Observation Sculpture 1970s

During the 1970s I made a number of Observation Sculptures. They all consist of a simple process of describing what I could observe in my perceptual field at a given time. They take different forms: from lists on paper displayed on walls to hand-printed lists on upright wooden planks leaning against a wall. Many of them are texts, to be read within a book or chapbook format. I’ve included one of the Observation Sculptures in the Antibodies section. Here are other examples:

Three Views Early 1971 Wooden planks Printed textThree Views Early 1971 Wooden planks Printed text


Observation Sculpture 211271

On Tuesday 21st December, at 8.45pm, the following objects were found to be situated on a kitchen table, as a result of the combined energies of numerous professional, recreational and domestic activities:

one box of Bassett’s Jellybabies

a white ceramic sugar bowl

a wooden pepper mill

a fawn make-up bag

a glass salt-cellar

a brown paper bag containing two apples

one copy of Art and Artists

one copy of Intentio Recta*

a bottle of Sainsbury’s Vin Rose

one Venus Drawing Pencil, grade B

two toilet rolls

one stainless steel teapot

one ceramic teapot stand

two circular tablemats and one rectangular tablemat

one almost empty roll of surgical tape

one folder containing various pieces of paper

a pair of scissors

a green slip of paper and a paperclip

a letter from my mother-in-law

a 1972 calendar

a letter to a friend in an envelope


a blue, cream, yellow and black tablecloth lay over the wooden surface of the table


At 8.55pm I lifted the teapot from the table.


[* Intentio Recta is the title of a text from this period, click here to read it.]


And another is titled, Prayer:

Now I see


deadleaves   paint   nails   cactus   folder

clock   chain   plaster   cobwebs   envelope

wallpaper painted over white   dirt   window

hair   hooks   lightbulb   typewriter   bowl

radio   dust   string   drawings   chair

butterfly   sunlight across the floor   elms

tablemat   cracks   tincan   water   stones

notebook   rusty marks   stains   table

writingpaper notepaper typingpaper graphpaper

linedpaper blankpaper   floorboards   glass

wood   book   damp patches   pen   rubbishbin




Some of the Observation Sculptures are gathered together under the title, Hunter’s Log. The title is used again in 1974 for a text accompanying two working exhibitions in Canada. Here are a few entries:

One day in November, 1970

11.32am          Two gulls

A person outside the door


11.36              The order – is it fortuitous, arbitrary,                accidental, random, logical, considered, determined, uh?


11.37              Door shuts – door opens – fan whines down


11.39              In the mind is there any distinction at all between fact and fiction? Is there a hierarchy?


11.42              Lorry rattling past – I say lorry, but was it? I can’t see it, I can only hear it. The inconstancy of IT. (Why is it we’re more ready to accept what we see as real and believable than what we hear?) Sound is a clue. I wade into the chaos and bring out a thrashing idea which dies in the air and becomes a corpus classification.


11.45              Door closes

Seagull from tower to tower, smoke in the opposite direction


11.47              Why time it?


11.50              Smoke from right to left ascending diagonally


Diary of a clockwatcher? A man clutching at time and what about those gaps in his life – the empty vacant spaces?


11.52              Pencil – pressure-proofed – black glossy hard cracked woodgrain pitted conical graphite

Two specks of dust hair


11.54              Actions filling the spaces

Decision to include date

Carry on marking time





12.30pm        The Hunter’s Log

I feel like I’m a hunter stalking Trueblue Self, OX, Original Face, Coyote, Buddha Nature, Great Spirit, Little Spirit


3.00               Sitting, having completed preparations for activities tomorrow

Gen-jo, the koans of daily life: washing up, pouring tea, sweeping, dusting, cleaning, wiping dry, cooking, sleeping, making love, reading, pissing, listening to music, shitting. All of these are koans, gates to paradise, paradise in themselves. Task: to enter paradise (by realising I’m there) with everyone else


4.55                Smash the cup! Smash the saucer! Break away from your koan, don’t let it be your prison or prisoner. Put a stone in the tea!


In the next example narratives from the mass media (maybe radio or TV) creep into the observations, a counterpoint to the humdrum objects and events.



4.40pm          Fox, music, violin

….and he said…is the first…take care of these people

Gas fire


4.42                ….I thought I told you to take care of them…and we told him…we are…He said…No, I mean kill them

Guitar vibrato


4.43                Pile of books, yellow, blue, red, green, thin pale green, blue, blue, big speckled blue, open notebook, newspaper

….I was a little stunned. He said, come around to this side. Get on line

Dog sighs, head to the door, draught ruffled his coat


4.46                ….Get on line and we’ll fire into them. The people screamed and

Gas hissing, bin piled full


4.49                ….yelled and I guess they tried to get up too. They died

Tumbleweed, piano, kids voices

….They were pretty well shot up, messed up

Heads, photograph, dominant grain


4.52               Heads were separate

….heads were shot off

Fire flickers

Burn down the mission, songs


4.55                ….screamed. There were people in it. Then there was a shout…sweep

Photograph five figures white parallelogram

Country music, yackety-yak

….there were a few kids


Two are like haiku:


1.44pm           Smoke, smoke, smoke, smoke

Four chimneys




Midday          Shoe, half a shoe, ashtray, pole, curtain


And then a stream of questionings:



A change of emphasis. Description as darshana, a path to enlightenment. Also questioning, a stream of questions as statements or statements as questions. To whom are they directed? To myself? To others, who one day may read this? To others as a sublimation of my desire to talk to myself? To the Great Spirit? To all the Buddhas?

Are there thoughts behind all the words we speak? Is it possible for us to have thoughts and then to gain a mode of expression for them? Can there be a thoughtless thought or a wordless thought? And where does logic come in? If I say, “Up is down”, am I still thinking? Am I thinking in an entirely different way to when I say “Up is up”? What if I’m in Australia, on the phone to someone in England?

Who thinks? Lichtenberg: “There is a thought.” Who is it who presumes authorship or ownership of a thought? Can anyone justifiably claim ownership of a thought? Is a thought a function of a relationship? Or is a relationship a function of thought?

Is a book less of a book when it is shut? And more of a book when it is open? When it is read more than when it is unread? Can it be unread? Is unread a state of not-being? Or an absence?

The chair is over there. Is there a chair? Is a chair a creak to which my head turns and my eyes encounter? What kind of thing is a chair? A sound we make with our mouths? A name? The chair that I sit in is quite different to the chair that I thought of sitting in, or to the one that I now think of getting up from. There is no single chair, but many chairs, in one.



As I was reading about Buffalo Cow Woman’s gift of the Sacred Pipe to the Sioux, a moth, which had somehow got itself caught in a spider’s web, landed on my book. Some of the web still clung to its body and it had difficulty moving about. I carefully removed most of the sticky substance, even a piece stuck to one foot, which I pulled off while the moth pulled its leg towards its body. I was pleased to see wings whirring and in the air again. Nice to be able to help one’s relatives, however many times removed.


top of page ^