Transformation or: Hands and Brains
I believe that Mein Gehirn was one of the most beautiful objects in the recent retrospective of Isa Genzken. On first sight, you could say that it depicts the artist’s brain. However, this object isn’t a mere derivative or representation of the actual brain of a famous female artist. Instead, it is a unique body in itself. It is the original brain of the sculptor, that could be made and get its specific characteristics by the sculptor’s hands only. The metal thread that sticks out of it acts like the human senses. It is the mediator between the individual and the world and it could therefore symbolize the relation between maker and spectator.
Stew or: How does the fish find its way into the ribbon?1
In 1936, British artist Eileen Agar created a Ceremonial Hat for Eating Bouillabaise. In Provence they named this fish dish originally bolhabaissa: a combination of bolhir, which means to cook and abaissar, which means to temper. A sculpture needs to be cooked, but with some tact, so we learn from Agar. Her hat started by exploring the seashore in the south of France. Different ingredients can form an intuitive object. Agar described the act of cooking or creating as "outer eye and inner eye, backward and forward, inside out and upside down, sideways, as a metaphysical airplane might go, no longer classical or romantic, medieval or gothic, but surreal, transcendent, a revelation of what is concealed in the hide-and-seek of life, a mixture of laughter, play and perseverance."2
Some years ago, I worked with artist Alexandra Bircken on a solo exhibition that was on view at the institution I am affiliated with. Among other objects, we decided to show Baumhaus / Neonberg, a small assemblage that belongs to a well esteemed gallery owner who entrusted me that she never lent this work before, because of its fragility. The title of this work suggests a space suitable to accommodate a living being, with, moreover, a beautiful view. The treehouse is made with a real branch as bearer, but the house itself is made of limp materials like wool, brightened with dried leaves and some threads. Also the scale of the work isn’t as foreseen. The mountain, however spectacular in its neoness, is even smaller than the house.
Although this work of art proves to be unsuitable to make one’s home, it is definitely made for man. The spectator is invited to inhabit it with his eyes, to feel the softness of its structure, to imagine the warmth inside. Can a sculpture protect its maker or its public? Could an artist ease the suffering of others by making a symbolic home, a Baumhaus?
Aaing j gni aa3 or: The language of sculpture
In a review that appeared during an exhibition of Barry Flanagan’s early works at Tate Britain in 2011, the art critic in question mentions a memory of his school days. His art teacher returned infuriated from a trip to London during which he had visited Tate Gallery. The particular object of his ire was what he described as "a pile of blankets" by Barry Flanagan. He could not accept that this was a legitimate work of art, and, in a state of raging mischief, he’d grouped his school party around the thing in question and surreptitiously changed the order of the blankets."4
When you look at Flanagan’s "pile", a stack of dyed hessian, each folded and placed on one another, you could question its possible functionality.
Is this pile of textiles a simple gesture of care, is it about the potential use of these cloths? Could they be taken and unfolded, not only as an act of vandalism, but to cover someone in need? Could Flanagan’s works both warm the body and the mind? Or is it an abstract work, the materials, colors and arrangement chosen by its maker for its formal qualities?
Objects lie on a table 5
ohne Helm und ohne Hose, the title of Gloria Zein’s exhibition, reminds me of Genzken’s brain: Zein’s objects show themselves without any protection, like a brain without a skull. They are bare, with a great wish to be totally seen.
Albeit they are cooked and sewed with great care, the artist pushed the material to its limits.
A certain ambiguity can therefore be found in what those sculptures possibly embody: some objects resemble shields, others tiny, chaotic or destroyed landscapes, some appear as shelters. Are they a testimony of care or injury? A title like Der Urlaub, der schief gegangen ist, could symbolize the difficulties in the process of making. You will find objects that really went wrong, too, like Gürtelrosé, a title that is an allusion on shingles, a skin infection that comes with sores, accompanied by itching and pain.
There is a need to carry these fragile objects. Small sculptures don’t occupy so much space, they don’t fill the visual field, so the maker needs to think about each work's surroundings.
In the text Tender Buttons American author Gertrude Stein writes about the meaning of a table, of something that can bear other things: "A table means does it not my dear it means a whole steadiness. It is likely that a change. A table means more than a glass even a looking glass is tall. A table means necessary places and a revision a revision of a little thing it means it does mean that there has been a stand, a stand where it did shake."6 A table is a carrier as much as a house, a shelter for the objects that are placed upon it. "Editing is key," Gloria Zein told me. "Every piece in the show is needed."
Noor Mertens, 2016
1 The second half of the title is borrowed from the title
of an essay by Annette Hans describing the work of
Alexandra Bircken: Annette Hans, Christina Vegh,
Alexandra Bircken, Walther Konig: Cologne, 2013.
2 Eileen Agar, »Am I a Surrealist?« in Mary Ann Caws (ed),
Surrealist Painters and Poets: an Anthology,
MIT Press: Cambridge, 2001, p. 3.
3 Aaing j gni aa is the title of a work by Barry
Flanagan from 1965, made of textile.
4 Andrew Lambirth: »Pushing the boundaries«,
The Spectator, 2011
5 This sentence refers to a title of another text by
Gertrude Stein, namely Objects Lie on a Table,
that she wrote in 1932.