Bill Woodrow

Saatchi Collection Imperial War Museum

At the Saatchi Collection Bill Woodrow exhibited 12 works that were made by excising sculptural images from found matrices of scrap steel. Connected by umbilical cords of metal, the sculptural forms generally contradict the nature of the found car hoods and doors from which they are derived. The original form appears to have been captured at the moment of its transformation into another counterform. Often the new forms seem natural and implicitly criticize the encroachment of culture (especially automobiles) into the domain of nature. In the earliest work, Red Squirrel, 1981, the animal appears to be on the verge of leaping to freedom from a clothes dryer which shows the outline of the splayed squirrel’s body. In Kimono, 1983, each of three car hoods has given birth to an object representing a different sphere of reality: a flower (nature), a calculator (culture), and a samurai sword (ancient tradition). In Table, 1983, another car hood has been transformed into a table on which other objects also spawned from the car hood are arranged to imply a narrative. Someone, it seems, has been writing by the desk lamp and has spilled out the contents of a bottle of pills. Has a suicide note been written? A tragically unrequited love letter? A feverish poetic rant? The piece suggests loneliness and desperation and perhaps hints at the possibility of viewing cultural activity as a dead end, leaving one with a spill of pills in the lean hours of the night. Other works involve transformations of various everyday objects—a couch, a couple of suitcases, an overstuffed chair.

Woodrow’s new work, some of it exhibited for the first time at the Imperial War Museum, is decidedly different. Cast in bronze from cardboard molds and employing a variety of added materials, the six sculptures in the museum all relate to the theme of war: Refugee, 1989, For Queen and Country, 1989, Point of Entry, 1989, are three of the titles. Caterpillar, 1989, shows a figure whose limbs have been hacked off and crudely bandaged. A cast-glass axe leans against the helpless figure; from the remains of the body a leaf grows, toward which a caterpillar crawls. This speciman of apparently self-destroyed humanity is already returning to nature. Point of Entry, 1989, suggests the eviscerated body of a young person wounded in combat; the words “Mum” and “Dad” spill out onto the floor with the intestines. In Refugee, 1989, blood spurts from the truncated limbs of a human figure, which is half-transformed into a wheelbarrow. Un Till the Land, 1989, shows a figure half-converted into a plough, tilling the earth with his penis. Woodrow’s earlier preoccupation with the unexpected transformation of one form into another—especially from a cultural into a natural form—is still present, but the tin snips have given way to the theme of war and amputation as the instrument of change. This work is elegant and gruesome at the same time, combining references to traditional materials and means—such as bronze casting—with a jagged, horrific presence.

In another room Woodrow presented related pairs of pictures from the museum archives as an artwork. One pair juxtaposes an image of soldiers in a bunker with one of archeologists in a tomb. The two pictures echo one another compositionally and seem to forecast the ruin of Western civilization through its obsession with war.

Thomas McEvilley