Selected works by Roger Hiorns

Roger Hiorns
Leaning Chartres With Cobalt And Copper Crystals


Card construction with cobalt and copper chemical growth. Mounted on glass and wood trestle table with perspex cover underlit by two strip light

137 x 125 x 65 cm
Roger Hiorns’ sculptural practice meditates on the act of artistic creation, observing what happens when the process is handed over to reactive, “living” material and its metamorphoses. Copper Sulphate Chartres and Copper Sulphate Notre-Dame and Leaning Chartres With Cobalt and Copper Crystals, both from his Goldsmiths degree show in 1996, as well as his more recent large-scale installation ‘Seizure’, highlight his apparently no-hands method: a chemical solution is allowed to precipitate and take over an existing object or space, and a found form and its meaning is transformed, as if by self-design. The way crystal formations shape themselves on these cardboard models creates a living sculpture, reminiscent of creeping ivy on statues, of historical ruin; it also undoubtedly recalls the slow-forming processes of geology, suggesting a latent constant potential for material transformation.
Roger Hiorns


Polyurethane, polyester and brain matter

Two parts:142.2 x 152.4 x 30.5 cm/ 180.3 x 106.7 x 28 cm
Many of Hiorns’ three-dimensional projects yield to the autonomous generative properties of his chosen substance (crystallising fluid, detergent foam, fire) to ‘isolate’ objects, to make us conscious of their origins and their contexts. His diptych Untitled (2010) combines ordinary and esoteric materials – polyurethane, polyester and brain matter – to explore transparency as a sculptural property.
“We’re surrounded by codified practices consistently imposed on us by dominant objects. We’re under a narrow coercion from the objects that we design for ourselves. Of course, this question is strikingly obvious: Are we a balanced society? Can we retool our objects, perhaps? What would that involve, and is it possible to transgress the continuous production of next-generation objects, to insert transgressive stimulus, the cross of semen and the light bulb, for example? To retool, simply to ask: Do we live in a society where we make objects towards the darker side of our psyche? Is it useful to continue this procedure even further, with more necessity and speed?"
Roger Hiorns
Copper Sulphate Chartres & Copper Sulphate Notre-Dame


Card constructions with copper sulphate chemical growth; mounted on glass and wood trestle table with Perspex cover underlit by two strip lights

137 x 125 x 65 cm

Hiorns’ inconsistent sculptural practice rebels against the idea of unquestioned limitation in art and, by extension, calls for a liberation of the assumed status quo on a broader sphere.


The impregnation of an object - Roger Hiorns in conversation with James Lingwood July 2008

JL: You use a wide range of different materials. What determines the choice of material in your work?

RH: The way that I approach making certain artworks is to have some kind of psychological position, a place that is grown from a certain ambiguity. You always have to think about materials in terms of being real things - you have to cut them off from what their real use is, to interfere in their world-ness. You have to start from this material basis, and understand yourself through the material - it gives you a means of detachment.

JL: But the materials you use are quite specific and seem to be precisely chosen - fire, detergent foam, copper sulphate crystallisation. Is there anything they have in common?

RH: The key issue is whether it's possible to choose a material which helps in creating an isolation - an isolated object. They were all carefully chosen, through a kind of evolution, through spending time with the material.
I'm not somebody who's interested in a deliberate form or design or style. These materials - fire or foam or crystal growth - have their own autonomy and their own aesthetic, which simply takes me out of the equation.

JL: Were there materials which didn't do what you wanted them to do?

RH: I don't think I ever chose a material just to ask it do something, or to coerce something out of it. I have quite an illustrative way of working, a very good idea of what something is going to be before it's finished. I tend to think out the problems beforehand, it's part of the practice, part of the internal psychological perspective on how to make artworks. I rarely use drawings or other aids, the work is an extension of my way of thinking - working things out in my head, and then working it out as a reality. This becomes a useful way of selecting materials.

JL: You relinquish control because the materials have their own life, but you have a good idea of what will happen.

RH: There's a set of positions or desires that you want the work to fit within, or to have a certain relation to. But these aren't rules or set pieces written down on a piece of paper, it's basically a judgement about how something will be over a certain time, there's an emotional evolution in the way that they work. These act like filters, internal mental filters, which you pass all of your thoughts through

JL: There's quite a strong structure underpinning the work?

RH: It's a kind of aesthetic procedure; everything gets channelled through a certain way of working. In a way there's a ridiculous amount of structure, but it's an internal structure, an ongoing internal monologue. The desire, fundamentally, is not to be stricken with meaning, not to ascribe meaning to everything you do... an outside stimulus will always magnetise the structure through certain different positions.

JL: How did you arrive at the idea of working with crystallisation?

RH: It's a bit like a childhood memory, I can see parts of it more than the whole. A while ago, maybe 10 years, I needed a material to achieve a certain kind of detached activity, and on a basic level an act of transformation, a material which was going to simply transform another material. I felt a system of nature like crystallisation would do.

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Crystal Method for Roger Hiorns

Roger Hiorns and I are sitting shivering in a windswept, brutalist concrete courtyard surrounded by a dozen derelict flats with boarded-up doors and windows. "Perfect weather," he observes. "It would have been a nuisance if it had been sunny this past six weeks! Really a nice cold winter would have done the trick nicely."

This dewy-faced, 33-year-old Birmingham-born artist rejoices in our miserable summer for a reason: he's created a living crystallised sculpture called SEIZURE, which, literally, needs to cool down before he can even see it, let alone judge its success.

His ambitious project is the latest urban-landscape commission by Artangel and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, in association with the National Lottery, Arts Council England and Channel 4. Rachel Whiteread's House (1993) was one of the earliest. Brian Eno, Antony Gormley and Jeremy Deller have also contributed to the scheme. Hiorns's installation, at Harper Road, SE1, near Elephant and Castle, is between the Lawson and Rockingham estates, scenes of recent teenage knife crime and a murder, that of 15-year-old Lyle Tulloch.

Today the area is quiet. An imam sits meditatively at the entrance of the light-filled mosque. A couple of children play in Newington Gardens, the site of a famous gaol outside which Charles Dickens used to observe the crowds at public executions.

What exactly has Hiorns done? In short, he has filled a bedsitter with 90,000 litres of copper sulphate solution to create a "total crystallisation". The cerulean-blue liquid has been poured through a hole in the flat above into a huge, specially constructed, sealed tank which occupies the dimensions of the bedsit below. A powdery crystal encrustation is discernible around the only small opening, like phosphorescent sherbet. Only when the ambient temperature is reached - 20C - can the remaining liquid be drained off, a hole knocked through and the work be visible for the first time. A humdrum London dwelling will have metamorphosised into a crystallised grotto in dazzling, glinting blue.

"We'll knock through the old bathroom wall next door," Hiorns explains, pointing at the entrance to a third flat, which is quickly locked and bolted before I get a chance to glimpse anything.

Until then, everyone has to keep out - but not just to prevent seepage of information. Copper sulphate's most common use is to test for anaemia, but its use as a fungicide is a reminder of its toxicity.

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