Installation view of “Off Grid,” Mark Tanner Sculpture Award Exhibition, Cross Lane Projects, Kendal, 2020–21. Photo: Rebecca Larkin

Made Worlds: A Conversation with Olivia Bax

London-based Olivia Bax makes brightly colored sculptures whose tactile, handmade aesthetic derives from the pulp and papier-mâché that she uses to cover steel, chicken wire, and foam armatures. Though her objects echo elements of the observable world, they create their own universe and logic; likewise they may allude to function, with handles, funnels, and receptacles, but any usefulness is (mostly) illusory. “Off Grid,” Bax’s recent Mark Tanner Sculpture Award exhibition, which debuted at London’s Standpoint Gallery, before traveling to Cross Lane Projects in northern England and Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, featured a sprawling, mountainous landscape of protuberances and caves propped up by yellow stands (Kingpin); a hanging green contraption resembling a Victorian lady’s underskirt crossed with a baby swing (Portal); and, unexpectedly, two fabricated yellow Rollers that doubled as chunky benches.

In The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin writes in praise of the humble container—or novel—that holds things and words. She describes her carrier bag as “full of wimps and klutzes, and tiny grains of things smaller than a mustard seed and intricately woven nets…full of beginnings without ends, of initiations, of losses, of transformations and translations.” Bax’s sculptures are just such non-heroic, yet compelling containers of meaning.

Elizabeth Fullerton: How has the experience of lockdown affected your practice?
Olivia Bax:
At the beginning, the delays were a relief. I didn’t feel I’d pushed Kingpin as far as it could go. Lockdown meant I could take it further . . .

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