Updated: Jun 26, 2022
JACOB TALKOWSKI is a sculptor currently completing an MA at the Royal College of Art in London. He is fascinated by architecture, structure, text and form. His work is a questioning, a conversation regarding ruin and preservation, what does place mean? How and where do we exist? What are the structures that surround us? Talkowski combines an exacting eye for details and a concern with the bigger picture of form - to produce sculptures that are sensitive to the spaces they are shown in. He will be showing his graduate work from the 25th - 30th of June at the RCA Battersea South building - go check it out!
Q: How did you get into making sculptures?
I've always been in love with form, I always thought ancient columns and super glossy architecture were so juicy, how all of those things affect you as a person. I used to want to be an architect actually, I played a LOT of sims growing up, and forced my family to sit down to watch grand designs (I still would love to build my own house one day- maybe after a lottery win though!) but I remember it was as I was about to apply for university during that mid point in my A-levels when my interest in mathematics just nose dived, and I realised being an architect means you're going to be working as part of a team? with a client? to a brief? Hate that. In my teenage mind that sounded so awful, the idea of not being in total control of the creative expression haha.
I ended up turning inwards to my fine art and 3D classes. I made a /lot/ of mess with plaster, concrete, and latex in those classrooms, I didn't really know what I was doing, or really what sculpture was, we didn't have galleries or access to 'real' art institutions where I lived, but what I did know was that I wasn't just another student doing bloody figurative paintings hahaha (I still find realism and figurative work so, SO dull). I ended up doing my BA in Sculpture at Brighton and my love affair with it has only snowballed since.
Q: I can definitely relate to that, I also played a lot of sims - figuring out how to make a floating staircases. I think architecture can be very constraining because for a long time you’re mostly contributing a small part to a bigger project. How does architecture influence your sculptural forms?
You wanna know the most apt thing about playing the sims? I was always frustrated that I couldn't make a version of my own house because it wouldn't let me put furniture in rooms that small, or draw walls like they were configured against the furniture in my small house. And yes! So constraining - nobody will trust you to design a building until you've already designed and built one????? what?????? I did an architecture module in undergrad and the tutor told me I had made the right choice doing sculpture, and that the architects in the room would soon get bored of figuring out doorways. A bit harsh on them, a little bitter maybe sure, but funny.
Architecture is a huge influence in my work, just physically I always take so much care in /where/ my work is placed in a room, because sculpture is so tied to its environment, literally I'm the person twisting things one degree at a time to see how the light hits it differently. But those details matter to me!! I hate the term site specific, it's so incredibly overused by people who truly do not know what they're doing. Just because your work is placed in a site doesn't make it site specific. I think my work is often site sensitive, but not specific. There's a difference there. I think art people really need to learn it.
It influences me on a material and conceptual level too, I'm in love with the pillar like I said, but also the way space is designed for flow and use, the way a well designed shopping centre utilises those things for unfiltered consumerism. I love the glass in it all, and historical layers too! The way it's so absolutely not neutral at all as a presence in the world but so often forgotten about. I write about architecture a lot when I'm considering the systems around us at play. A community centre reflects the community its within, even if it's derelict and has broken windows.
Q: I really agree with you here about the way that architecture is never neutral. When a decision is made to build something on that scale, everything that leads up to its construction must necessarily be loaded with meaning in some way. Even if that meaning might be its function. You might build a hospital for its purpose to house sick people and those that care for them, but it's also designed to aid that function too and decisions were made. I also think many assumptions can be tied to architecture too, like with your example of a derelict community centre, some might see that as an indictment of the social circumstance that let a useful building fall to disuse and others might imagine that it was no longer needed as a central hub. What assumptions are made also reflect back on us as the people who perceive them.
You mentioned using latex, plaster and concrete - all fairly cheap materials in the context of sculpture - and at the WCCD exhibition, your work made use of takeaway boxes. How do you think class relates to choosing materials for your work?
During my degree I actually did a lot of work with just lots and lots of paper, super simple single wooden beams, and lights found in my university basement that I definitely did not steal. I think class relates a lot to my material but not in any amazing and depth-y way. It's pure praxis.
Okay, that's a lie. Clearly my takeaway container works are loaded with class and that's part of their power. but beyond those works it goes back to being conceptually class loaded rather than materially.
I'm currently making a contemporary anchor for a larger work, and I'd love it to be glass, but it's going to have to be resin because I can't afford to pay someone to cold work the glass in such a complicated form. Even still, I'm writing funding applications to charities and prizes to fund that, because I can't drop £200/300 on silicone to make the mould on a whim. My most recent takeaway box work 'Densification' which is showing as part of the Scottish RA Winter show uses just over 1700 of them. I received funding from a charity to complete that. I'm studying my Masters right now, but for my second year I've received a scholarship - I would've had to have dropped out otherwise like one of my classmates did. I don't try to let being a poor person stop me from doing art as far as I can because I REALLY believe it's a systematic injustice, entirely on purpose, to remove these voices from 'high end' cultural pursuits a la Fine Art. But... it does sometimes. I have work I've abandoned due to funding, just at a material experiment phase because I just cannot commit to purchasing material that I'd need. Storage is also a huge issue with sculpture, I try to make every work as flatpack as possible because I just cannot buy the storage space some others could. It's tough. It is. But god I love what sculpture can do in a way that just no other medium can.
Q: Which artists inspire you? What works did you make out of paper and were there any artists who you were influenced by when using this material?
I find my references are people like Jason Gringler, Léo Fourdrinier, Tom Borgas, Jonny Niesche, and Vincent Lo Brutto. I find it more rich for me to dig into the practices of artists still making every single day. When I was making paper work I made a Pillar (LOL) and a ceiling, a panel, more basic forms that point at architecture. My influences at that time weren't other artists at all, it was the fact I was working at my unis reprographics centre.
Q: Could you elaborate a little on the richness you find in practicing artist’s work? What is it about those artist’s work that you’ve mentioned that really speaks to you?
Artists who are alive are the ones who need support. Gerry Bonetti (who is a collector and runs another fantastic instagram account) mentioned it once during an interview that the reason he collects art by artists alive today is because those are the ones who can actually gain something by having their work be sought after. The commercial art sphere has a whole host of extremely known issues by this point, so we don't need to go over them yet again - but I like the pure sentiment in the idea.
The thing I think I respond to in the artists work I shared is the severity. But not in that kinda gross severe-meaning-bad way. More like the way a Pat McGrath eye look is severe, the way gays mean severe. That type of severe. The commitment to what they're doing, also? maybe? I hate half hearted ANYTHING. If you're going to do something, commit to the bit and do it entirely! How do I describe the work I enjoy? I really don't know it just gets me, it's juicy, I wanna chew it. Like... brain empty, aesthetic horny. If you know you know!
Q: One of the things that came to mind to ask when looking through your work, was how you're playing with 'words' as sculptural objects. I wondered if you could tease out a little of why making something abstract (and visually 2D) become sculptural is a fascination?
There's too much power given to the language game, we can communicate such specific punctum with object and form, with image and scale. I want my work to have a direct link to the minds of viewers I'm engaged with. I want my work to have the speed of a meme, the flow of a poem, and the longevity of a fable.
A thing is so specific, but the language around it can swill into endless spirals of nothings and somethings, there's a romance to this which is inviting of course, but communicating is so hard when we gesture at so many points never really knowing if the other person exactly understands what we've said. With a sculpture, it's that thing, right there. And if we're on the same wavelength for it, we're communicating better than we ever could with words alone, it's personal, it's specific, it's... right there!
Q: How does research play into your work? What topics really fascinate and provoke ideas?
Research plays a large part, I'm someone who really considers almost everything I do relevant research to my work. For example, I'm currently working on that crystalline anchor, but the research behind it - I'm drawing on reading into a timeline history of anchor design, different anchor designs used for different types of ground, local anchors only used in the Norfolk broads, memories of light hitting the surface of the water at the beach back home, the cold power of that North Sea in storm. I'm thinking about the infinite horizon, the way the wind whips the surfaces, the way my finger will scroll on the glass plane of my phone all day, things not quite being able to get to the other side. School trips as a child to the lifeboat station, all these experiences of things are research which go into the work. I was in the V&A Print and Drawing study room earlier this week looking at a steel engraving from ~1860 of boats in trouble just out to sea off Great Yarmouth, yes looking at this thing is research, but so is the act of going to see it so far away from where it's content is located. Reflecting on being local, together, afar.
I'm interested in so many topics, I made this miro board in October as a way to try and provide some context or insight. (you might need to zoom out and scroll around a bit to get to the content - it has a weird habit of loading you into a corner for some reason.)
It's still so relevant, but maybe the melancholy has become a bit more of a main voice, and I've become swept away with seawater metaphors too.
Q: If time and money were no object, what would you make?
I'd buy back my granddads old house on the cliff top in Gorleston and put it back to how it was meant to be before he had to sell it and it got renovated all wrong by the people who bought it. Un-renovating an entire building as sculptural conservation. I would love to build my own house one day and that would be the perfect way to trial run the experience.
That, or just make the rail network not dogshit awful everywhere except inner London.
Check out more of Jacob’s work [here]
Jacob's MA show is open to the public June 25th - June 30th at the new RCA Battersea South building. Stop by to see his recent my work or have a chat in person. Or if you can't make it physically, check out the [digital platform]