A glitch in woodwork

Thomas Jukes

“Exploring the body as the interface between quantum, relative, technological, spiritual, material, psychic and conscious states, my work collapses distinctions of internal and external binaries and linear temporalities to explore notions of identity and boundaries of self.”

Paul Kaptein is an Australian artist working primarily with sculpture and drawing, he is most coveted for his intricate yet mind-bending sculptures made from large blocks of laminated wood. A winner of several awards including the 2019 City of Joondalup Invitation Art Prize in his local region of Perth. 

His sculptural works are an incredible sight to behold, one could be forgiven for thinking they are looking at some interesting work of CGI but they are far from digital, whilst exploring the notion of a digital world. Delicate and painstaking sculpting appears to go into each piece with anatomy and details followed closely and with incredible skill. The stacked blocks of wood are pressed together and carved away before the artist leaves the surface impossibly smooth, giving the viewer a clear sense of texture and form. 

It is this attention to detail that makes these sculptures truly exceptional. They are so finely wrought that the viewer really does feel that these are somehow not of the medium. Despite the majority of his work being left plain wood the overall texture and expression of both textile and tissue add to that sense of a rendered computer model. It is no coincidence that these sculptures evoke images of technological involvement as this is the altered reality that Paul Kaptein exploring. 

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By now most of us are aware of the phenomenon of digital glitches, when a sequence of code goes awry and the digital image skips of stutters. These glitches are manifested in Kaptein’s sculpture. The figures dramatically distort, pulled from left to right like an old TV screen suffering from static. The bodies are stretched and manipulated like they are wet clay being pulled by a sculptor and the form is warped to give the effect of misalignment and strange elongated proportions. They are truly strange to look at, in some ways you are watching and expecting the form to return to some kind of normality as if it were simply a glitch. But these sculptures are stuck in this nonspace between a form and perception. 

Many of Kaptein’s sculptures have holes or slots both left open or drilled through, these small additions add to the surreal nature of the works. The gaps left between blocks juxtapose the wonderfully smooth exterior and convey a jigsaw-like feeling. Has the maker not entirely finished with this piece, or does it open the sculpture to encourage the viewer to complete the piece? The artist himself explains that his practice is informed by two critical notions, Pneuma and Sunyata. Pneuma comes from the Stoic philosophy and is the concept of the ‘breath of life’ and in the Stoic world, everything both animate and inanimate is made up of matter and pneuma. Sunyata is from Buddhist philosophy and is often translated as ‘emptiness’ but it does not mean empty in conventional terms. Instead, it tells that there is existence but that phenomena or objects are empty of ‘own being’. For example, we project a title to an object, like a toaster but its elements, metal, and plastic do not contain the essence of the object. An interesting way to look at it is, when does an object stop being that object when you break it down to its constituent parts? 

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This concept is very complex but in essence, the artist attempts to explore the energies that exist beneath the surface of things. His manipulation of these forms challenges the viewer's sense of being human. When does the human body stop being human with these glitches effects and missing sections? Where does the line of a digital future begin affecting us as humans? Despite a deeply personal resonance and understanding in his work, the pieces themselves do not alienate the viewer because of the artist's own beliefs. Kaptein’s work evokes very different reactions from all who view it, bringing up questions of form and being. And that at the end of the day is what the artist is exploring personally through these sculptures. 

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Photographize granted permission to feature photos by Paul Kaptein

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