Similarly, Cragg uses his biomorphic-stacked forms as a response to today’s industrialized society. However, instead of celebrating manufacturing like Judd, Cragg uses his sculpture to raise awareness that we live in a predominantly artificial and man-made world.
By 1970’s Cragg felt there was too much geometry, and began exploring the relationship between the organic and the geometric. “Elliptical Column” exemplifies this artistic development, as the volumes of the geometric circle are squashed and morphed into a more gestural and organic form. ‘Elliptical Column’, reintroduces organic forms into the industrial and consumerist age. Unlike Judd who relied on commercial plants to fabricate his works, Cragg created his own factory where he worked alongside skilled craftsmen who helped him build his sculptures. Just like the final organic form, Cragg follows his intuition in the realization of the shape. Artist Joseph Beuys claimed that every-body produced sculpture as a natural product of the way they live their lives from day to day. This is true for both Judd and Cragg who’s sculptures “Untitled” and “Elliptical Column” directly reflect their social environment at the time: Judd was surrounded by industrial and manufactured products whilst Cragg specifically worked outside, using nature as his source of inspiration. The impact the social environment has on Cragg’s work is further exemplified in his quote: “Studio can become very provincial… and I have to get out and about in order to maintain a wider view-point” (Bond, 1993). Cragg felt the end of the 19th century was surrounded by a “harvest of the industrial revolution” and “it was necessary to give sculpture a larger role” (Bond, 1993). Cragg manipulates the Minimalistic sculptural vocabulary used by Judd in order to highlight the issues present today.
An interesting link between the artists’ reliance on the power of observation and the parallels it holds to Minimalist music allows us to understand how the sculptures’ repetition creates a hypnotic illusion.
The Minimalist Music movement followed similar principles as the Minimalist Art movement by using only repetitive, affectless, and non-dramatic processes. Steve Reich’s “It’s Gonna Rain” melody is constructed out of excerpts from a recorded speech spoken by a preacher (Brother Walter) about Noah’s deluge in which he loops the phrases “its gonna rain” “just open on the door”, “alleluia”, “God”, “let’s go now” to create repetitive rhythms. Reich’s tape loops created a gradual phase shifting effect. Running two tape recorders in parallel he produced a time shift between the two loops. When we listen to the first half of the music the repeating phrase “it’s gonna rain” merges into itself and begins to suggest an alarm going off and similarly other words, such as “lets go”, “alright” and “no way”. The auditory illusion created through the manipulation of repetition is paralleled in a visual aesthetic through Judd’s use of lighting and Cragg’s fusion of forms.
Judd’s sculpture relies on being exhibited in a controlled gallery setting, which contains fixed lighting. The sculpture’s large size and the perfection of the installed rectangles just above eye level on the wall, encourage the viewers to walk around the installation and observe it from different angles. There is an authentic charm as light coming from above cast’s shadows that emphasize the installation’s structure, suggesting its resemblance to a building. The shadows created also interact with the space around the form, and continue to change as we move around the sculpture. The shadows visually merge the serial rectangular units and create the illusion of a skyscraper. It is through a continuous observation that the viewer begins to see the rectangles, like Reich’s “it’s gonna rain” phrase, merging and suggesting a different image. This importance of observation and looking was noted by artist Richard Serra who observed that “Judd’s work is to be looked at, first and foremost. The experience is always rooted in perception”.
Steve Reich’s repeating phrase “it’s gonna rain,” creates a trance-like atmosphere, with no definitive ending or beginning. These characteristics are reflected in Cragg’s “Elliptical Column,” whose forms appear to melt into each other. Cragg’s earlier employment as a lab technician at the National Rubber Producers’ Research taught him the value of ‘looking’, as he tested relative inactivity at the laboratory. This attitude of looking and observing the real world is both crucial in the creation and the understanding of “Elliptical Column.” Cragg believes that visual information is much more sensitive and complex than the verbal. His interest in biological forms is evident in the squashed stacked column, which is abstract in appearance. Steve Reich manipulates the speed of the two tapes throughout the first half of the melody creating a flux in how close and far apart “it’s gonna rain” sounds, as there is no constant tempo. This continuous alteration is visually presented in “Elliptical Column,” which uses alternating sized distorted forms that change as we walk around the sculpture. From certain angles, sections of the sculpture look like facial profiles. It is through the repetition of form that these visual illusions appear, and give the sculpture a suggestive continuation. The reflective quality of the material adds to the ambiguity of the stacked forms and gives the sculpture a trance-like feel.
To conclude, Donald Judd’s “Untitled” and Tony Cragg’s “Elliptical Column” share more than just their aesthetical compositional choices of stacking. The artists’ individual approaches in presenting a stacked forms disguises similarities in their use of gravity, material, “Factory” production and the importance of observation. Furthermore, auditory and visual comparison between both sculptures and Steve Reich’s “It’s Gonna Rain” melody indicates the wide influence Minimalism’s concept of repetition had in different artistic fields, and the dominance it still has in the conceptual and aesthetic execution of contemporary work.