Polly Gould’s work on show at Volta NY 2017 shares some common origins in the horizontal and vertical ambitions manifested during the long nineteenth century, which, according to the historian Eric Hobsbawm, began with the French Revolution in 1789 and ended with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Drawing upon such references as architecture’s capacity for utopian visions, Victorian science fiction, and the era of heroic Antarctic exploration, Gould presents drawings and sculptural works in blown-glass, stained glass, watercolour, gold, cloth, and found objects.
The pencil drawing with watercolour Horizon (false horizon) and the glass globes with anamorphic reflections are derived from Gould’s encounters with the watercolours of Antarctic explorer, Edward Wilson (1872-1912) and his horizontal ambition to reach the South Pole. The works titled Architecture for an Extinct Planet feature coloured glass and magic lantern slides. The title references the science fiction leaflet Utopia; Or, the History of an Extinct Planet Psychometrically Explained by Alfred Denton Cridge, published in 1884, and the utopian architectural writing of Paul Scheerbart, Glass Architecture, 1914, in which he promises the culturally transformative power of building in coloured glass.
Monument to Folly, a wall-leaning sculpture in black-out cloth, watercolour and gold leaf, is modelled on Trump Tower, Fifth Avenue, and recalls the building that it replaced: The Bonwit Teller & Company ladies fashion department store, 1907, where artists worked as window dressers and Jasper Johns first presented his flag painting as a backdrop to fashion mannequins. The work is influenced by another writing by Paul Scheerbart, The Gray Cloth: A Novel on Glass Architecture, 1914, in which he describes an internationally famous architect who builds in coloured glass and the contract that he asks his wife to commit to, promising to wear only grey and white so that her fashion will not detract from his architecture. Liberty’s Pedestal, a sewn version of the plinth that supports the iconic statue, and Trophy a wall-based piece, also refer to this nexus of fashion, femininity and architecture.
In these works, with their interest in the historical, the reactionary or outmoded, Gould shows that the desire to return to past glories can betray a profound misapprehension of the nature of the challenges that face us in our current times. Gould compares the redundant ambition to be first to the South Pole to the equally redundant architectural aspirations spurred on by utopianism or vanity.
Polly Gould works across media in which storytelling plays a strong part, either with performances that narrate the artworks in some way, or in the fictions and histories that inform the works. These might be sculptures in glass or fabric, sound or video works. installation pieces, drawing, watercolour, found objects or pin-boards. With an interest in collections and archives Gould has shown work in places such as the British Library, London, and Botanic Gardens in Cambridge and Sydney, and in natural history museums in Bergen, Norway and Maastricht, Netherlands, as well as showing in galleries internationally. Gould was selected for the Jerwood Drawing Prize in 2007. She has a short-story in a collection of fiction by contemporary visual artists in Britain, 2006. Polly Gould studied Fine Art at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London, and has undertaken both Fine Art and Theory residencies at the Jan van Eyck Academy, Maastricht, Netherlands. She has recently completed a PhD in Art and Architecture at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London and is currently post-doctoral research fellow in design-led architectural research with ARC Architectural Research Collaborative, Newcastle University, UK.