James Angus discusses his artwork ‘Manta Ray’

James Angus discusses his artwork ‘Manta Ray’


The idea for “Manta Ray” came probably late at night lying in bed thinking about the animal kingdom. I guess I should say that
I was I was looking for some sort of existing creature to make a sculpture of
and I wanted something that sort of had a surface that wasn’t going to be
too different from a sports car or an aircraft or that had an element of
science fiction. And I thought about a whole bunch of different objects to make
and eventually having ruled out a number of different options I started thinking
about making a sculpture of the life-sized manta ray and it sort of
snowballed from there. Essentially there was, I guess you would call it, a package of technology that I wanted to use to make this thing. And it starts
with using industrial design software to effectively sculpt a surface of
something using a computer and then that information is uploaded on to what’s
called the CNC milling machine – a computer numerically controlled milling
machine – which, more or less, is a robotic arm with a high-speed cutter on
the end of it and it literally carves that exact
shape out of a block or blocks of foam. So, in a way, it’s not different
from carving a marble sculpture, except that in this case there’s no handicraft
involved, it’s all at one remove. Which is not to say that there’s no
skill involved, it’s difficult to use a software and Seb did a lovely job
doing the modelling, but it doesn’t fit into that – in terms of skills, at least –
that traditional skill base of sculpting an object. See the thing about
manta rays is obviously they’re … … they move, they’re an animated thing, certainly when they’re alive and swimming. And initially a lot
of research went into putting together a package of images which somehow
described the way that they fold through the water. I subsequently
learned that it’s a motion which is called [inaudible], which means that the
fins, which are often mistakenly called wings, but of course it’s not an airborne
thing it’s a waterborne thing and it fits into a whole different kind of set
of dynamics, it’s a folding motion and it effectively follows a sine curve.
So we just kind of show a particular instance in that cycle which seemed
to be the right thing to make. In some ways, it was just a formal
decision. It’s sort of, it’s kind of the downward cycle right
now, the water’s sort of rushing back up behind the fins, well except that it’s
not because it’s a sculpture, but in real life that’s what it would be doing. I think the thing to remember with this sculpture is that, you know,
it’s a sculpture – it’s not some sort of hyper real waxwork kind
of thing. Really, I was just trying to describe the surface of this
thing as clearly and as effectively as possible. It’s not a natural history
display, it’s an object, a completely synthetically produced object, and I
guess I felt that, you know, the pockmarks and the patterning and so on and so forth that you would find in any kind of organic matter in real life, in a
sense, wasn’t so necessary. In a way, I kind of just I wanted it
to be like a gigantic algorithm. By some definitions it’s really about stillness, it’s about this frozen moment in time that you can walk around. It’s like
pressing pause on the remote control, which causes all sorts of problems in a
lot of ways, but that’s also the beauty of it, you can sort of
step into a scene and observe it, in some respects, in kind of a privileged
position. I wouldn’t really say this is … it’s almost like a sculpture
that’s not about motion but is about potential energy, perhaps. See I think the
thing with my work is that I’m easily distracted and I do all sorts of
different things and I’m really much more interested in the differences
between the objects that I make than the similarities. I really, sort of, I wish I could insert this in some sort of linear kind of series of
works, but I think I was making a sculpture of a hot air balloon at the
same time that I was making this sculpture. But they’re still connected in
a lot of ways but also different and and I just think that that trying to tease
apart those differences is much more productive than trying to work out
similarities. And certainly I’ll never make another sculpture like this, I think
this has answered all the questions that I had for the time being.

Dereck Turner

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