Two Brooms again pairs identical half molds of a broom, mid-sweep, magically aloft in a chiastic duet, cleverly indicating forces that are unseen—the hands that hold it, the floor that is being serviced, the force that bends the brushes of the broom and the gravity that holds them in space. Grounding, levitating, these are witchy matters. The ordinary is made strange.6 After Duchamp, we cannot help but see this double negative as subverting the function of a readymade: the original found objects do not stand on their own here as sculpture but are marked as absent.

Does Holloway mean anything by his choice of found subjects? A broom, a garden copy of David—are they supposed to be things that fascinate equally?7 This is the ethos of not believing in a superior subject. And yet, the Michelangelo David is no less a glorious sculpture after Holloway’s operations, the garden David is still upmarket kitsch, and the original broom no less a functional tool.

Note that neither source broom nor Ur-David was made with a mold like a bronze sculpture is. A factory worker bound the brush. Michelangelo chipped at stone. Michelangelo would not have used a mold anyway since he was no realist.8 Holloway is a realist, if in an appropriative mode, and he represents the fruits of these labors, both artistic and artisanal, in the form of a negative imprint or empty space. His is an ironically neo-formalist gesture where the form and content are related through immaterial void.

By default the Platonic bulb of ideals switches on and battles the illumination coming from the postmodern camp of simulation. “Repetition as concept and form addresses complex relationships between the origin, the original and its repeat—the necessity of repetition to engender the myth of the original.”9 The artwork is not self-sufficient or universal, whether David or a broom or Holloway’s reiterative pieces. As pointed out by Craig Owens, postmodern artists repeat, serialize, appropriate, and simulate, not to restore an original meaning that may have been lost or obscured but instead to add, replace, supplant, and supplement one meaning with another.10 Holloway positions himself as post-process, as third-wave avant-garde, but he ends up building on the post-modern.

In making his flag and target paintings, Jasper Johns maintained a congruence between the represented images and their figural antecedents. By comparison, these artists reverse the surface metonymically. They present the figure from the side of the ground, unexpectedly, as absence, as an imprint signifying absence. The pleasure in repetition, the pleasure of craft, of pattern, is transferred. Weber risks catachresis. Holloway ironically deploys a figure of chiastic repetition. And Giuseppe Penone is enlightened metaphor, literally.

Giuseppe Penone, "Spazio di Luce," 2012. Installation view.

Giuseppe Penone, Spazio di Luce, 2012. Installation view, The Bloomberg Commission: Giuseppe Penone at Whitechapel Gallery, London. Photo: David Parry / PA Wire. © Giuseppe Penone.

Penone’s grand sculpture, Spazio di Luce (Space of Light), 2012, squeezed into Gallery 2 of the Whitechapel, presents a lost-wax casting in bronze of a wax mold built around a 40-foot larch. The exterior of the thin-walled shell reminds us that this is a reproduction of the hand-pressed finger-printed wax wads used to capture the surface features of the tree. The internal surface of the bronze mold, the part that would have been the bark, is gold-leafed to reflect light within the hollow that occupies the space of the tree. In this enlightened metaphor for loss as light, the larch’s sacrifice gives it an internal halo, light replacing life in both a radiant and melancholic displacement.

The tree is presented on its side, felled or fallen, and chopped up into body-sized segments, each held aloft by the branches. If the tree had not been sliced thus, we could not look inside at the impression of the bark or weave our bodies through the pieces. The revelation is magical: the disappeared tree made of light and the framing mold made of bronze are equivalent. The object on display is both figure and ground, object and frame. The absent subject, the larch tree, is a portrait of fallen light.

Giuseppe Penone, "Spazio di Luce," 2012. Installation view.

Giuseppe Penone, Spazio di Luce, 2012. Installation view, The Bloomberg Commission: Giuseppe Penone at Whitechapel Gallery, London. Photo: David Parry / PA Wire. © Giuseppe Penone.

Presented in a well-lit corner of the same gallery is Penone’s earlier piece, Essere Fiume (To Be River), 1998, where two seemingly identical boulders of Carrara marble, a favorite of stone sculptors in Europe, are placed side by side. One is a rock shaped by the forces of a Tuscan river, the other quarried and hand-shaped. The pairing underlines the analogical relationship of natural creation and artifice: Nature produces, man produces, artist repeats and reproduces. To pair Essere Fiume with Spazio di Luce points to the fact that the tree of light and the mold of bronze function as inverted copies, that Penone’s repetition can forestall the inevitable for a short while; but river-like forces will eventually erode the stone, and the larch remains fallen just the same. Deleuze’s reminder rings true: “Each art has its own imbricated techniques of repetition, the critical and revolutionary potential of which must reach the highest possible degree, to lead us from the dreary repetitions of habit to the profound repetitions of memory, and ultimately to the [symbolic] repetitions of death, through which we make sport of our own mortality.”11

Weber, Holloway, and Penone are remarkably diverse artists, yet all three fight a battle against material extinction using the tools of prostitution and forgery. In my heart I admire the clarity of Buren’s revolutionary post-studio thoughts and yet my own practice remains very much material and studio based. I would hope that we reactionaries can yet prevail by addressing the sculpture mold as sculptural body, the matrix as matter, and its particular effects and strategies. “[W]e observe two escapes from [any] body’s life cycle: on the one hand, the body inevitably wears out; on the other hand, it reproduces itself.”12 Maybe the use of molds as art points out the obvious, that no artwork is created out of nothing. Molds, like forgeries, recreate perception and history.

Toni Morrison states that invisible things are not necessarily “not-there,” that a void is not always a vacuum, and that certain absences are so stressed that they call attention to themselves and “arrest us with intentionality and purpose.”13 If sculptors from Rachel Whiteread to Juliana Cerqueira Leite solidify interiors, these artists hollow it out; what remains is an impression of loss, an exoskeleton from which the flesh has walked away, leaving a modern fossil behind.

 

Neha Choksi is an artist whose sculptural work treats molds as significant generative devices. She lives and works in Mumbai and Los Angeles.

Footnotes

  1. For a discussion on “making strange” from the Russian formalists to Bertolt Brecht, see the introductory chapter of Nicholas Royle’s book, The Uncanny: An Introduction (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), 1–38.
  2. Thanks to Allan Kram for pointing out a reading of potential equivalence, at least in the exhibition space.
  3. See Robert Smithson’s not entirely unfair characterization of Michelangelo as a “fabricator of a monstrous idealism based on grim neo-platonic eternities. To Clement Greenberg, Michelangelo is a ‘spoiled’ naturalist, in short, corrupt.” See “What really spoils Michelangelo’s sculpture, 1966–67,” in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996), 346.
  4. Recognized as key mechanisms within postmodern art practice, writer Maria Loh identifies repetition as seriality and repetition, appropriation, intertextuality, and simulation practice; see Maria H. Loh, “New and Improved: Repetition as Originality in Italian Baroque Practice and Theory,” Art Bulletin 86:3 (September, 2004), 477, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4134443. Cited in a press release for Repetition, a 2013 exhibition at Black Church Print Studio, Dublin.
  5. Craig Owens, “The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism” in Art after Modernism: Rethinking Representation, ed. Brian Wallis (New York: New Museum, 1992), 205. Also cited in Repetition press release.
  6. Gilles Deleuze from Différence et Répétition (1968), quoted without citation in Craig Owens, “Allan McCollum: Repetition and Difference,” Beyond Recognition: Representation, Power, and Culture (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992), 117.
  7. Paul Valéry, “Some Simple Reflections on the Body,” as reproduced in the appendix of Fragments for a History of the Human Body, Part Two, edited by Michel Feher with Ramona Naddaff and Nadia Tazi (New York: Urzone, 1989), 396.
  8. Toni Morrison, “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature,” Michigan Quarterly Review 28.1 (Winter 1988–89), 11.
Further Reading