About

Starting from a sculptural sensibility William Cobbing’s art practice encompasses a diverse range of media, including video, photography and installation. Performative encounters are devised with material, such as clay, in which the protagonists’ are engaged in a repetitive and absurd cycle of manipulating formless surfaces. The works allude to concepts of entropy, underlining the extent to which earthly material is irreversibly dispersed, giving rise to a definitive blurring of the boundaries between the body and landscape, whilst putting the possibility of conclusion on hold.

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William Cobbing video shoot for 'Wake' at Dilston Grove, London (2011) photograph: Olga Koroleva 

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William Cobbing video shoot for 'Wake' at Dilston Grove, London (2011) photograph: Olga Koroleva 

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William Cobbing video shoot for 'Wake' at Dilston Grove, London (2011) photograph: Olga Koroleva 

Bamiyan Mirror

A series of 10 photographs chosen from over 240, Bamiyan Mirror was shot on location during Cobbing’s artist residency at Turquoise Mountain, Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan (April-May 2009).

Featuring mirror reflections of the niches left behind after the Taliban destruction of the Buddha monuments in Bamiyan, the photos both use the monuments as a starting point to investigate ideas of iconoclasm, erosion and entropy with regard to the material representation of the body in the landscape, and represent a rare dissemination of images of the Buddhas, due to their inaccessibility caused by the war in Afghanistan.

Cobbing had originally hoped to make site-based artworks about the effacement of the Buddha monuments in Bamiyan and, drawing a series of sketches before the journey, he explored how the absence of the monument could be recorded visually.

In particular, Cobbing was drawn to the perceptual contradiction of the Buddhas becoming more resonant as a vestige after their destruction. This led him to think about using a mirror reflection of the niches as a way of engaging with their mirage-like quality. Buying a mirror in a bathroom shop in Kabul, he took this with him on walks around Bamiyan, stopping occasionally to photograph the reflection of the Buddha niches in it. Propping this mirror up against poplar trees, rocks, signposts, or embedding it into loose soil or piles of gravel, Cobbing reflected fragments of the niches and revealed details of the scaffolding supporting their crumbling sandstone frames.

For example, in a close-up a policeman stands by his battered shipping container office at the base of the niches, and grottoes are revealed where Buddhist monks once lived. Other images, shot in the impoverished town of Bamiyan, set the Buddha niches in context with the people and their daily routines. Here, the mosque with its turquoise minaret, a field being ploughed by yoked oxen and the polluted river at the centre of town with advertising hoardings and market stalls are sharply contrasted with the mirrored image of the fortified Silk Road hotel where UN staff and diplomats arrive in armour-plated jeeps.

Referencing notions of ruin and the entropic dispersal of earthly material (present in Land Art in the sixties) alongside Alfredo Jaar’s Lament of the Images (2002) and what Baudrillard has called “war porn”, Cobbing selected a series of 10 photographs from the 250 taken, thought to most aptly represent the complexity and diversity of the environs of Bamiyan as reflected in the mirror. The series has been displayed at:

  • Reversals at Furini Arte Contemporanea in Rome (6 Feb - 23 March 2010)
  • The Contemporary Art Prize exhibition at Bagh-e-Babur (Babur’s Gardens), Turquoise Mountain, Afghanistan (15 - 31 June 2010)
  • Man in the Planet at Viafarini DOCVA, Milan (15 Sept – 30 Oct 2010)
  • SCOPE: New Photographic Practices at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China (9 – 20 December 2011)
  • SV12 Members’ Show at Studio Voltaire, selected and curated by Mike Nelson and Jenni Lomax (23 Feb – 31 March 2012)   Cobbing has further disseminated this research as part of the Contemporary Art Prize workshops (25 April - 7 May 2009) at Turquoise Mountain, in which he ran a seminar series about war imagery in art, at the Fine Art faculty at Kabul University (May 2009) and at Chelsea College of Art and Design (December 2011) where he gave a talk on Entropy and Fluidity in Afghanistan. His work was used as the front cover of The Art Newspaper feature ‘Reflecting on all the news on the art world from Antiquity to Contemporary’ in Autumn 2012 [No. 215].

Bamiyan Mirror (2009) series of 10 digital photographs mounted on aluminium (90x60cm / 60x90cm)

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Bamiyan Mirror 46


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Bamiyan Mirror 55


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Bamiyan Mirror 74


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Bamiyan Mirror 82


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Bamiyan Mirror 102


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Bamiyan Mirror 111


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Bamiyan Mirror 119


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Bamiyan Mirror 169


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Bamiyan Mirror 192


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Bamiyan Mirror 215

Kabul Uni Lecture 1 & 2

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Kabul Uni lecture 1


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Kabul Uni lecture 2

Culture and Conflict

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Culture & Conflict


Turquoise Mountain prize

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Turquoise Mountain prize

Clapper Tongue and Moon Walker

In two separate, but related artworks, Clapper Tongue (2009) and Moon Walker (2009) Cobbing explored the fortified border location of Berwick-upon-Tweed as a context for creating artworks that investigate the disruption of boundaries by human intervention.

The research process began with a consideration of the Berwick coastline, which has been continually drawn and redrawn, eroded then reformed, due to centuries of border conflict between England and Scotland. With its abandoned World War II concrete pillbox and gnarled Elizabethan star forts, Berwick is defined by its defensive architecture, including an abandoned bell tower, which originally chimed as a warning of Scottish attack to the north.

An archaeological paper by Caroline Paterson concerning this abandoned bell tower prompted Cobbing to consider its absence, and the possibility of creating his own version. Meeting with technicians at the Whitechapel bell foundry, he discussed the ‘strickle’ technique of forming bells, and discovered a diagram that indicated an anthropomorphic arrangement of ‘shoulder’, ‘lip’, ‘neck’ and ‘clapper tongue’. Drawing several iterations of a bell in the form of a human head and shoulders, Cobbing linked this diagram to notions of the human body as having a vessel-like form, and a volume that could be utilized for producing sound.

The final version, Clapper Tongue, was an Alginate life-cast of a head and shoulders, which Cobbing first cast in wax, and later delivered to be cast at the Arch Bronze foundry in London. He then added an electronic strike hammer, programming periodic chimes so that the audience would not know when to expect to hear the work.

Cobbing’s second, related, piece, Moon Walker, drew on the red sandstone outcrops of Siccar Point (known for the geological theory ‘Hutton’s Unconformity’), which reminded him of Robert Smithson’s 1967 account of ruin and entropy in Passaic, New Jersey. Here, Smithson evoked a ‘jejune’ scene: a sandbox divided in the middle between black and white sand is mixed as a child runs through it in a clockwise direction. The same action is then repeated in an anti-clockwise direction, however, rather than restoring the original division, the sand is mixed even more thoroughly.

Using this as impetus for his own musings on the temporal state of material and absurd performance, Cobbing created Moon Walker, a video work that documents, over 13 minutes, him walking backwards in a circle beside the Berwick coastline. Crucially, this footage is reversed so that Cobbing appears to be walking forwards into his footprints in the sand.

Engaging with Smithson’s theorization of entropy in ‘Monuments of Passaic’ (1967) (namely how earthly material is subject to an irreversible process of erosion and dispersal) Cobbing’s erasure of the ‘drawn’ line of footprints along the coast, rewinding the entropic dispersal of the beach, further echoes the palimpsest of shifting borderlines between England and Scotland in Berwick.

Clapper Tongue and Moon Walker have been displayed at:

  • thoughts from the bottom of a well at Berwick Gymnasium Gallery, Berwick-upon- Tweed (8 Aug – 13 Sept 2009)
  • Man in the Planet at Viafarini DOCVA (15 Sept - 30 Oct 2010). Curated by Rita Selvaggio and accompanied by a pamphlet with essays by Selvaggio and Milovan Farronato, Artistic Director of Viafarini DOCVA, this solo show opened during the annual ‘START’ gallery/museum season, which attracts 25,000 visitors to Milan.

In addition, Moon Walker was included in the group exhibition Visibility Good at Gallery North, University of Northumbria, Newcastle upon Tyne (26 Mar – 10 May 2010). The publication Visibility Good accompanied this exhibition, with texts by Fiona Crisp and Bob and Roberta Smith. Clapper Tongue was also featured in The Art of Not Making, edited by Michael Petry and published by Thames and Hudson (2011, pp. 82-83), which discussed innovative and experimental use of metal casting in contemporary fine art practice.

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'Clapper Tongue' (2009) Bronze sculpture, rope, electronic strike hammer. Dimensions variable depending on height of ceiling in which it is installed.

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Still of 'Moon Walker' (2009) video, 13:15 mins, and the video projection installation for the solo exhibition 'Thoughts from the Bottom of a Well' (2009)

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Group exhibition 'Visibility Good' at Gallery North, Newcastle, 26 March - 10 May 2010, with exhibition publication and text.

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Installation image of Clapper Tongue for 'Man in the Planet' exhibition

Current Work

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work-in-progress 2013 (books, ceramic) 

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work-in-progress 2013 (books, ceramic) 

As Lipman Artist in Residence at Newcastle University, William Cobbing has been developing new works featuring the imprint of letterpress blocks into malleable clay surfaces. Words appear and are then distorted or erased through the act of continually reworking the surface. Language becomes a haptic experience.

The Northumberland countryside provides the background for a surrealist video that documents a pit firing of a bell and golem-like figure, and a new series of sculptures echoes the eroded contours of the monolithic Duddo Five Stones.

These new works will be exhibited at mima, Middlesbrough, in January 2014, and at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle in March 2014.

Further Information

For more information, visit: http://www.williamcobbing.com

The following are also available:

William Cobbing: Gradiva Project (2007) The Freud Museum and Camden Arts Centre: London

The Art of Not Making (2011) [Ed. Michael Petry] Thames and Hudson