Curated by: David MacWilliam
19 November 1979 - 8 December 1979
Opening Reception 19 November 1979 8pm
Vanguard, December 1980
Robin Peck’s Mercer Union show must ultimately be regarded as a confused effort, yet that doesn’t stop it from also being one of the most interesting sculpture exhibits in Toronto during 1979. The strength of the work — although this must be distilled from an overload of ideas — is a comparison of our responses to the properties of mass and the properties of volume. Peck makes the concepts of mass and volume into vital and significant forms and not simply textbook attributes of sculpture.
For Peck, mass is experienced as a closure of space: something finite and measurable. To express this premise he reproduces the proportions of the gallery space in concrete and plaster blocks of varying scales and arranges them on the gallery floor. They deconstruct the space, and make it something to be reorganized. A sense of displacement grows out of the awareness that the space, experienced as a containing volume, is represented as a collection of hard-surfaced masses — the concrete and plaster blocks. He pulls us to the smaller scales and the viewer contemplates them feeling outside, like the omniscient narrator of a story.
On each block there is a small rectangular indentation which is also the same proportion as the room. Its location marks the position of the block in relation to the room. At least, it does on some of the blocks. On others it’s as if the room needs to be rotated to correspond and the and the mind reels trying to imagine it. But whichever case, the indentation restores an awareness of the original scale of the room and the sense of a containing volume.
The point here is that mass and volume are in some respects interchangeable; first, the volume of the room is represented as a mass; then, this mass — by means of an opening in its surface — is represented by a volume. But although they can be substituted for each other, they are in other respects inviolate. The experience of them is palpably different.
Peck shows mass to involve the need for definition; it involves the sense of being on the outside. Space, when considered as a mass, is differentiated by changes in material — this mass ends, that one begins. The preoccupations are physically based and speak primarily to body awareness. Volume on the other hand is represented as an open, interior space that is weightless and fluid and also capable of containing something. The mind jumps to fill it with either objects or analogies. It is to Peck’s credit that his piece establishes the distinctions between the two without forgoing the complexities of their interconnection.
The trouble is that he doesn’t stop there. The smaller blocks piled arbitrarily on top of the larger ones are for the most part needless additions. They reiterate the potential for rotation already adequately indicated by the indentations. They also make piles look like they might be instructions that are meant to be admired for their abstract qualities and Peck needs to add an extra element to reassert that the room is the subject here — not a compositional arrangement of objects. In varying scales he reproduces the room’s central pillar — with its easily recognized beveled edges — in steel, lead, concrete and wood. They hark back to the room alright, but they also raise unanswered questions about density. Each material varies so widely in surface appearance that the proportions of the pillar alter and the precision of successively diminished scales is thrown off. Clearly, Peck is showing that density relates to the perception of scale but this remains inconsequential and confusing.