The Impossibility of Writing a Sculpture or Reading Impossible Sculptures

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At the 2010 symposium Sculpture Unlimited that took place in Linz in Germany, the question that speakers asked at the culmination of the event was ‘Is there anything like an »essence« of sculpture?’. This question recognises the discipline as a set of thresholds with no concrete definition. Despite the complexity, sculptures are physical things in space of varying materials, scales, situations and durations. Therefore, it follows that ekphrastic literary sculpture with no visual representation can’t be defined as sculpture, and yet, it does possess an essence of sculpture.

In this paper I would examine examples of ekphrastic literary sculpture, specifically works that have been constructed by a writer (e.g., Homer, Keats, J G Ballard, Hustvedt). Unlike forms of ekphrasis where the writer explores an existing artwork (i.e., Feldman on Segal, Benjamin on Klee, Williamson on Serra) these written ‘sculptures’ are embedded within a narrative (but have no material presence).

Two key examples would be J.G Ballard’s short sci-fi story ‘The Cloud sculptors of Coral D’ (1967) and the sculptures by the fictional 1970’s New York artist Bill Wechsler that are meticulously described by Siri Hustvedt in the novel ‘What I loved’ (2003). These are impossible objects because they couldn’t exist (metaphysically) and/or they are fictional.

Sometimes, as maker, I write a short story of an artwork rather than making it, because its fabrication isn’t possible at that time. Writing and reading a fictional work allows you to inhabit the viewers encounter; sensorily, emotionally and bodily. If we recontextualise the literary passages of poetry and prose, as sculpture, what can we learn about the essence of sculpture and our encounters with it?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2021
EventAssociation for Art History’s Annual Conference 2021: New Voices Conference: Sculpture & Literature - Henry Moore Institute and the University of Leeds (online), Leeds, United Kingdom
Duration: 20 Oct 202121 Oct 2021


ConferenceAssociation for Art History’s Annual Conference 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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