Artist and designer Matthew Harding has been creating exceptional works of art from a vast array of materials for over 20 years. This year, he has been commissioned to help bring life and movement to a world-first audiovisual conception for the Australian Pavilion at Expo 2012, Yeosu in Korea.
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It seems Sydney-born Matthew Harding can create works of art from anything. With materials ranging from timber to stainless steel, he carves, twists and welds solid material into artistic forms with an understanding and familiarity that seems almost instinctive.
“I was fortunate enough to grow up in an environment of skills and tools,” Harding says. “My father was a builder so I’d always play and experiment in the shed. I guess I’ve always had a fascination with nature and mathematics and the principles underlying things. That informs my work in a way, I tend to unravel and try to understand the processes and mechanics and engineering principles in nature.”
Harding, an artist and designer, has been creating and designing commissioned works of art for over 20 years and, while his resumé contains long lists of exhibitions, awards and collections, two of his most impressive contributions have been to the 2010 and 2012 World Expos in Shanghai and South Korea respectively.
The World Expo, a non-commercial, large scale, international fair, aims to promote the exchange of ideas and development of the world economy, culture, science and technology. Boasting a 150 year history, the Expo provides a unique opportunity for exhibiting countries to publicise and display their achievements and improve international relationships, with huge potential economic benefits to boot. After the Hanover World Expo in 2000, an independent study estimated that the Dutch Pavilion, which cost around A$45 million in production and delivery, generated around A$450 million in potential revenue for the Dutch economy.
Harding was first commissioned by renowned Australian creative designers and World Expo specialists, ThinkOTS, to bring components of the company’s design innovation to life in the 2010 Australian Pavilion. ThinkOTS Creative Director, Pete Ford says Harding worked on eight 10 metre high light sculptures for the third of a three act display which garnered high levels of international media attention and acclaim in Shanghai.
“The 2010 project was received unbelievably well,” Ford says. “Matt worked with us on our state exhibit. They were state flowers that we had in the atrium, giant hanging pods, it was stunning –was beautiful.”
In Yeosu, South Korea from May 12th to August 12th, the 2012 World Expo is expected to be attended by eight million people from 100 different countries. The theme in 2012 is “The Living Ocean and Coast” which, Ford says, allows ThinkOTS to portray Australia in a way that will really broaden the perspective and surpass the expectations of many of the Pavilion’s audience.
“In Australia, 76 percent of us live within 50km of the coastline and, in fact within 50km’s of major urban centres,” Ford says. “So, the way I look at it, it’s not even about being on the beach, it’s about being an urban culture which informs a modern Australia. We’re a contemporary, sophisticated and dynamic society and that’s what we’ve got to portray – We’re not a country of Jilleroos and Jackeroos out there riding kangaroos.”
Harding worked closely with ThinkOTS’ Alastair Fleming who was the brainchild of a stainless steel and acrylic projection screen that will be a central sculpture to the Australian Pavilion in Yeosu. The sculpture was designed with the intention to immediately disarm its audience and dissuade preconceptions of a two-dimensional Australia by its innovative structure alone.
“We conceptualized it internally, designed it internally, and then we employed Matt [Harding] to work with us to build it,” Ford says. “He’s an incredible metal sculptor and what we wanted to do was bring in his knowledge of steel and of physical art to make sure that what we had was not a display but a piece of art that we project on to.”
Ford says the projection on the steel sculpture will show a different vision of Australia to every member of its audience in a world first audiovisual technique.
“We were thinking about ocean surfaces and one of the most dynamic surfaces in the world is the surface of the ocean,” he says. “Always rippling, always moving – For us there was an instant connect there to a modern Australia. We’ll have around 180 people per show stand around the sculpture and they’ll all have a different view of Australia. We projection-mapped the show perfectly point to point on this very dynamic tessellated surface, I think it’s the first time that projection mappping has been used in this way in the world so it is a very unique approach to an audiovisual experience.”
With ThinkOTS, Harding sculpted the 12 and a half metre across by four metre tall and 8 metre wide screen frame from stainless steel. The structure is designed so that the screen’s translucent acrylic surface can be seen from every angle – even from underneath the sculpture itself.
“When Alastair [Fleming] first approached me with the basic form or structure I thought, ‘Woah, this is just spectacular’,” says Harding. “The finish on the stainless is intended to cause the colours to bleed a little down the forms, like water. So the colours of the projection would hit the surface of the stainless and dissolve into it.”
Harding worked on the screen sculpture for two months, amongst other projects. The day after ThinkOTS packed the finished screen into a shipping container bound for the World Expo in Yeosu, Harding had a finished carving sculpted from a 20 tonne block of granite scheduled to arrive at Veterans Park in Canberra.
“I enjoy deadlines in a way,” Harding laughs. “I’ve always enjoyed that process of being driven to a definite point.”
As he speaks, Harding circles a sculpture made from around two kilometres of stainless steel rod.
“I tie it all together with cable ties before I start welding,” he says. “So it can actually move and breathe. I change the geometry and I keep tweaking it until I get it exactly as I want it to be, and then I start the process of locking it up and welding.” This particular piece will hang in the lobby of a building in Sydney. It contains 16,000 welds – a figure Harding recites with certainty. Even now, as the 10 metre horizontal sculpture nears completion, Harding can’t stop his eyes from wandering to elements that still need tweaking.
“It’s about getting lost in the geometry and the mathematics of it,” he laughs. “And I sort of love that as much as intuitively finding a form in a block of material.”
Harding, who is clearly a master of language through material, says he couldn’t possibly choose a favourite to work with because each offers him unique potential and inspiration.
“The wood, the realistic work and carving – I love the meditative aspect of that… But I can’t distinguish the materials in that way,” he says. “They’re different loves. They all have a different character, they speak a different language – it’s like being multilingual.”
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