Deborah Duffin

Studio experiments for future shows 2020/21

‘Shrouded in Cloud’, Mythic Garden, Stone Lane Gardens, Dartmoor, 2019

The Mythic Garden, Stone Lane Gardens, was set up by husband and wife, Kenneth and June Ashburner. He was a plantsman and she an artist; together they developed the idea of sculpture exhibitions held each summer. Deborah was invited to participate in the summer show of 2019. “I was excited by the opportunity to try out a new idea and create an installation especially for the space. Six pre-made pieces of varying sizes and irregular shapes were to be entwined among a group of young trees, within this inspiring and atmospheric garden”. The pieces formed a bank of cloud from the ground upwards, made with wire and recycled packaging. “The works had been made over several years, as I worked towards an idea, while waiting for an opportunity to realise it. I used my characteristic materials and methods - cutting, twisting, tying and constructing. This event gave me the opportunity to finalise the work. I aimed to create a 3d drawing which would engulfed the trees, drawing their structures into the work to become an essential part of it – blurring the boundaries between host and interloper.” The finished piece created a contrast between the rooted and the ephemeral, the solid and the linear, the naturally grown and the man made. The work provided an opportunity for the viewer to experience the piece from all vantage points, both from afar and from within the work.

‘Cornered’, 6CP, Plymouth Art Weekender, Plymouth, 2018

A regular event in the Plymouth Art scene, the Plymouth Art Weekender takes over the city with a wide range of cultural events. In 2018, Deborah was invited to take part in an event at 6 Caroline Place, one of the venues. “I had no idea until I arrived with my selected pieces, what part of the space I would be hanging my work. I was allocated an alcove in this partially renovated Georgian home. The piece was premade with wire and recycled packaging, and was malleable, so that it could be used in whatever space was offered. My aim was to use the work to inhabit the space and entice the viewer into the alcove.” As the piece turned into the corner of the alcove, from afar only the tail and a few straggling ends of wire could be seen. As the viewer moved closer, the piece in its entirety was revealed. This enable an experience of the space and the work - the physicality of the materials and processes used in its construction. Made with wire and recycled packaging, the piece offers a subtle comment on the waste of our profligate society aimed to invite a questioning of our ways of living.

‘Affirmation’, The Spanish Barn, Torre Abbey, Devon, 2012

Curator, James Derwent, conceived of this group show, ‘Affirmation’, which took over the Spanish Barn – a compelling site – a cavernous space with features and character – huge beams, uneven walls made of rough stone and a beautiful tiled floor. No fixings could be used on the fabric of the building and artists and technicians had to be creative in navigating this environment. Deborah was offered the central space, which incorporated commemorative motive within the floor, acknowledging the men who had constructed the Barn. At either end of her allocated space was an enormous wooden ceiling beam. “To contain my proposed piece, we decided the best way was to rig up cross wires approximately five meters up in order to suspend around twenty pre-made shapes, which I wanted to hang freely, far enough apart to allow each its own space to move. We had no idea if this would work, or whether the cross wires would hold the weight”. The sculptural shapes hung down in mind air, flowing through the space almost touching the floor and drawing attention to its message. The pieces slowly turned, activated by air currents created by the audience. An ever-changing series of relationships described the space and enticed the audience to draw nearer. “The aim was to create a continuous, on-going, but silent, conversation - mirroring the ever-changing relationships of our daily lives.

TRAIL at Shaldon Botanical Gardens, 2011

Invited to take part in this annual show, initiated by Liz Lockyear, Deborah created a series of interventions with pre-made pieces, in keeping with the site – a ruined castle and its grounds. The Castle provided an atmospheric situation within which to hang signs and symbols evoking emblems of the past. Its ancient and monolithic structure became a monumental foil for her delicate organic forms, which appeared to become part of its fabric – merging with the weathered stone, while subtly hovering in space. The windy grounds also provided a perfect habitat for a series of pieces, which would be suspended from the trees. They turned in the breeze, revolving at varying speeds and directions according to the weather.

‘Two Fans’, Solo show, Barbican Arts Centre, 1996

Following a major commission from British Telecommunications in 1995, Deborah was approached by the Barbican Art Gallery, London and asked to create a version of that piece for a solo show at the Barbican Art Centre, the following year. This main piece was to be accompanied by other premade wire works. The main piece was constructed in the studio out of old telephone wire and electrical components; it was delivered to the gallery, with the final form emerging during the installation. Gripping the surface, yet sprawling over its expansive wall. The process of making the piece involved many weeks of hard physical work: “I had to dismantle huge weighty forms, which had been delivered complete, by BT. By the time I began working on the piece I was pregnant, and as time went on, I had to find an endless variety of positions on the floor of my studio in order to complete the work.” The installation of the show had to be carried out by the gallery technicians, as by this time, she could only sit and direct proceedings, while the gallery technicians expertly installed the piece. Four days after the private view, she went into premature labour and was rushed into hospital for a 3 week stay. “This show turned out to be my swan song and for many years, as I recovered from the effects of an emergency birth, I was unable to do anything but draw on the kitchen table at home, with my son by my side.

‘Trespass’, Solo show, Adam Gallery, London, 1991

Adam Gallery, an intimate space consisting of three low ceilinged rooms, full of features and character, was run by artist/curator Adam Reynolds. In 1991, he invited Deborah to take over the space, with an open mind about the end result of her work. “As I walked in to the space on the first day I could feel its silence and history: it was rather like trespassing upon its dreams of the past, whose presence I could feel. I sat silently in each room in turn - trying to feel my way into the making of the work. I wanted to tread gently – making small interventions, which could be subsumed into its fabric – making statements, but at the same time, pieces that could become a part of its on-going story. I wanted to highlight its past and the evidence of ages, while engaging visitors with the work and the space here and now”. Features of the space - a barely noticed window shelf, a half closed cupboard an original fireplace were used as a foil for her work: visitors’ attention was drawn to re-experience the environment and in one room could participate by opening cupboards to reveal a complete exhibition within. “In this way, I hoped to unite the space, the work and the audience in a collective experience.

Photographs by Edward Woodman

‘Wire to Line’, Solo show, Unit 7 Gallery, London, 1988

Unit & Gallery, set up by Nicola Oxley and Nico D’Oleveira, in South East London, specialised in artists with an experimental approach to their work. A huge warehouse space set within an artist-led studio group was a forerunner to their Museum of Installation, in Clerkenwell, London. Responding to the architectural features of this this inspiring warehouse space, Deborah created a delicate three-dimensional drawing, using basic materials – wire, paper, sellotape. The main piece, around 20 feet in length, swept through the space, with related pieces swooping and curling around beams and features –describing and delineating its cavernous space. “My intention was for visitors to be able to walk through the work and experience the drawing as if an integral part of it. The pieces were mainly made in the space, (during a three-week preparation period) as I responded to its character, dimensions and surroundings. The challenge was to create something that retained the delicacy of my earlier work, but also to command and inhabit the space in a meaningful way. Three weeks of wrestling with these ideas eventually led to an emergence of something quite new for me.

‘Illuminations’, Camerawork, London, 1986

‘Illuminations’ was conceived and curated by Sharon Kivland, who invited each participating artist to respond to a brief. The gallery was to remain closed and the work seen through the window. The intention was to attract the attention of passers-by – inviting them visually, to come up closer. Each artist had one day to install, show their piece and then take it down. “I covered the windows with greaseproof paper, on which to project slides, leaving a hole. This would create a sudden shape of brilliant light to attract, and a space to allow viewers to observe and see the workings of the piece”. Large irregular pieces of Perspex, found in the nearby area, were suspended from the ceiling along with sculptural forms, premade in the studio. Pre-made images were projected onto the shapes and through to the window beyond. From afar, the viewer could see a collection of ghostly shapes, punctuated by the bright light of the cut out hole in the paper. On approaching the hole, the viewer could observe the workings - an ever-changing movement and set of relationships – a 3D moving drawing.