Spiralling and spinning, Bent of Mind rises up from its support, effervescent with energy, an unfettered tempest of bronze. Simultaneously, it is engaged in the opposite motion, a coil of darkness drawn inexorably downwards, twisting and twining as it flows away into some intangible crevasse. In this work, Tony Cragg abandons the visually predictable forms of industrial materials and found objects which had dominated his earlier practice, and instead sets out to map the surfaces of uncharted geometry. Each turn of Bent of Mind becomes a labyrinthine helix from which barely-suggested faces peer; every contour is contorted into a serpentine asymmetry; plane after plane undulate in all three dimensions. Over its dark and smooth surfaces play light and shadow, drawing and redrawing endless permutations of curving, graceful patterns.
The awe and wonder inspired by infinity have been the impetus behind Cragg’s practice. The concept of the sublime, the thrill of terror felt by eighteenth-century thinkers and artists when confronted by the vastness of an unknowable landscape, is updated by Cragg for the twenty-first century through his conception of materialism. ‘I believe that material is everything. We consist of material and … so I can’t think of any reality that isn’t material,’ he explained. ‘That includes light and electricity as phenomena of the material, that includes the thought processes of our intellects which are also properties of material, that includes our emotions, which are also caused… by highly evolved material processes’ (T. Cragg, quoted in Tony Cragg, In and Out of Material, exh. cat., Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 2006, p. 12). Under Cragg’s intense gaze, the world disintegrates into a countless number of neurons, nuclei and neutrons. The artist’s drawings, themselves numbering into the thousands, reveal this understanding of the universe: sinuous forms shiver with the agitated motion of particles; landscapes decompose into boundless fields of binary digits.
Sculpture, for the artist, is as much a method for describing the infinity of the material world as quantum physics or cosmology are. Since the beginning of this millennium, Cragg has perfected the form of this investigation through the creation of a now-iconic series of helical sculptures, of which Bent of Mind is one. Defying gravity and yet obeying an unknown, centrifugal force, these works freeze energy mid-movement, speaking the language of pressure ratios, airflow, energy forms, liquid currents and waves. In the gleaming black shape of Bent of Mind, whose form is seemingly a chance product of forces beyond human control, Tony Cragg reflects the overwhelming beauty and formal intelligence of the cosmos.