Professional mountain climber and upcoming artist Daniel Dutton shares the experience of his up close and personal conquests of art history
What is Sculptering?
I wanted to explore sculpture in a way that went beyond looking at it. Henry Moore talked about the appreciation of sculpture as dependent on your ability to respond to its dimensions; you can’t really see it, you have to experience it. The more I looked at sculpture, the more I saw connections to nature and mountaineering; I could create routes in my head of how to climb them, how to explore them in a physical way. Everything I was making was hands-on physical, and I’m quite interested in process, and I thought ‘how can I transpose that to a practice around climbing?’ I like the taboo that you shouldn’t touch art, that we don’t climb sculptures…yet.
Is Sculptering a whole other level of art appreciation?
I think many people are ‘form blind’. Art is something you look at: painting is a thing like a photograph, you are absorbed into a framed area. With sculpture, especially when climbing on it, it occupies real space. Sculpture isn’t flat but it’s always viewed as flat because people don’t experience it in an interactive physical way. The first sculpture I climbed was a Henry Moore in Battersea Park. The stone’s texture was perfect for climbing shoes and movements and soon I was finding other local sculptures to ascend. I’ve done 10-15 so far, mainly Henry Moores, and I had a climb at the bottom of The Angel of The North. I like the idea of Henry Moore being an obstacle in British art – like the next British sculptor will be the next Henry Moore. Climbing on his work becomes a way of enjoying his sculptures again, but looking at them differently. They’re usually cast in bronze, but these casts were taken from carvings – there’s so much there in the grip and the movement. The forms are quite abstract, but when you add the human form back into it, my body becomes part of the composition.
It’s funny to think that Henry Moore was likely the only other person to see his work from the perspective of being on top of the sculpture.
One of the most interesting things about climbing Moore is that I can really explore his mark making. To climb them I have to find the ‘mistakes’ within the works – the grooves and cracks which make for perfect handholds. In certain sculptures Moore’s mark-making is really quite sharp. In the reclining figures there’s really small right angles, like chisel marks, which Moore must have carved out and just left. Especially the one at Chelsea Art College: just over the lip there’s a perfect open-hand crimp, it makes for a brilliant climbing route. I like the idea that I’m exploring what the artist originally explored. That physicality is lost when they’re cast and put in situ, in the way that they’re positioned and lit. In many of my photos it looks like I’ve been Photoshopped onto the side because you can’t see the little ledge I’m resting on, or the crack I’ve stuck my fingers in. A lot of the problems in Sculptering occur in the patina of the bronze – it’s best to climb them at sunrise so it’s cold enough to grip; when it starts to heat up it becomes very slippery. The one at Milbank is especially hard. The more times you climb the route, the more you practice, the more chalk you get on the sculpture: it’s like adding my own gestures to the original.