Initiatory Sicknesses – Stephen Coles

Initiatory Sicknesses
(Made in England, appropriated from China)

Cast Iron has a long rich heritage. Contemporary society was established through the industrialization of this material, however what of pre-industrial iron? The production of iron stems back many thousands of years to civilizations and tribes that had no scientific understanding of the processes and chemical reactions they were dealing with. This was a methodology rich with mythology and ritual, sacrifices and offerings would be made to appease the deities that lent narrative to these primitive cultures. Such were the extent of these rituals that the smithy and shaman simultaneously established hierarchies within their societies based around the successful production of this sought after material.

It is ironic therefore when one considers that in an established contemporary society, where consumerism is afforded due to the technological advancements lent from the mastering of iron; these more primitive obsolete cultural mechanisms have been reduced down to base entertainment ripe for consumption. One example of this is the Halloween mask, most of the symbolism behind these masks relate to other religious/cultural iconography that was unfitting with Western society; perhaps then the ultimate testament to this debasement is the fact that these masks are produced in China in cheap plastic & rubber.

As a sculptor who works extensively in iron, I am primarily interested in the decontextualization of these cheap consumer goods through changing their material composition. Through doing this, these objects take on a new presence and permanence, a weight is given to them and a new object is created from these plastic templates. Furthermore through the simple act of producing these pieces there is an interesting phenomenon of appropriating Chinese goods made in England. This appeals to me immensely as a wry commentary on the loss of heritage due to the inevitable outsourcing that comes from an advancing economy.

Stephen Coles