demonstrates how considerable intrigue can result from simple forms being employed intelligently.

With the conclusion of the exhibition one might be tempted to take a position on the debate between Form and Function. Perhaps this is a little harsh given the sculptors’ eloquent musings on the demands of the utilitarian versus the relative freedom of pure geometry. Hopefully, this journey of sculptural questioning is worthy of a visit to determine your stance. 

Michael Shaw

Curator @ Burghley Sculpture Garden

Additional artists are:

Richard Bett, Will Carr, Edward Cartwright, John Fowler, Andy Hazell, Jane Jobling, Diane Maclean, John McDonald, Georgie Phipps, Edd Ravn, Sheila Volmer, Julian Wild.

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