Interviewed by Karl England


"The centenary commemorations of the end of the First World War mark the final transition between living and recorded history, and is a special opportunity to create a unique piece of public art that will act as a focal point for future remembrance.

The experienced artist we have selected to bring this project to life is Kasper Pincis. Kasper will work with Camden’s children in our schools and libraries to create poems that relate to both the armistice and the theme of peace.”
Councillor Jonathan Simpson, Cabinet Member for Promoting Culture and Communities

The original brief for this artwork asked you to respond to Armistice by exploring commemoration and peace. The early development work included working with primary school children within Camden. In the classroom workshops you explored concrete poetry - can you describe why concrete poetry seemed an apt approach?

I was approached for this commission as an artist working within the broader frame of ‘concrete poetry’ as I use typewriters and text in my work - I think it’s an interesting method of passing down information, somewhere between the purely visual and the purely literary. As an art form its origins are very old but it did have quite a big resurgence around the time of the First World War, with various movements such as the Futurists, so it also feels quite appropriate in that sense.

You often work with typewriters, in the workshops you also had the students exploring typography with stamps and stencils. How did your ideas evolve as a result of the work with the school children?

I really wanted the children to experiment with different forms of printing and ways of transferring information. I love printing processes because there are so many variables and things to remember- whether or not the original needs to be reversed for example. I think art always needs to be an experiment to some degree, and I don’t want to know how it’s going to turn out, so for me very often it’s about setting up processes that will allow for happy accidents to happen. Some of the children experimented with embossing tin foil in order to make rubbings with crayons or pencils, and this really appealed to me as a way of sharing information, as I wanted the final piece to be something that viewers could interact with.

The finished artwork was cast in a foundry in bronze, and is encased in a repurposed writer’s slope, what significance do these materials / processes / objects hold?

In many ways bronze is a very classical choice for a commemorative sculpture, but it is a new material to me. I often aim for my work to inhabit an area of some kind of contradiction so I liked the idea of making a cast of a written letter, something altogether more ephemeral. The process of making rubbings of monumental brasses is also a traditional way of commemorating and interacting with tombs so felt very appropriate. The writer’s slope is something that could have been used at the time of the First World War for writing letters, and one half will hold a stack of paper and crayons, inviting the public to interact with it and make a rubbing.

repurposing of the writing slope
Repurposing of the writing slope

How did you arrive at the letter, what significance does it hold, where did you find it?

I had originally intended to use the children’s work in the workshops more directly, as I had them experimenting with individual letters, treating them as abstract shapes, and I was planning on coming up with a more typical monumental brass/tomb type design made up of letters. The way the children made the rubbings of embossed foil designs in the workshops was great, as it’s a really active way of trying to read something and I wanted to design something that required an active participation. My plan for the design changed however, quite a bit while I was doing research at Camden’s archive in Holborn Library. In the archives was this letter to a local soldier’s wife informing him of his death, from depressingly close to the end of the war. The way the letter was written, with personal details just added by hand to a pre-printed template was very moving, when you think about the volume of such letters that had to be written and the resulting combination of the personal and impersonal. I felt I just had to use this letter if possible as I wanted the process of making rubbings from it to be analogous to producing these letters. As the handwritten sections are now quite faint it could be possible to imagine one’s own name in his place, and be thankful that it is not.

The commissioned artwork will enter the Camden Art Collection, how do you envisage Camden residents will encounter and interact with the artwork?

If it’s displayed in a public space such as a library, I hope that the way the piece is designed will naturally encourage people to interact with it. I wanted the dark patinated bronze to be slightly difficult to read and invite closer inspection, and hopefully encourage the curious to make further research.

Condolence is currently on show at the Swiss Cottage Gallery, in the Swiss Cottage Library. The art work is the focus point of an exhibition based on language and how it is used in art. The exhibition runs from 9th September to 27th September 2019.

Kasper Pincis is represented by dalla Rosa Gallery.