Archive | Women artists RSS feed for this section

What a difference a clay makes

18 Feb

The photograph on Art Rabbit looked promising: it was of an installation, Beautiful Minds by Anya Gallaccio, at the Thomas Dane Gallery in London’s St James. It showed contorted clay layers which had apparently been made by a form of 3D printing. They reminded me of the ridges and furrows of the brain. But I was just as happy with the explanation that they were of a scaled effigy of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. The layers then looked like rock strata, one of my current obsessions.

anya-gallaccio-beautiful-minds-2015-17-installation-view-2015-1

When I visited, the reality was different in a small, but important, respect. Instead of white clay, the machine was disgorging from its nozzle terracotta red-brown clay. It was damp, viscous and slightly shiny and you did not need to have a mind with a particularly scatological bent to imagine that it was somehow in the process of evacuating  a series of fancy and intricate turds.

P1020015.JPG

Anya Gallaccio: Beautiful Minds: work in progress

 

It did not diminish my enjoyment of the achievement. This was, by a large margin, the most interesting demonstration of 3D printing that I have seen. So often this amazingly clever technology produces nothing more extraordinary that a little plastic figurine of the kind that you might buy in Woolworths if Woolworths still existed. This, in contrast, was large, noisy and impressive. Noisy is not a metaphor; the machine makes an enormous racket; my ears were ringing for a good ten minutes after I left. If you go, and you should, it would be worth bringing ear plugs.

Gallaccio  was born in Scotland but it is unlikely her practice would have developed this way had she remained. She now lives in California’s growing technological hub, San Diego, and  built the machine with a group of her recent graduates from the University’s Visual Arts Department.   The technology means she does not need to be present while the work is being produced. While there was an assistant, sensibly wearing ear protectors, overseeing the process, he was not directing the placement of the clay; his intervention was limited to starting or stopping the machine. The auto construct was determined by the program on the laptop which, presumably, had to take account of the changing properties of clay as it dries, ensuring that each part of the structure was sturdy enough to take additional weight before new layers were added.

 

p1020016

Anya Gallaccio: Beautiful Minds; work in progress

The work was not just fascinating to watch, it also raises intriguing questions  – whether the artwork was the process or the product and also about originality. While in theory the build could be repeated any number of times with a material as anarchic as clay, no version would be likely to be the same. It could also mimic the erosion process,  the clay could be re-hydrated and  the redistributed allowing an endless cycle of creation and destruction.

The accompanying blurb explained that the work was intended to highlight the potential slippage between artistic intent, the limits of materials and the struggle of communication in contemporary artistic practice. This left me wondering about the colour and why it was not as advertised.

If you look carefully at the bottom layer in the picture you can see a smidgen of white coloured clay. Was the colour change intentional?  Could Gallaccio have decided that terracotta would be more earth-like. Once dry, the bodily resonances would probably be less striking. Or was their a shortage? Or did the suppliers send the wrong consignment? It’s not just the limitations of the materials which can lead to slippage.

Then I looked up Devil’s Tower and all became clear. The exhibition runs until 25 March by which time the mountain, which is currently around two feet high, will have grown to around six feet.  Look at this picture and you see at once that the final round of construction will indeed be in white clay. That smidgen is just the start; the part of the base that would be among the trees. I must go back and see it complete.

devils_tower_crop

Devil’s Tower Wyoming; the model for Gallaccio’s work

Beautiful Minds is running at the Thomas Dane Gallery, 11 Duke Street, St James’s London SW1Y6BN until 25 March. 

 

 

Maud Cotter – capturing the intangible

12 Apr

It was back at the beginning of 2014 that I came round to the possibilities of cardboard; I had previously been sceptical that anything interesting could be made from it but I was impressed by the work of  Michelangelo Pistoletto at the Cent Quatre Arts Complex in Paris. In that case the cardboard was left pretty much in its natural state but was looped around to form a complex internal maze. My conversion to cardboard has just taken another jump forward with a visit to the extraordinarily discreet Domobaal gallery in Bloomsbury to see Matter of Fact, a solo exhibition by the Irish artist Maud Cotter.

Unlike Pistoletto,  Cotter does not adapt cardboard, but uses it as a raw material and transforms it through painstaking work into a thing of beauty. Her creations, which can take months to complete, start with cardboard of the three ply corrugated variety, the kind from which sturdy boxes are made. She slices it into thin strips about half a centimetre wide, dips the pieces into resin and reassembles them to create structures that appear both light and fragile, they can be supported, as in the work below, solely by thin yellow hand-tied mason’s line. But they are in fact tougher than they look.  I know that to be true as, unexpectedly, in view of the normal don’t touch rule, I was invited to tap one by the gallery owner. It didn’t feel like cardboard at all, but was hard like an eggshell.

WP_20160408_16_21_24_Pro

Maud Cotter: Litter Bin

Look closely and you can see that the structure has been made up of panels, like some kind of three dimensional quilting. The photograph shows quite clearly how the strips of cardboard are teased into complex whorls and patterns.  For works which are so complex, they have surprisingly prosaic names: Litter Bin, for instance.  Writing about her work, Cotter explains that her aim is to hold on to intangible moments, which  I take to mean the very stuff of our everyday lives, which for most of us is prosaic enough. Although these creations involve a huge number of hours work, in their lightness of touch they resemble sketches in the air; there are the lines drawn in metal, delicate and intricate;  the cardboard forms are the shading.

WP_20160408_16_23_48_Pro

Maud Cotter: Matter of Fact

Whilst it is the central form which first attracts attention, the surrounding stand,  is equally important; its little swirls of metal reflect the cylinder it contains. You can line these circles up and squint through them; it’s like looking down a telescope.

WP_20160408_16_43_40_Pro (2)

Maud Cotter: Matter of Fact

The exhibition also includes other smaller works, there were some things downstairs which looked a bit like beakers of cappuccino. I liked the way the lines of the larger work were referenced by this wall mounted piece, Falling into Many Pieces  and then made double through the shadows cast by clever lighting.

WP_20160408_16_24_51_Pro (2)

Maud Cotter: Falling into Many Pieces

Unlike many successful artists Cotter believes in making her works herself rather than handing it over to assistants or a fabricator. She cuts and bonds the cardboard, bends the mild steel of the stands over her knee  and then welds the pieces together, only to cut them up once the construction is made to insert hand made joints which allow the works to be assembled and disassembled.

WP_20160408_16_34_40_Pro (2)

Look carefully and you can see the irregularities that this method produces. I like that. There are some who argue that the concept is all, and you should never make what others can do for you;  but for me the thumbprint of the artist adds something, intangible even, but important

Matter of Fact is showing at the Domobaal Gallery, 3 John Street, London WC1N 2ES, till May 14

 

 

Why all women artists (and all men) should see Phyllida Barlow’s Dock

11 Jun

Are female artists as good as male artists? If you are a woman, particularly a woman artist, you might instantly respond, ‘of course’. But is that what you really believe? Unfortunately it is more likely that, deep inside, you have doubts however much your conscious, liberal mind argues to the contrary. This is the issue that was so perfectly expressed by Sally Kempton, “it is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head “

There are tests that show what we profess to believe and actually believe are not the same thing. Enter the Implicit Association Test, designed by researchers at Harvard. The Harvard website explains that the test,

“measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy). The main idea is that making a response is easier when closely related items share the same response key

Researchers have used them to measure attitudes to a multiplicity of things and it can be disturbing to find that your unconscious is less politically correct than you are. If you want to find out more about your own prejudices follow this link and have a go.

I don’t know whether an Implicit Association Test has been specifically designed to measure attitudes to women artists but I would be prepared to bet quite a bit we would not do well. But it has also been demonstrated that positive experiences of any group can change scores. Indeed, the Harvard site recommend that people should seek out such experiences to rid themselves of unwanted preferences. There is a possible remedy if not a complete cure any negative attitudes to women artists; all it requires is a visit to Tate Britain to see Phyllida Barlow’s Dock.

2014-04-11 13.26.57

I advise go quickly for you will have had a lifetime of negative messages to neutralize. You know of course that female artists have historically been less well represented in galleries. You will know that women don’t make the big money in the art auctions; in 2013 the top 20 places were still all held by men and German Artist George Baselitz told Der Spiegel,

“Women don’t paint very well. It’s a fact, they simply don’t pass the market test, the value test. As always the market is right”

A similarly dismissive view was put forward by Brian Sewell in 2009, writing in the Independent

The art market is not sexist. The likes of Bridget Riley and Louise Bourgeois are of the second and third rank. There has never been a first-rank woman artist. Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness. Women make up 50 per cent or more of classes at art school. Yet they fade away in their late 20s or 30s. Maybe it’s something to do with bearing children.”

BBC 2 to its great credit has been trying to remedy this viewpoint but, I believe, only partially successfully. In the recently finished three-part series, the Story of Women and Art, we saw the works of some remarkable women artists. I particularly liked the family portrait by Lavinia Fontana, which shows a marvelous range of expressions, the cruel, the calculating and the wary; this apparently benign painting tells the story of a family feud and a disputed inheritance.

family group photo

 

Although the programme featured celebrated sculptors and painters including Angelica Kaufman, Vigee Lebrun and Anne Seymour Damer and showed the obstacles they had to overcome, it also included a wide range of more traditionally feminine art. Whilst it is possible to put up a tolerable case why paper cuts or textile design, painted porcelain or mother of pearl coated chinoiserie should be included in the series, they tended to be more indicative of artistic potential, or overcoming adversity, rather than measuring up to true aesthetic greatness. Some of them were actually not all that good, despite presenter Amanda Vickery’s relentless enthusiasm. They were unlikely, I reluctantly concluded, to convince the likes of Sewell or Baselitz and might even confirm them in their prejudices that women artists were more suited to water colours, fashion, craft and beautifying the domestic – “something to do with their brains,” they might say.

Such views about the female brain and its suitability for this or that are, of course, bunkum. I’ve just been reading Cordelia Fine’s book Delusions of Gender; it contains a fascinating analysis of the science behind all those claims that have been put forward over the years that women’s brains are somehow different from, and inferior to, those of men. These have ranged from the highlighting of the 150 gm weight difference which Victorians believed made women less intelligent, to MRI scans which have been claimed to show that men were better at analysis and women at primary emotional reference, suggesting that women were biologically better at low paid, caring occupations such as soothing fevered brows, whilst men were better at doing the high status, well paid stuff, like maths and engineering, architecture and so on.

As Fine so convincingly shows the science behind these often quoted studies has been highly flawed, showing such fundamental design failures as pitifully small samples, the absence of double blind testing and deeply subjective observations. On the MRI  scans, a different group of researchers were even able to reproduce similar results with a dead salmon.  Time and time again researchers have bent and doctored the data to confirm their own prejudices. What she does show, however, is the horrendous suggestibility of the human (not just the female) mind. For instance, the very act of filling in whether you are male or female before a maths test, makes women score worse as does even decor which is aggressively masculine rather than neutral. The reason for this is that the tick box or the decor can remind women that men are stereotypically better at maths. Why should this affect them adversely? One might have thought it would have made them more determined to do better, but that it turns out is the problem; if the brain is engaged in trying to combat negative thoughts, it is not giving 100% to the problem solving task in hand. So it goes on, the power of suggestion can distort the performance of men, women or indeed any social grouping.

Apart from overt discouragement and discrimination, and there has been plenty of that, the drip, drip, drip of this confidence sapping barrage over the years, the lack of role models, the exclusion from training, poor networking opportunities and lack of sponsors are all ample reasons why women have until recently failed to reach the top the artistic dung heap.

But perhaps things are finally changing;  more women are finding their voice. Dock is a beacon. It is perhaps the most exciting work in London for years and the proof of what women can achieve given the chance. Best of all, it needs no special pleading of the kind shown in the BBC2 series.

The scale of the thing is enormous. It is strong, it is bold. Inspired by Tate Britain’s position near the Thames it fills the Duveen Galleries with material in complete contrast to the classical lines but, oddly, it still complements the surroundings.  If it had been constructed by a man, it might have been called masculine but it has not; it is by a women and it proves that women can be every bit as daring. Look out at the exhibits in the nearby galleries and it makes everything else look rather tame.

2014-04-11 13.22.42

I have always loved the way that Barlow uses non-traditional art materials and in Dock you find canvas, polystyrene, cardboard, crates, rope, timber, rags, foam and paint. Enter the gallery and you are faced with what looks like a suspended shipping container, frozen at the point of being loaded or unloaded. Walk round and you can see into the interior; there are jagged edges. The inside is as interesting as the outside. You look up at things that are suspended precariously.  Is that huge canvas bundle cargo? Or is it something alive?

2014-04-11 13.41.34

You look through difference parts of the construction and get different vistas. There is fabric there and plastic. It is almost as though Barlow has taken the contents of all the recycling centres of London to grow this vast anarchic piece. Yet there is a rhythm to the work and it all fits together; precarious yes, but also balanced. It is a work of opposites; in part playful in part aggressive. It is made of discarded bits and pieces but there is such grandeur.

2014-04-11 13.26.15

The sheer confidence and exuberance of the work is breathtaking; mainly sculpture of a kind, there is a large-scale  painting there; a huge abstract  tipped on its side; there are also amazing bits of detail. Pallets are built up in a construction which reminded me of the scaffolding involved in ship construction, but look at them closely, they are smeared with paint and each one can appear like an abstract painting in miniature, leaving me speculating about how they came to be there and how much was accident, how much design. In fact that applies to the whole thing; how do you start working out an installation of this kind of complexity?

2014-04-11 13.39.55

But then Barlow has the experience under her belt.  She has taught for more than 40 years, most recently at the Slade School of Art and had generations of students pass through her hands. Finally at the age of 70, when many are enjoying retirement, she is showing this extraordinary energy, finally getting the recognition she deserves and giving women art students of all ages everywhere, not just at the Slade, a most inspiring role model.

Dock runs until 19 October, admission free. tate.org.uk

 

 

 

The attraction of small mysteries

2 Apr

I find that my normal preference for works of art is that they should be large. I like paintings on a grand scale – let’s fill that wall; I like sculptures to be at least as big as I am,  or preferably a whole lot bigger. If it’s photography I have a disinclination to peer at small prints, however exquisite. I like them to be blown up – huge – in the way favoured by Andreas Gurski. In my own work I always tend to want to make stuff larger than is often practical.

It was interesting therefore to look at the work of  Swedish artist Nina Canell, recently showing at the Camden Arts Centre, whose work had been recommended to me precisely because of what she manages to achieve on a smaller, more intimate scale.  Even the largest of her pieces could be measured by the span of your arms. Their impact was drawn not from their size but  from the thoughtful manipulation of the materials, which led viewers to  see familiar objects and familiar surroundings in a new way. While that is often said of contemporary art, in this case it was actually true. Among what was a strong collection, I found, somewhat to my surprise, it was the smaller pieces that I found the most interesting.

Canell’s art encompasses science and illusion. One of the most fascinating of the works simply comprised seven somewhat bent steel nails hanging improbably from the wall. They clung together without any apparent form of support. In fact it was done through the power of magnetism. The normal gallery instruction not to touch the art works seemed particularly important in this case – one little nudge and it looked as if the whole piece would go skittering to the floor.

Installation view of Nina Canell: Near Here at Camden Arts Centre, 2014. Photo: Marcus J Leith

Photo Marcus J Leith

Also intriguing was a single drinking glass set on a piece of carpet, and containing what? I spent a long time looking at it and could not decide. The wall information said “coagulated air”, which is what it looked like. The piece of carpet on which it was displayed stopped one getting close enough really to inspect the contents, so it had the effect of making me question what I was seeing. Were the forms inside the glass slightly changing as I looked? Was there vapour coming off the contents or were my eyes playing tricks? I tried to find a scientific explanation; could it be essentially dry ice in the glass and, if so, how was it kept refrigerated? I have since Googled it,  to find most commentators have accepted the description at face value. “The artist has placed coagulated air in a glass.” Come on, air is not blood, it doesn’t coagulate naturally. One site said it was an industrially produced material, which may well be true but still didn’t shed any light on what it was actually made of.

Nina Canell_30

Photo Marcus J Leith

 

In the exhibition Canell also showed a fascination with electric cables. One piece, no bigger than a pork knuckle, was displayed on a pedestal. It looked like an animal or human body part. Here you could get close to look at the intricacy of the wires that were leading nowhere. The outer covering of the cable had been cut back, the insulating layer so revealed, looked like fat under skin.

Nina Canell: New Exhibition Explores Connections That Make Up Our Environment - ArtLyst Article image

Other cables were displayed in tanks reminiscent of those used for preserved specimens. Each piece of cable was supported as though precious, but, by cutting it up and placing it within water, its function had been destroyed. The effect of the glass and water meant that, depending on position, it sometimes looked as though the tanks contained multiple pieces rather than just the one.

Nina Canell_18

One of the more puzzling was a small tank by the wall apparently holding a piece of computer cable. Yet when you looked inside, the tank was empty. I spent a long time looking at this piece before finally working out that it was not done with mirrors but the cable was stuck to the wall behind.

The exhibition did not entirely remove my preference for larger works. There was one work  which featured pieces of chewing gum again on a carpet. This was influenced by Canell seeing  an archeological exhibition which had included a piece of pitch from 20000 year ago  which still bore the marks of ancient teeth. I too would have found that interesting; I can see that the work could have been intended to make us more conscious of our chewing gum strewn environment. However, visually I did not feel it worked partly because the individual pieces of chewing gum were simply too small to examine, or perhaps I needed better spectacles.  I was not entirely convinced by the work that comprised shredded socks.

It is rare that in any exhibition you like every single piece; for me this was worth visiting just to look at the nails taking no more than a square foot of wall, just hanging there, held in place by what appeared to be magic.  And I would still dearly like to know how she made coagulated air.

Making porcelain waves

26 Mar

Say the word porcelain and you probably think of dinner plates, mugs, wash basins (or urinals), or, possibly, inscrutable Chinese lions, thoughtful cherubs or smiling shepherdesses. Last week I saw what for me was a new take on porcelain in the art of Belgian artist Jeanne Opgenhaffen. She produces works which are not quite sculptures. though they are three-dimensional, but more like paintings crafted in porcelain rather than paint.

Oppenhaffen,  who is now 76, was born in Nieuwenkerk-Waas, and studied ceramics at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the National Higher Institute in Antwerp, and has exhibited widely including in London and in New York. I saw the works, just three of them, at Art14, an interesting commercial gallery named after its street number in Dijver in Bruges, rather than the year.

The works which normally appear to have a rectangular or square outer form are made up of hundreds or even thousands of separate porcelain pieces which she somehow intertwines to produce a whole which is remarkably fluid. These are not mosaics where the surface is flat but reliefs where the individual tiles can together form undulating patterns suggesting waves, cells or geological strata. It is not obvious at first that they are made from porcelain; each tile is typically thin, curved and looks as if it was made of paper or fabric or some other material that could be easily  folded into shape. The colours tend towards the natural tones you might find in the landscape; the works I saw were in whites, earth-like reddy browns and muted blues.

2014-03-20 17.32.26

2014-03-20 17.31.08

These works will clearly look different in different lights and I liked the way that they could cast shadows around their edges. Striking from a distance, they also rewarded close up observation. Look at this detail where you can see how all the tiles are subtly different.

2014-03-20 17.31.18

I love the way the set of nine reliefs below seem to capture the movement of the sea.

View photo.JPG in slide show

I found myself wondering how far they were planned and how far improvised. A bit of both, I imagine.  Having coming across these works by chance, I really want to see more; there are many on her website which are equally interesting.  I will be looking out for exhibitions in London.

The disturbing world of Virgile Ittah

20 Feb

I wrote last week about Andra Ursuta who was included in the Saatchi Gallery Body Language Exhibition. Body language seemed an appropriate classification also for Virgile Ittah, though checking with the website, it turns out that it is part of the separate exhibition New Order II: British Art Today. Ittah was actually born in France but works in London and undertook an MA at the Chelsea College of Art. It appears she may feel no particular sense of belonging anywhere. Her website speaks of her work being informed by her family’s exile and constant wandering.

Her sculptures both impress and disturb though in my case that was partly tempered by simple curiosity – how had she made them? They are a strange blend of the classical and the horrific. Constructed from mixed wax, marble powder and fabric it is not entirely clear to what extent they are cast, modelled, carved, or indeed melted, or possibly a combination of all four. Certainly the photograph of Ittah on her website shows her with what looks like a carving tool and fragments of wax round her feet while in the background there is a  container of melted wax. The difference of textures in the sculptures suggest that a variety of techniques have been used. Presumably because of the marble powder they contain, the sculptures display some of the characteristics that they would have had if they had indeed been carved from stone but yet because of the nature of the wax, there is a warmer element to them that is more like human flesh.

Each of the figures on display have a relatively unscathed head which has been formed with sensitivity but as the eye scans the naked bodies  you see that each to a greater or lesser extent appears to have succumbed to varying degrees of decomposition suggesting the inevitability of death and decay.

A sculpture by Virgile Ittah showing a kneeling man whose arms and legs below theknees have been lost

Virgile Ittah: Untitled (for man would remember each murmur)

In the work above Untitled (for man would remember each murmur) the arms and legs have all but disappeared leaving just the torso which itself is appearing to melt. You feel it is just a matter of time before the fine face shares the same fate. He reminded me of those ancient statues from Greece or Rome who have lost limbs as a result of vandalism, earthquakes or war, and been eroded by time and by rain. I would, however, quibble with his title: Ittah is not alone in this manner of naming, but to my mind a work is either untitled or it is not; you can’t really have both.

Virgile Ittah's sculpture showing a naked woman reclining on a hard backed chair, Her face resmbles a death mask her legs are decaying,

Virgile Ittah: Regarding the Pain of Others

In Regarding the Pain of Others, a title paying homage to Susan Sontag’s book of the same name, the woman’s face, eyes unseeing, mouth open suggests a death mask, though no corpse could remain propped up in such a way on a chair. The breasts suggest the living but the legs are already in advanced decay. I particularly liked the detailing of this piece. Look at the back shot. The chair has caused the skin to wrinkle, while the weight of the body is also shown in the compression of the buttocks. The chair here is important; by using a real chair brings the sculpture indisputably into the present.

 Virgle Ittah: Regarding the Pain of Others - rear view

Virgle Ittah: Regarding the Pain of Others – rear view

In Dreams are guilty, absolute and silent by fire,  the woman appears to be sitting on her stool, again a real stool, in a meditative position. Facing her is another similar but empty stool, suggesting someone missing – a sense of loss. Again her  legs have suffered the ravages of the grave; the flesh is falling off the bone. One hand is already gone, her right breast is succumbing to disease or corruption.

Virgile Ittah: Dreams are Guilty, Absolute and Silent by Fire

Virgile Ittah: Dreams are Guilty, Absolute and Silent by Fire

Intrigued by the works,  I tried to find more detail about Ittah’s own history but there seems little internet information on her or the nature of the family’s exile. When making them Ittah may have been thinking about her own family’s tribulations, but for me the works are powerful as they not only emphasise human mortality but they also remind us that nothing lasts for long– not even statues carved in stone.

New Order II: British Art Today is showing at the Saatchi Gallery until 23 March 2014

Fallen women at the Saatchi Gallery

11 Feb

For the student of contemporary art, there is always that moment of pleasure when you go to a gallery and recognize an artist before reading the label on the wall. I imagine this is something that you get over as you become more experienced. Or possibly it just happens more often.

Anyway it happened to me last week at the Saatchi Gallery. I had not gone along to see anything in particular, rather to see what was there and was delighted to find that there was an exhibition entitled Body Language which of course chimes with my current area of interest.

Rather than starting on the ground floor and working my way up, I had started at the top floor and was walking down when, from above, I noticed a kind of siege engine, some fallen plaster on the floor and nearby the lifeless body of a woman. The installation suggested a narrative – the woman had been catapulted through the air, though we did not know who would have used her in this cruel way, or why. She had hit the wall and fallen to the ground. Looking down on this work it reminded me, in the near realism of the body and the supine position of the woman, of a work I had seen back in 2011 at Frieze. Not surprisingly, after such a long time, the name of the work had escaped me as had the name of the artist. Nonetheless, I was sure they were by the same person.

Andra Ursuta: Vandal Lust

Andra Ursuta: Vandal Lust

I remembered the work I had seen at Frieze quite clearly; it had involved a different fallen woman. I remembered that it was a cast and portrayed the artist, lying crushed and naked except for her trainers. The blurb explained that she had portrayed herself as iron-age mummy, preserved by being buried in a Northern European peat bog and weighed down by a large quantity of fake semen.

At the time I wasn’t at all sure about the underlying message, presumably something to do with male oppression and self-worth. The fake semen had seemed a bit gratuitous; though at least one could be grateful it wasn’t the real thing. But despite the rather ridiculous description I had really liked the work, though I found it hard to tell why, possibly it was something to do with the youth and vulnerability of the figure, which were particularly emphasised by the shoes.

I went down to the next floor where you can enter the room and there lying in the corner was the very work that I had remembered. It was entitled Crush by the Romanian artist Andra Ursuta, who currently works in New York. I had not noticed it from above. There was no mention of the fake semen, though it was still there; it was made of cast urethane wax, wig, sneakers and silicone. The title Crush is, I now see, a play on words; the crushing effect of the peat bog on her body coupled with the more idiomatic meaning of the word to have a crush on someone, which she clearly felt can have a crushing effect on the psyche. So the semen made a bit more sense.

The work by Andra Ursuta shows a nude female figure lying supine

Andra Ursuta: Crush

Seeing it again, I liked the work just as much as I had three years earlier. The reason this piece works so well, is, I think partly because of the distortion of the body as though it had indeed been crushed and was old; the arms are unnaturally naturally thin, the chest is partially caved in. Then the way that the hair and the shoes are the same colour as the body adds to the impression that it has existed perhaps for hundreds of years, rather than has been constructed. The fact that the hair is still clearly hair is reminiscent of  real mummified remains, when disturbingly skin or bits of hair can indeed survive, albeit it in rather a less luxuriant fashion.While it is moving to see the woman in such a pitiful state, it is also a humorous piece for the apparent antiquity is belied by the anachronism of the modern sneakers.

While I enjoyed the shape and the textures achieved in the trebuchet, and loved the way that the plaster from the wall had apparently fallen to the floor, I was less intrigued by the other fallen woman, though her face was also modelled on that of the artist. It was possibly because by being dressed in the coloured clothing of a  Babushka, she perversely appeared more artificial. Remembering one work after three years from all the hundreds on show at Frieze is of course an exceptionally high hurdle to beat. Vandal Lust was still a remarkable piece but somehow not quite so remarkable, or so I think at the moment. But then last week I hadn’t yet had the pleasure of coming across it again.

%d bloggers like this: