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Synapsid was originally commissioned by VITRINE (www.vitrinegallery.co.uk) for Bermondsey Square, October 2014 - March 2015. It was the inaugural work for the program ‘Sculpture at Bermondsey Square’, funded by Arts Council England Grants for the Arts, Bermondsey Square Community Fund and Ideas Tap, with additional support from Art Review, Elephant Magazine, Pangaea Sculptors’ Centre and Team London Bridge.
Synapsid was inspired by Golden Age science fiction, in particular the 1959 film, The Giant Behemoth. The production originally intended to feature a giant blob of radioactive material; however, in the final version a mutated dinosaur menaces the UK’s coastline, including Cornwall and Plymouth waters, before swimming up the Thames and trampling through London. The sculpture’s title, which is the scientific name of a group of prehistoric proto-mammals, hints at a cranial enclosure and eye-sockets. The neon, chameleon-like colours suggest popular culture’s depictions of radioactivity, transgenic animals, rave aesthetics and warning signals. Synapsid was informed by one of Tang’s earlier installations, Modern Molluscs, created for Jerwood Space, which explored the juxtaposition of mutated nature with the built environment.
In planning the sculpture, models began with thoughts materialised quickly in soft plasticine, moving into foam and plywood to work out the armature and structural connections. The final sculpture retains formal plasticity; it appears softly moulded despite the fact that under its hard transparent exterior the painted Styrofoam is actually carved. Recalling the film’s focus on the river and sea, it is apt that Synapsid’s surface consists of the epoxy and fibreglass sheathing methods used in the construction of surfboards and boats. The protean, blobby forms of Synapsid epitomise looseness and change, addressing the sculptural challenge of freezing fluid movement in static material. The visible feature of bolts joining the fibreglass sections emphasise the concept of mutability, suggesting shifting identities of the parts themselves.
Synapsid exploits the ability of sculpture to fluctuate between abstract and representational. It looks dramatically different depending on distance and angle of view, highlighting the sculptural concern that three-dimensional form cannot be perceived in a single instance. At the scale of a small room, Synapsid draws the viewer into its apertures and interior space. Immersive, interactive and playful, the sculpture functions as a meeting and sitting place. When Synapsid was exhibited in Bermondsey, it was positively received and created interesting discussions about the potential for more public art in the local area.