Custom incident tape? Check. Tongue-like concrete casts? Check. Rebar? Padlocks? Pennies? Peep-holes? Smushed books printed with Neanderthal nonsense language? Security tags? All present and correct. Yep: it’s Michael Dean, doing his thing at Hepworth Wakefield as one of the five nominees for this year’s Hepworth Prize for Sculpture. Dean’s work tends to fare best when he has a whole space to himself, as here, in which to create a little Dean-world with Of or for LOL (2018). This one finds him in amorous apologetic mode – the incident tape circling this room reads ‘sorry,’ stickers overlapping one another like urban debris spurt a mangled stream of ‘I love you’s. Twinned rebar hearts bristle with lovers’s locks.
Now in its second edition, the biennial Hepworth Prize, like the museum that houses it – The Hepworth Wakefield in West Yorkshire – is named in honour of Barbara Hepworth. Awarded to a British or UK-based sculptor at any stage of their career judged to have made ‘a significant contribution to the development of contemporary sculpture’ the Prize has the intrinsic peculiarity of pitting old guard against young guns: the last edition was won by Helen Marten (born 1985), out of selection pool that included Phyllida Barlow (born 1944). This edition pits the eminent Mona Hatoum (born 1952) against artists as young as Magali Reus (born 1981).
Rebar and concrete also crop up in London-based, Palestinian artist Hatoum’s elegant but deadly quartet of works, which together suggest a world aflame in conflict over depleting natural resources. The rebar holds together Orbital (2018), a globe strung with rubble evoking both the debris of conflict and the hurried reinforced concrete barricades erected in conflict zones. Alongside it, another sphere – the glowing red world map of Hot Spot (Stand) (2018) – and an oily circular ‘pool’ of marbles Turbulence (Black) (2018). An old surgical cabinet holds pretty Murano glass forms that on closer inspection turn out to be grenades.
In the adjacent gallery London-based, Kuala Lumpur-born Phillip Lai, who has been a lecturer at Goldsmiths since 2001, presents three bodies of work playing with ideas of mass-production, creativity and value. Stacks of brightly coloured polyurethane bowls interleaved with foam rubber sheeting and smeared with cement might be teetering building site debris, but were all hand moulded and poured. Guest loves host in a way like no other (2016) is an immaculate long brushed steel countertop with glossy indentations and two large vessels resembling outsized Turkish coffee pots: the formal language is of high end mass catering – perhaps we’re in the kitchen of a fancy hotel? – but the forms are mysteriously functionless. On the floor a pile of garment fabric (or perhaps actual garments) is sandwiched under a panel with a round aperture like a giant tissue dispenser: again the language is functional, but the function itself opaque.
Magali Reus likewise plays with the language of machines and mass-production, with two bodies of works: ‘Sentinel’ borrowing materials and forms from fire fighting apparatus, and ‘Dearest’ from ladders and clinical fixtures. Materials including powder-coated metal and fibreglass, are given a utilitarian, industrial aspect through the choice of a deadening colour palette: ivory, beige, airforce blue. The ‘Dearest’ sculptures are also dandies of a kind – each doffs an outsized fibreglass hat, and makes an offer, whether of wine, petrol, or other odder objects. Reus’s production has a kind of otherworldly cleanness to it that suggests the absence of any kind of human intervention, yet everything is meticulously conceived, from the custom-woven fire-hoses, to the little ‘matchboxes’ offering to light a fire for them to extinguish.
After all this suggestion of violence, and overtones of industrial production and waste materials, Cerith Wyn Evans’s Compositions for 37 flutes (in two parts) (2018) is a refreshing piece of ethereal fantasy. Two suspended organ pumps breath in the surrounding air like translucent life forms (or perhaps medical paraphernalia) then exhale through glass flutes arranged in two starbursts. Drawing in references including the Aeolian harp – an instrument played by the wind – and Proust’s description of jets of water passing though a fountain, the work has a mournful, creature presence, emitting a noise more like a moan than music.
Although all feature new commissions, the displays here feel like familiar territory for the artists in question: a testament in itself to the entirely distinct and individual sculptural languages that each has developed. It’s a strong selection: I don’t envy the jury.
‘The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture’ runs at the Hepworth Wakefield until 20 January 2019. The winner will be announced on 15 November 2018.
Mona Hatoum, Hot Spot (stand), 2018, ‘The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture’, Hepworth Wakefield, 2018, installation view. Courtesy: Hepworth Wakefield; photograph: David Lindsay