INSECTUS ex MACHINA (or, Wildlife translated)
Throughout the British countryside, stranded like sea creatures that have missed the tide, can be seen abandoned farm machines. They inhabit fields, old sheds and crumbling barns. Field corners are a favourite haunt of these obsolete, forgotten creatures. Mystery surrounds their present locations. Rusting into the earth, they seem to have been left years ago in midround of the field. Perhaps they were hurriedly discarded and new models slipped into their places: an instant forced retirement.
David Kemp has collected together parts of some of these machines and added to them pieces of rusting modern scrap. From these he creates his sculptures. Chains, tubes, cogs and wheels are assembled into gawky and insects and skeletal dragons. Nothing is wasted.
The sculptures he makes manage to maintain us in half belief that they once functioned for some obscure purpose. Like the outmoded potato pickers and the threshing machines, whose functions seem hardly believable, he offers us asemblages that imitate insects and animals only a little more than their functional antique counterparts.
David Kemp says that "the sculptures are reconstructions by a 34th-century archaeologist from unearthed remains of the first industrial age." A wry comment that will not be appreciated by archaeologists from any age. Kemp's ability is in the translation of scrap. An aerial becomes the antennae of a beetle, a motorbike tank the armoured body of an insect, and a rusty sickle serves as a scorpion's sting. It is this imaginative application that gives his off- beat assemblages a kind of magic. We have all seen attempts at spare-part art, but these sculptures are so well realized that it is difficult to see that they have ever been anything else.
All of his works are poised and alert. He has made assemblages which are so vital that it would not be surprising to see them edge or scuttle forward."The Beetle" seems cautious, mildly surprised. A black lumbering engined creature, shy and busy on his way to do some earnest errand. A dark knight in armour with hauberk, helmet and cuirass; a sentinel and a defender. Kemp has understood the nature of a beetle and made this divergent animal so that we shall never again think of beetles without motorbike tanks or motorbikes without black beetles.
Last year he completed "The Chariot," an armour-plated dragon on wheels. It could be an ancient war chariot bent on terrifying the enemy, but it seems content to scour the horizon for distant prey. "The Worthy Opponent" is a wheeled and legged creature who conjures memories of grasshoppers, scorpions and praying mantises. It holds a curious mixture of harmlessness and danger. Many of his works contain this paradox. "The emollient "Beetle" is an exception. The others might ignore you, but there seems to be a threatening possibility that their tension might snap into a lunging bite or an electric sting.
Kemp's assemblages have a refreshing independence. They do not belong to any school or movement, but have such conviction and so vital a humour that they compel interest even from those people who usually dismiss figurative sculptures with a sniff.