Preview: Ark

Sculptor David Mach talks about being outrageous at 61 and making a mess in a cathedral

Hero image

To hear David Mach talking about his work is to understand the term “enthusiasm”. With energy and purpose that belie his 61 years, the Scottish sculptor is attempting to describe his new piece, Vessel.

“It’s a sort of vase-shaped thing that I had made up, a wooden form, and I’ve just realised it looks like a grenade, a fat grenade!” he exclaims. “It’s also like that guy from The Fantastic Four who’s orange and breaks into lumps. It was originally a solid and I’ve hacked the top off and shaped the inside and really nailed this thing with carpet tacks and screwed it with self-tapping screws. It’s like when you look at The Terminator and there’s the metal casing coming through its skin and you can see the mechanical workings inside but at the same time it looks like something military, like a piece of hardware. It’s a very odd thing”.

Vessel (pictured) is making its public debut as part of Ark, an ambitious exhibition of modern sculpture displayed in and around Chester’s Cathedral. Featuring 90 works from over 50 artists – including, alongside Mach, Damien Hirst, Lynn Chadwick, Antony Gormley and Sarah Lucas – Ark, almost three years in the planning, is also running a comprehensive schools and public education programme. This explores art-making processes through lectures and workshops run by expert tutors.

As an artist, especially one dealing in sculpture far removed from the traditional, does Mach have reservations about displaying in such a revered, holy building?

“It’s so fantastic in Chester Cathedral that showing there is a bit of a cheat really, because of the space and the open-minded audience.Galleries tend to be boring and I’ve always found them too precious by half. Although I’m not religious by any stretch of the imagination I actually do buy into the richness of religious buildings as public spaces and when people see your work there you don’t get the feeling you’re preaching to the converted.”

Has he woven a religious element into Vessel at all?

“You could argue that because of the use of nails, but it’s not meant to be so direct. There is a strong chalice or religious artefact look to the thing, but it also looks like a fracturing lump of coal because of that dull blueish-grey-silver finish you get on the head of carpet tacks.”

With a history of producing vast works – including, perhaps most famously, a life-size replica of a nuclear submarine, constructed from 6,000 car tyres and titled Polaris – at around a metre across Vessel counts as one of Mach’s smaller projects. Now almost 40 years into an astonishing career in sculpture, he’s not finally becoming a little more restrained, is he?

“There’s around a million and a half nails in it, so no!” he fires back, with a massive laugh. “You know, I keep finding these ways to make sculpture even harder and even slower. The effort is big, I can tell you, but we move around in a world that encourages us to be conservative all the time and that’s not my natural way of being: I want to be outrageous and I want to make a mess.”

ARK is at Chester Cathedral until 15 October (

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to Preview: Ark

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.