‘Pah-d’-Bah’, Olivia Bax

HS Projects is delighted to present ‘Pah-d’-Bah’, an exhibition of recent and new work by the Mark Tanner Sculpture Award 2019/2020 recipient, Olivia Bax.

The title of the exhibition is after a new sculpture Bax has specifically made for 5 Howick Place and is the pronounced sound of Pas de Basque, a term for a ballet step that is also used in Scottish Country dancing. It is often the initial move when a pair of dancers first meet, an appropriate reference for post-lockdown. Both dancers move to the right, then to the left as they progress through the dance.

‘Pah-d’-Bah’, 2021 was made to follow a horizontal plane, restricted in certain directions, it had to follow set dimensions. The openings in the pipes suggest places where liquid or a substance could fall or be collected. The colour tone is a new development, trying to emphasise where material might move or rest.

Olivia Bax’s work, though it sometimes references street furniture and other public spaces, is asymmetrical, wonky and bulbous. Her sculptures play with the relationship between public and private, inside and out, forming organic cavities that are also frames, making structures whose underneaths and insides are often on show, inviting the viewer to walk around, explore and peer in and through the work’s windows and crevices – to dream perhaps of nesting within. Deliberately questioning and confrontational, the shapes are problematic. There are sculptures within sculptures and mysterious embedded narratives.

By the window, ’Kingpin’, 2020 is Bax’s largest and most ambitious sculpture to date. A horizontal plane is pitted with holes, which dissolve into generous cavities or erupt into funnels. An irregular bulbous shape appears to be mutating. Bars feed into tubes, parts pivot, and fragments rest. Handles have been added for assistance and bright yellow vertical stands provide essential support. ‘Kingpin’ challenges the idea of a self-contained, free standing sculpture; its limits have been considered, its boundaries tested.

Nearby, ’Juicer’ (2020) is a product of distillation, of a slow transmutation of materials; which becomes, Bax says, ‘activated’ by our gaze, by our movement around it, while conversely retaining a sense of secrecy, of something invisibly at work within. According to Muriel Zagha, ’Juicer’ suggests at once a sewing table, a desk, a piece of industrial or domestic machinery and connected to it, an umbrella stand or golf bag.

Bax is known for using materials such as steel, chicken wire and a generated paper pulp, consisting of discarded newspapers and castaway household paint. She is guided by an interest in the process and physicality of construction. This is evident in the material she employs and the visual language and form of her sculptures. The texture speaks of the work’s history, revealing the process of forming the works.

’Monkey Cups’, 2018 is about balance and poise – each part provides the weight and support needed to hold the next. The title of the work is borrowed from a vessel-like plant and started a long body of work exploring containing, supporting and providing. Made with hand generated paper pulp, using recycled newspaper and discarded household paint; the vessels were made to house each other – like a Russian doll – in order to take minimum space in storage, and maximum space when presented.

‘Pah-d’-Bah’ is at Howick Place from July to December 2021.