Hadrian Pigott


Art Monthly, Issue 183, Feb 1995

There is a six-foot tall block of plaster embedded with four bathroom sinks. We recognize them only after some investigation since they are revealed merely as cross-sections - some obscure and others, where the form is clearly discernible, ideal. This domestic fossil implies a scientific manner of study. More specifically, cross-sectioning falls into the domain of Geology and, not surprisingly, it was in this area that Pigott received a degree in 1983.

His interest in the layering of surface strata developed from science to craft when he became fascinated with ceramic glaze technology. After intensive academic and practical studies Pigott was accepted into the Royal College of Art within the Ceramics Department. For the third and final year he transferred himself into the Sculpture Department where End of Artesian, 1993, became his first work. This piece is a watershed because it marks a shift from the academic to the expressive, as hinted at by the wordplay of the title (End of Artisan?).

It is also a premonition of his poetic use of scientific analysis and preoccupation with the bathroom as arena of social forces. It is not so much an investigation as a preparation, a statement proposing the intent to investigate, the methods to be used and the areas of special interest.

The familiar but unrecognizable form is a varied theme in Pigott's work. That cross-sections are required to unearth Artesian wells and that many of those sections are unreadable is a fact similar to the play on the disrupted sink form in Dysfunction. As the plumbing components are systematically removed, the soap sink shape becomes a soap blob. What was intended to channel waste now has its function reversed to that of a waste container.

This discussion of the intelligibility of form began with the white cement works of Suite, but has since been forced to shift focus with the introduction of soap as a medium. This loaded material has pushed Pigott towards social considerations which provide the impetus for subsequent works; the question is no longer when is a sink a sink, but how do we cope with the physical and commercial pressures of the bathroom? The answer is, of course, very easily. So easily that the preceding question probably seems absurd, but the fact is that what you do in the privacy of your bathroom is of huge commercial interest. The way that brand names ease themselves into your head, so that they can find their way into your shopping trolley, in order to locate themselves within your home, so as to impress themselves onto your brain morning and night is exactly the reason that 'SLIP IT TO ME' is impressed onto the 18in soap tablet of resurrection (after Richard H.).

Even the shape of the furniture presupposes our daily activities. For example, the forms used in Submersive I and II are derived from that of the double-ended baths available for those moments when you are able to share the intimate experience of bathing with another. However, these tubs have been designed in such a way that you and your partner are actually offset as you face each other. Thus, the purpose of bathing together is to promote not intimacy but the efficient use of hot water. You are alone together with your biological selves, which must be cleaned and scented with fat and caustic soda. The bath shape defines the relationship.

Indeed the ritual of cleansing carries such a strong compulsion that obsessive washing can become a vent for social tensions. This is brought to mind by the Instrument of Hygiene (case 1), which appears to be a leatherette musical instrument case. However, it bears the form of no musical instrument and opening it reveals why: its cushioned red velvet interior is moulded around a well-used sink, complete with copper plumbing attachments and soap, ready for a performance. The illness that would require a person to carry an instrument of this sort would perhaps be described as an ethnic disorder - a disorder that, for certain borderline personalities, is expressed through the obsessive playing out of current stereotypical rituals or roles. In this way even our pathological activities are confined to insidious social conventions.

Amelioration (Progress?) consists of a variable series of vitrines. Inside, attached to the glass, is the cross-section of a complex metal mechanism. Children recognize it as a gun, whereas adults see it as a tap. The mirror mounted at the back of the case reveals the uncut reverse of the instrument, which is indeed a tap. The material, formal and engineering coincidences between taps and guns are, however, enhanced with the insertion of a cross-sectioned bullet and its cartridge into the tap's 'barrel'. The alien object fits astonishingly well, proving to be difficult to distinguish from the main body of it's host. The series runs through history with each piece being given a distinct period, for example Circa 1700 A.D. (complete with sectioned musket ball), tying it to military conflicts and/or small arms developments, which, for obvious reasons, generally coincide. The point is made that the war-mongering boosts the home economy and brings material benefits to the domestic population, signified by the plumbing - that which marks the First world against the Third - and is the very objectification of health and hygiene. Again we have the uncertainty of form which makes the object's function obscure. So obscure, in fact, that Matrix-Churchill (allegedly) attempted to pass off the barrel of a super gun merely as Iraq-bound industrial cooling pipes.

So what does this piece tell us, what do any of them tell us? The subtext underlying Pigott's work concerns the impenetrably complex interconnection of cause and effect in our society. Your reflection behind the tap/gun puts you in the background of this invention; it is made in your name. But how can the consumer know what effects such actions will bring about in other parts of the globe? Actions are so removed from consequences by time, space and media coverage that whenever we make a purchase we are operating a kind of blind telekinesis that is a form of, what Chaoticians would call, the Butterfly Effect. What kind of world brings technological benefits to sections of the population only through trickle-down from military research - research that justifies its budget by demonstrating its power over other sections of the population? What kind of world employed Pigott as a systems programmer computerizing offices - where the satisfaction of solving difficult problems to produce a highly efficient system was tempered by the fact that the real achievement was invariably an increase in unemployment statistics? The better he was at his job, the more people the company could lay off: this is the knowledge that permeates these works - at the heart of every tap there is a bullet.

Perhaps dysfunctioning products are all we should expect from such a suicidal society. It is well known that the mess we clean up is no more toxic than the detergent we clean it with. It is well known that the waste and pollution generated by market economies is unsustainable, but what choice does the population have? By definition you cannot live outside of society. You can boycott products, but are there any which truly deserve not to be boycotted? You are what you buy and everybody buys the same things. It is a Catch-22 situation, especially for art which considers itself somewhat aloof and detached from the rest of society. But art is a luxury that depends upon society, whatever comments it makes upon society must be read through that society: it is the medium that the message is written in. What can be said, much less achieved, from such a compromised position? What use is another dysfunctional object?

It is this conundrum that lends Pigott's work a melancholic absurdity, alleviated only by the reminders of our oh-so-human bodies that these objects still manage insanely to evoke.

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