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Roland Brener: ‘Using Particular Space’ (1969)

With an introduction by Sam Cornish (2015)

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

In the summer of 1967 Roland Brener (1942-2006) was one of the founders of the Stockwell Depot. Occupying part of a disused brewery in south London, for over twenty-five years the Depot functioned as a studio and exhibition space. Like almost all the Depot’s early occupants, Brener had studied sculpture at St Martin’s School of Art. Under the influence of Anthony Caro St Martin’s had developed an international reputation as a place at the forefront of abstract modernist sculpture.

Brener was a favoured pupil of Caro, though their relationship was not without its difficulties. The work he made at the Depot can be seen to marry the openness and spatial extension of Caro’s sculpture with some of the diverse tendencies which were challenging Caro’s dominance within St Martin’s and the wider British art scene. Brener’s sculpture became temporary, site-specific, dematerialized or moved toward installation and so away from a concept of sculpture as a discrete object. Brener left the Depot in the early seventies, settling in Canada.

Roland Brener, Deep Space Installation, 1970, re-made 1970, balsa wood, string, fixings. Photo: Hana Vojackova

Re-making Deep Space Installation. Photo: Rüya Yönak

Stockwell Depot 1967-79 at the University of Greenwich Galleries is the first exhibition to survey the art made at the Depot. It is accompanied by a book of the same title published by Ridinghouse.  For the exhibition Breners Deep Space Installation has been re-created by a team mainly composed of students from the University of Greenwich. Brener made versions of Deep Space Installation on a number of occasions during 1970 and 1971. Each was improvised in response to the particular space available at exhibitions in Gothenburg or Chelsea, Leeds or Santa Barbara. Consequently the team re-making the 2015 version did not copy a particular iteration of the piece, but rather applied its premises to the space available in Greenwich. The statement by Brener below has not previously been published. My thanks to Dama Hanks for her permission to do so, and for allowing us to re-make Deep Space Installation.

Sam Cornish

Stockwell Depot 1967-79 is on at The University of Greenwich Galleries until 12 September.  The team who re-made it were: Sam Cornish, Greta Lileikyte, Ray Sacks, Shanmu Srinivasan, Ruya Yonak, Kasia Wójcicka and Viktor Zeidler.

Roland Brener: Statement, 1969

Roland Brener, Deep Space Installation, 1970. Installation view, Stockwell Depot: Eight English Sculptors from London, Konsthallen, Gothenburg, 1970. Photo: Roland Brener. © 2015 Roland Brener. All rights reserved.

I was genuinely surprised and slightly embarrassed when visitors from the British Council showed concern over my lack of interest in preserving my own work. My attitude is not specifically destructive – rather call it disrespectful. My sculptures fail to impress me by their existence. Their material being does not merit preservation. Qualitatively I rate them as high as most other art I’ve seen, but my attitude towards all possessions and objects is basically one of indifference. I wouldn’t express this as an ideological stance but as a personal characteristic. My ego finds security in an optimistic belief in my creative potential and not in the work already made. All the sculpture I have so far produced seems to be an inadequate manifestation of that potential. I cannot believe that this is merely lack of maturity as an artist – there is no reason why this attitude should change, unless as one ages one’s creativity diminishes, in which case I may have to find a substitute security in the work itself. Anyway, the work itself lacks a permanent or absolute quality. It always seems to me to imply the possibility of further modification, arrangement or refinement. Its finite state is not sacrosanct.

Roland Brener, Bow Sculpture, 1968. Installation view, Stockwell Depot: Sculpture Exhibition,  Stockwell Depot, London, 1968. © 2015 Roland Brener. All rights reserved.

It exists symbolically as fragments of a universal language of structures which is comprehensible only in a physical-visual sense. An easy statement, perhaps, but suffice it to say that the manner in which certain forms relate produces a uniform response which has to do with the resonance of our collective subconscious. I’d hate having to prove that. Could one ascribe to forms a male or female gender and relate them in that way?

Now, I make a lot of sculpture but could not really be called prolific because if you asked me to gather together five completed works I couldn’t do it. Some of my sculptures take weeks before the basic structure emerges, more often they take one or two days. But as each sculpture is more or less a criticism of the previous one, each piece is in turn cannibalised or discarded. So there is a positive continuity, which is not to say there is progress.

Roland Brener, Tubular Sculpture #1, 1969. Installation view, Stockwell Depot, London, 1969. Photo: Ray Sacks. © 2015 Roland Brener. All rights reserved.

Obviously, my work, like anyone else’s, can be identified. However, I think that in my case it is identifiable by its underlying philosophy rather than a stylistic idiom. The processes to which I submit material are governed by structured thought, and the ‘finished’ configuration is merely that point in time at which I decide to suspend the process. I find it possible to work in more than one convention without deviating from my basic premises. (Actually I think that Caro’s weakness is his lack of flexibility. The range of his abilities is narrow and the effect of seeing his work en masse at the Hayward is rather less impressive than each individual work. Ultimately this lack of scope is what makes him rather less than a great or even really good sculptor. David Smith could improvise freely with conviction but Caro can only improvise on a basic theme and the repetitiousness becomes tedious). Sculpturally, I’ve had no real problems in relating to Caro or the New Generation except in the matter of colour. That is to say, I’ve assimilated a certain amount of particular elements of people’s work but think that my vision is a highly personal one and doesn’t readily fit into a historical continuum. This is partly to do with my lack of formal training (only two years all in all) and partly a result of an inherent scepticism.    

In the past I’ve most certainly used colour insensitively. I think I’m over that now, but for a long time I accepted the garish and playful idiom of the New Generation and Caro. Most of my work used to look better unfinished than painted. Actually the only sculpture I have ever seen which I consider to carry colour with absolute success is Roelof [Louw]’s.

Roland Brener, Sculpture with Four Arches, 1968. Installation view, Stockwell Depot: Sculpture Exhibition,  Stockwell Depot, London, 1968. © 2015 Roland Brener. All rights reserved.

About environment: I feel confident only about using particular space. Not all my work is meant to relate to a specific space, but that which does I can visualise only in terms of the space with which I am familiar, i.e. the room I work in. Now that room I feel on particularly good terms with. The low-arch sculpture I made was for that space alone, and is less impressive anywhere else, although self-contained. I feel that I could use that space time and time again and each time create a powerful environmental 'occasion'. One learns space slowly, and my experience has been that unless I am familiar with a space and am working with it in mind I shan’t succeed in activating it. As I said, this applies only to the environmental pieces. For all I know it may apply to the others as well, as I have never had the occasion really to see them away from home. Certainly each piece changes when located somewhere else, but I have to find out more about this.