Term 4 (of 9)
Recently I came by chance on a sculpture exhibition, mostly of birds and animals (Against The Tide at the Pangolin Gallery). Something about the steel and bronze creatures reminded me of what I’m learning in my training, but it took a while to work out what. I think it’s a sense of internal space, coupled with angularity, creating stillness and movement at the same time.
The sculptures were by Terence Coventry (1938-2017), a Cornish pig farmer who returned to sculpture in his fifties, and died earlier this year. In a short film from 2010, Coventry said
“My interest is in trying to express form in a rather angular way, in simplified planes… Parallel space or parallel lines are not going anywhere. But if you’ve got an opening space or a closing space, it’s either being compressed or opened up… so the space around it is doing something as well as the three-dimensional form”.
He was talking about birds taking off into flight, having observed them for many years while ploughing his fields. But his words reminded me of the internal angles and spaces we need in our bodies to create poise and ease of movement.
Spaces come in various guises and places. To stop us clamping our arms tightly to our sides, we imagine having space under our armpits to hold a ripe tomato or small egg without breaking it. As our bodies lengthen and widen under the teacher’s hands, we find more space in the torso and ribcage for our internal organs and our breathing becomes less forced. As we bend or sit down, we keep the space from sitting bones to the top of the spine as one piece, so we don’t shorten ourselves as we move up or down.
When we lie on the floor in semi-supine at the end of each day’s training, we think of expanding internally, allowing the space between joints to increase. We also take up more space externally, in our daily lives – I’ve got taller as I’ve done more Alexander work and I’ve gone up at least one shoe size as my feet have opened out. I’m more conscious of the space I take up in the world, whether passing through a crowded street market or sitting on a busy bus, rather than shrinking myself to fit with other people and their requirements.
The angles in Coventry’s figures create an opposition between body parts – limbs, wings, torso -that enables balance or movement. As I progress in my training, I’m starting to think of the body in a simplified way, as a series of angles – head and neck to hip joints, hinging with hips to knees, and knees to ankles. If we can keep the internal spaces open, lengthened and not compressed, then the angles between joints spark off one another to send us up from sitting to standing in one easy movement. Or they hold us, like his bronze owl, balanced easily within ourselves, ready to fly off effortlessly when we need to.
In some of Coventry’s pieces there is a narrowness and stiffness that is the opposite of what I am looking for. Even so, in the sculptures I saw, he used angles and spaces to suggest dynamic movement, balance, strength and possibility. I’m moving away from compression and beginning to open up, and I think that’s why his work so resonated with me.