Yorkshire Sculpture Park is delighted to present 399 Days by Rachel Kneebone (b.1973) in the unique environment of the 18th-century Chapel. The artist’s most ambitious sculpture to date, 399 Days — named after the length of time it took to make — is over five-metres in height and comprises 63 exterior panels.
Monumental in scale yet exquisite in detail, it echoes historic sculptures such as Trajan’s Column, a plaster cast of which is displayed in the sculpture court of the V&A, where 399 Days was also shown from 2017-2019. Kneebone’s sculptures do not depict the full human form, but allude to the body through the use of a mass of legs appearing to be in motion, often shown in relation to organic forms such as flowers and orbs. Clay, and its more refined form of porcelain, have been used for thousands of years to make objects for the home and for display. Rachel Kneebone has developed her own unique form of sculpture, working primarily in porcelain to create highly complex and delicate objects. Kneebone does not work with assistants but creates each work herself by hand and has grown to accept and appreciate the sometimes unpredictable nature of her chosen material and the firing process: “I am quite reassured when a work explodes because I think that means I am pushing the boundaries of the material. My work moves around metamorphosis, change and simultaneous states, so nothing about it is fixed.”
The contemplative space of the Chapel allows for another view of 399 Days at height from the balcony. Here, drawings from the artist’s Ovid in Exile (2016) series show different aspects of her practice as well as the relationship between works on paper and sculpture. The series refers to the famous Roman poet Ovid who was banished from Rome in 8 CE, for reasons that have become shrouded in mystery and supposition. Kneebone was drawn to the episode as an insight into the human condition, the creative and destructive impulses. For the YSP exhibition, Kneebone has made new sculptures, where motifs such as tendrils, folds, ribbons and spheres are fluidly interwoven creating a vine-like structure which protrudes from the wall.
The sculpture Roll (2017) is shown in the dark-wood panelled vestry. The energetic, organic elements of the sculpture suggest both movement and resistance, amplified by its confined space and in contrast to its static and apparently decaying pedestal. Its tomb-like form and ornate growth resonate with the Chapel as a place that historically marked key life events from the cradle to the grave.