Review

On Some Inverted Sculptures

Klaus Weber: all bodies fall equally fast
Herald St, Location
September 21–November 4, 2012

Evan Holloway: Post-process plunk
The Approach, London
October 7–November 11, 2012

Giuseppe Penone: The Bloomberg Comission
Whitechapel Gallery, London
September 5, 2012–October 27, 2013
Neha Choksi

Next to prostitution, forgery may be mankind’s oldest profession. Humans fuck, humans copy. Reproduction is implicated in both. Sculpture molds partake in the ethic of reproduction; reproduction is a flesh trade and transaction. A mold is a tool of forgers. Sculpture molds are ersatz wombs. Presenting sculpture that evokes the mold is like presenting the uterus instead of the child.

Mold sculptures emanate their power of reproduction, ably pointing to their ancestry and to their potential simultaneously. Mold sculptures are matrixes, neither figure nor ground, but exposing their structural precondition as womb, mold, die.1 Unused and unusable (presented as pristine sculpture, these inflexible molds would not release a casting if used), these molds forestall the sadness of an emptiness. Functioning as double representations, reflections, or doppelgangers, they allow a questioning of narcissism’s claim to immortality; and this deployment of the matrix allows an eroding of the form from within, “the action of which is disruption, disarticulation, dysmorphia.”2 On the other hand, post-studio artists, such as Daniel Buren, annihilate the studio: “The art of yesterday and today is not only marked by the studio as an essential, often unique, place of production; it proceeds from it. All my work proceeds from its extinction.”3 Let the battle between reproduction and extinction begin.

Being mold-obsessed, I noticed a resurgence of interest in molds while touring the galleries in London last fall. I am talking about the kind that sculptors use, the kind with negative space begging to be filled. Three sculptors—Klaus Weber, Evan Holloway and Giuseppe Penone—don’t exactly employ molds as much as deploy the semblance of molds and present the form of the void as finished works. This inverted operation enlarges our ideas and conversation on semblance and copy, of repetition as artwork or practice, and of the place and nature of void in a very material-based and morphologically committed practice.

Klaus Weber, "Untitled Broken Window," 2012. Colored safety glass, 67.3 × 69.9 inches.

Klaus Weber, Untitled Broken Window, 2012. Colored safety glass, 67.3 × 69.9 inches. Courtesy Herald St, London, and Andrew Kreps.

In the weak October light of London, I strode beneath a blue window shattered like a spider web (Untitled Broken Window, 2012) into Herald St gallery, walked past a prefabricated fountain spouting dry sand (Sandfountain, 2012) into a small room, where I saw Untitled Vitrine (2012), another Klaus Weber piece. This glass vitrine displayed, from left to right, a colorful anatomical model of a human abdomen sans organs resized to the scale of a human face (Klaus had once imagined a face when confronted with an organ-less cadaver); a silicone mold from a facial cast (of a psychiatric patient killed on a bicycle escape from the asylum); a plaster cast positive from the mold of the death mask; and a locust with human hair for antennae (a tribute to a dead grasshopper that Weber found outside his studio). The surface is traded anonymously; each body is presented as object, seemingly unrelated and nonequivalent to the one adjoining it.

You wouldn’t know all the backstories without reading the press release. You would simply feel the impact of the catachrestic lesson in forced and inexplicable mixed metaphors: Medical education. Fake blue and red plastic blood vessels. Fake science. Hallucinations. Neoclassical death mask. Commemoration. Escape. The plaster copy refusing the departure of the dead. Inevitable loss of organs and senses. Human hair as antennae to baffle self, to irritate others. Antennae as physical projection for sensory intake. Mold as armature for understanding the living in death. A mold as sculpture. As casket. A vitrine as reliquary.

The lesson seems to be that one might tweak what exists to understand what doesn’t.4 The organ-less abdomenface and the hairantennae grasshopper bracket the evidence of the death mask. The lesson tells us something about how sculpture is the act of making bodies. Inside the artist’s studio is the mold; outside the studio is the sculpture. Outside the studio door is a dead grasshopper. Look again and repeat: All bodies fall equally fast. That’s Weber’s title for his show. The logic is impeccable. The mold of a singular dead man’s face is the pivot because it is the only thing that is cast directly from a human body, that contains the void, and that points to the body as absented, as something missing. The other components are cris de coeur of the befuddled medical student and the sculptor emerging from his studio.

For Untitled Vitrine, and for the works by Holloway and Penone that I will address, a question arises: Could a sculpture mold capture the fact that bodies are singular; the fact that they appear and disappear too? Could the possibility of infinite repetition without actually producing any copies allow transgressions in the material world, allow a way forward beyond the dialectic of reproduction and extinction, between the studio-based and the non-studio-based artists’ intellectual commitments?

Klaus Weber, "Untitled Vitrine," 2012. Plastic anatomical model, silicone mold andplaster cast of a death mask, grasshopper with human hair antennae, glass vitrine; 36.2 × 22.6 × 67 inches.

Klaus Weber, Untitled Vitrine, 2012. Plastic anatomical model, silicone mold andplaster cast of a death mask, grasshopper with human hair antennae, glass vitrine; 36.2 × 22.6 × 67 inches. Courtesy Herald St, London and Andrew Kreps.

Klaus Weber, Untitled Vitrine (detail), 2012.

Klaus Weber, Untitled Vitrine (detail), 2012. Courtesy Herald St, London and Andrew Kreps.

If inside a studio is the mold and outside is the sculpture, Evan Holloway reversed those distinctions for his fall exhibition at The Approach. He included three pieces from 2012 that caught my interest: Gates #1, Two Brooms, and Double David. Gates refers to the ducting by which molten material is introduced into a mold. Holloway rescued two waste bronze gates with attached sprues from being scrapped by placing them atop an enigmatically painted mica and steel table, anchoring l’informe to a very real studio practice. These are gates into his practice of post-process plunk, also the title of his show.

Post-process is not the same as post-studio. Holloway’s post-process has a stake in the studio as well as the final work, but is not invested in the originality and novelty of the creative in-studio experience. Plunk is to set down hard, as with the weight of a commitment or a challenge. Process is resolved as a final image; and valuing the final image and its meaning is an act of post-process plunk.

In Double David and Two Brooms—both of which are made from a twice repeated half of a notional two-part mold—Holloway has, figuratively speaking, put quotation marks on either side of what he has appropriated with his dual molds. One mold implies infinity, but what do two molds facing each other imply? It stops us short. It is no longer merely about unrealized potentials. Two molds produce an excess, a surplus that brings into play all the baggage of dualism and narcissism, the latter a psychological fortress against death and the former an argument against the supremacy of material in art. Either way, for Holloway the idea reigns supreme, and the work is not made for its material affects, even though they might add to an interpretation.

Evan Holloway, "Double David," 2012. Bronze, 98.5 × 19 × 16 inches.

Evan Holloway, Double David, 2012. Bronze, 98.5 × 19 × 16 inches. Edition of 3. Courtesy of The Approach. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.

Evan Holloway, "Two Brooms," 2012. Bronze, 42.1 × 80.3 × 24.4 inches.

Evan Holloway, Two Brooms, 2012. Bronze, 42.1 × 80.3 × 24.4 inches. Edition of 3. Courtesy of The Approach. Photo: FXP photography.

Double David takes one of the ubiquitous scaled down copies of Michelangelo’s marble statue, makes two thin shell molds of the front half, and joins them vertically feet to feet. Did I mention the molds are made of bronze? Which is to say, they are inflexible and hence are unusable as molds. The mold is symbolic, indicative, indexical, anything but functional. They are truly negative-space sculptures with a glossy polished inner finish, as if that is the obverse, and with a rough soft-featured outer surface as if that is the reverse. They both point to the single surface that is missing: Double David may be the title, but it is David who is absent. The work also cleverly converts Michelangelo’s David into a readymade via the intermediary of a garden copy. This metonymic mold is Art imitating art imitating Art: a sculptural surface stolen from an already compromised shrunken copy of a well-recognized masterpiece that is already doubled as a copy in situ in Florence while the “original” sits in a museum devoid of context.5 If the role of a mold is to copy, to point to the potential kitschy castings of Davids, then this mold succeeds by failing, by remaining resolutely incomplete and uncompletable.

Footnotes

  1. Rosalind Krauss, The Optical Unconscious (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993), 192. In a discussion of George Bataille’s “L’ Informe” (“Formless”), 1929, through Alberto Giacometti’s Suspended Ball (1930–31), Krauss writes “[The] ‘third term’ materializes ground as carnal and temporal, locating the preconditions of the visual elsewhere than in the transparency of the grid. The term matrix might be used for this refusal, matrix which means womb, or mold, or die, but also in Lyotard’s usage, the unconscious.”
  2. Ibid.
  3. Daniel Buren, “The Function of the Studio,” in The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists, Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner, eds. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 162. Buren’s essay was written in 1971; an English translation by Thomas Repensek was published in October 10 (Fall 1979), 51–58.
  4. True to lesson, Klaus’s Sandfountain tweaks a water fountain, an ancient public amenity, into a perverse flow of the matter of dry desert, and in Untitled Broken Window, the transparent window of a blue chip gallery becomes a smashed-up, reflective, bruised blue, urban decay in ironical mode.
  5. Talking about David, Eric Brook writes, “It could be argued that a Platonic ontology is not the only basis for distinguishing the original from the copy or even for preferring the original to the copy. Given the dislocation of the original and the contextualization of the copy, would it still be appropriate to favor the original over the copy? Maybe in the grander scheme of things we would. I do not think that anyone would be satisfied with the neglect of the original for the copy. But it does seem that having the copy, as a copy, standing in the original place of the original serves a significant function for how art is interpreted, which is a key factor in Danto’s assessment of what makes art what it is.” Eric Brook, “Art Imitating Art,” Contemporary Aesthetics 6 (2008): unpaginated, http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.7523862.0006.008 (accessed February 15, 2013).
Further Reading