The Body Undone: Fragmentation in Process continued
3rd Case Study – Anne Haring
The practice of Anne Haring illustrates the significance of the figurative fragment for the development of the making of the figure. Haring’s current figurative sculptures are life-size standing figures (approx. 1.65m) which she makes first in plaster and then casts in bronze (fig. 12). The determination of the volume is the key issue of her work and method.
Haring starts making her figure with an iron structure characterized by her as a rudiment of the figure (fig. 13). The iron structure depicts the bare essentials of the human form. She uses this figurative fragment as her starting point and gradually forms the volume of the figure, applying small portions of plaster onto the iron frame (fig. 14). Listening to her one gains the impression that the artist perceives the object as a feeling being and its growing is physically interlinked with her. For the understanding of her corporeal interlinking with this figurative fragment one has to bear in mind that structurally the iron frame is very similar to the human skeleton, which is the most fundamental structure of the human figure. Haring senses the first application of plaster as the most crucial and tense phase of the work as in this stage the skeletal frame appears to be most responsive to the gravity of the material (fig. 15). Thereby the frame seems to behave similarly to the human vertebrae and evokes bodily feelings, as it behaves like a spinal axis, interacting with the distribution of the muscles or here the plaster.1 This bodily association with the iron frame means that the artist sees a behavioural pattern in the frame which correlates to her own body and appears to be a vital aspect for her feeling of the figure growing and for her aesthetic judgement. In keeping with the bodily association of the iron frame one could interpret the liquid plaster, flowing down, with images of blood flow and when the plaster cures it appears to assume the texture of fleshy matter. Therefore one could read her method of adding plaster to the iron frame as filling it with ‘flesh’. This would explain her strong sensation of the iron frame as the inner core from which the material manifestation of the figure commences by filling a space with plaster. Considering that the skeleton is a fundamental structure for the body, Haring’s process appears to address metaphorically the beginning of the body. Additionally, a further aspect of fragmentation can be observed between the underlying presence of the figure suggested through the iron frame and its becoming, expressed in the progressive adding of plaster and the developing volume of the figure.
Returning to Schade and her examples from Dürer and Michelangelo, Haring appears to work in reverse, starting with the fragment of the figure instead of first dissecting the figure. The growing of Haring’s figure into a ‘complete’ and non-fragmented state, however, appears not to be what Schade refers to as producing an illusion of a homogeneous body.2 Despite appearances of the completed figure (fig. 12), its making is based on fragmentation as this can be observed in Haring’s strong bodily interaction with her work and the fragmental state of her figure is vital for her and the forming of the expression. One could argue that the experience of the skeletal state of the figure appears to generate in Haring the sensation and the materialization of the figure (fig. 16). The trauma of an absent or incomplete figure as described by Nochlin, does not lead in Haring’s case to further trauma or demolition but seems to become a source for creation.
4th Case Study – Babette Martini
The artistic subject of my work focuses upon the human body marked through exposure to the industrial environment and process of steel making. The correlation between the worker and this harsh environment is represented through the glove protecting the hand. This relationship is explored by using the hand within the glove: the hand symbolizing the industrial worker and the glove the industrial environment. The hand is formed through a two part press mould which is lined with different combustible materials and paper clay. When the two parts are assembled, the mould is filled with red casting slip (fig. 17). The exterior glove is formed through dipping the hand repeatedly into a plaster composite,3 building up an exterior layer, the glove (fig. 19).
Notions concerning the marked body as a fragmented body influenced the articulation of the relationship between the industrial worker and his environment and that the portrayal of injury appears to be most expressive when conveyed through the process of wounding. In this respect the process of making developed into successive stages of unmaking, fragmenting the artwork the further the making progressed. This can be observed for example, when lining the mould with the liquid clay in combination with different combustible materials such as cotton fabric or cotton wool or paper pulp. In the first instance the mould fuses the various materials. After removal, however, the combustible material mixed with the ceramic material creates in its unfired state the impression of a flayed body in the case of cotton wool or becomes reminiscent of being mutilated or repaired when using the cotton fabric (figs. 18 & 22). The sensation of deformation and injury increases after firing the glove when the combustibles burnt out and created various hollow spaces. For example when using fabric strips, the clay slip soaked the fabric strip completely and substituted the soft material, which becomes visible in the slightly rigid and solid ceramic layer, which appears to be located between hand and glove and forms a middle layer (fig. 23). A different result was produced when using cotton wool. Compared with the previous example, the clay slip behaved differently and did not bond with the cotton wool as closely as with the textile strip, thus a softer and more vulnerable body was created, forming a deep gap which evokes association of penetration and a ‘gutted’ body (figs. 20 & 21). The behaviour of the clay or its tendency to saturate the combustibles could be read as a form of bonding but the extent of this bonding determines how much of the combustibles will burn away. In this way the clay slip forms hands which are more solid or fragmented than others, drawing in different associations of the open and wounded body. The modified combinations of combustibles with the liquid clay make the clay slip behave differently and thus directing the different outcomes. Returning to Scarry, who claims that the principle of making is predominantly based on (God’s) doing and undoing, the making of man appears to consist of a continuous alteration and modulation of the human body. Regarding the artistic process the repeated lining of the mould with different materials appears to be not simply a replication but could be understood as an act of modulation and re-interpretation of the expression of wounding. In this respect the element of undoing is not merely an accident causing damage but an event which creates new meaning and expression within the artwork.
During the firing the deformation of the glove becomes more explicit with increasing temperature. The higher the temperature, the more of exterior plaster (composite) coating cracks and melts away, exposing large parts of the inner hand (figs. 20 & 23). It generates the impression that the ultimate fragmentation and wounding occurs within the kiln. Referring to Scarry’s imagery of the tool as a weapon, the kiln is not just a weapon but appears to act like a knife, peeling and dissolving the exterior glove. The layers of glove and hand are stripped and burnt away until only a skeleton of a hand remains (fig. 24). The heat reveals the layers of combustibles which were saturated with clay slip, and the ones which were not and burnt out completely. What emerges appears to be the anatomy of the becoming of the expression. Although the kiln fuses the material, simultaneously it takes apart what has been assembled, reinforcing the principle of doing and undoing as represented by Scarry. This means that concepts of making and unmaking converge within the kiln. The sensation of pain, which is characterized by Scarry as a sign of the materialization of man, becomes a major means of forming the inner hand. The completely bared hand (fig. 24) does not signify a rudimentary building block like the skeleton for the human body, but reveals an articulation of pain resulting from a series of deformations (fig. 25).
The four artistic practices demonstrate that the fragment plays a crucial role for the making of the figure and its expression. They further suggest that the fragment or the process of fragmentation are not always leading to absence and destruction but also embody a form of making, which becomes crucial for the expression of human fragility and feeling. This becomes evident in Christie Brown’s practice where fragmentation is not solely an essential method of constructing the figure but the presence of the fragment suggests human vulnerability, transforming the cast and replicated artwork into an expressive figure. The correlation between fragmentation and the capacity of feeling becomes particularly prominent in Heller’s case. The destruction of the artefact becomes a form of re-investing human feeling into a machined object and her tool remains no longer a technical implement but becomes an instrument of endowing feeling capacities to the artefact. The experience of the fragmented state as a form of generating making is an important element of Haring’s making of her figure. The rudimentary shape of her figure appears actively to guide Haring and the development of the figure, becoming a fundamental constituent for the ‘completed’ figure. The close correlation between doing and undoing is particularly salient in my practice where tools like the mould become instruments of reinterpretation and the firing in the kiln could be compared with the performance of a knife. The expression formed through the kiln makes explicit that within my artistic practice the concepts of doing and undoing converge. It suggests that the figure undone signifies not only its fragmentation but also its becoming.
Clark, Kenneth. The Nude: A Study of Ideal Art, London, Penguin Books, 1987.
Marx, Karl. Grundrisse (Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, Rough Draft) translated by Martin Nicolaus, London, Penguin Books in association with New Left Review, 1973.
Nochlin, Linda. The Body in Pieces, London, Thames and Hudson, 1994.
Penny, Nicholas. The Materials of Sculpture, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1993.
Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain, New York, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1987.
Schade, Sigrid. ‘Der Mythos des ganzen Körpers’, in Barta, Ilsebill, Breu, Zita, Hammer-Tugenthat, Daniela, Jenni, Ulrike, Nierhaus, Irene, Schöbel, Judith, eds. Frauen, Bilder, Männer, Mythen, Berlin, Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1987.
Todd, Mabel, E. The Thinking Body, A study of the Balancing Forces of Dynamic Man, London, Dance Books Ltd, 1997
Brown, Christie, London, UK
|The Body Undone Issue 8|