Steve Dilworth’s Ark (2000) unveiled at Sculpture at Goodwood

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 15 September 2009
This announcement first appeared in Sculpture magazine, 20(9), pp. 18-9 in 2001.

Steve Dilworth’s Ark

Like much of Steve Dilworth’s work, Ark (2000), his recent contribution to Sculpture at Goodwood, was inspired by Scotland’s Isle of Harris, where the artist has lived for the past 18 years. Known as one of Europe’s last frontiers, Harris faces southeast Iceland across the North Atlantic and is a place where whale and walrus bones wash ashore.

Despite using contentious animal material (bones and carcasses, for instance), Steve Dilworth is not interested in the pursuit of shock art. “I use animal material for its energies and qualities, in the same way I use non-animal material,” says Dilworth. For the English-born-and-raised artist, the timeless qualities of Harris and “its primal energies, materials, and images” are compatible with his own internal visions of life’s cycles, fragilities, and joys.

Ark entombs a hooded crow within a “fractured” bronze egg. Steve Dilworth chose the crow for its lowly status; it is often shot or trapped and regarded as a pest, despite what Dilworth calls “its endurance and quiet power.” The sculpture’s structure and elegant and smooth exterior were originally inspired by a limpet shell he found on Tobago’s seaside and kept in his studio. As he worked, the form gradually took on the connotations of the Biblical ark, a vessel “that protects and floats through time.” “In one sense Ark is an elaborate jewel to protect the despised— a crow,” says Dilworth. “In another it contains a mother and child.”

Steve Dilworth used bronze and nickel silver for their warm and emotional qualities. Inside the bronze egg at the center of Ark, the mummified hooded crow’s hood is covered in silver, while the body is done in bronze. Around the egg, the skeletal horseshoe form— based on nature as opposed to being an actual skeleton— is also made of nickel silver, while surrounding bronze parts interlock with the skeletal pieces to form an ark. (In total, there are 36 interlocking parts.) The combinations of bronze and nickel silver, which begin inside with the covering of the unseen mummified crow, emerge and swirl to Ark’s exterior. The materials offer a continuity and equate the value of the various forms. But if the crow is so important to the piece, why is it hidden from view? According to Dilworth, “Sculpture is not just a visual art. What the sculpture is, is as important as what it looks like. The crow, whether seen or not, is still there. It has its own presence.”

Over the past 33 years, Dilworth has focused on hand-held objects and other entombments using animal material— including dead cats, birds, fish, and “bits and pieces” of walrus, whale, and dolphin. He has also encased seal oil, mountain air at dawn, water retrieved during storms and from the deep, and his own blood. Ark is Dilworth’s second public art commission.