SCULPTURE IS IMPLACABLE : YOU GET WHAT YOU SEE
Richard Deacon and Sui Jianguo
at L.A. Louver, Venice, CA — September 2018
Holding a humming bird inside
by Rosanna Albertini
What you see, at first, is a population of hand made bodies, mostly small size, on pedestals and little tables. Their shapes are unique, any comparison with the natural world is pointless. Only three of them are taller than a normal human. Tables are part of the piece. But it’s not easy to focus on each single piece. A circulation of movement in the air around the sculptures, the light they spread maybe from inside their artificial organs, as if air was their blood, pushes me from one to another and from one to another room without thinking of objects, perhaps following an inaudible music, a four hand concert with a Chinese-European score. “Open up, bloom, pause. Breath, pause, pause and breath.”
Indirectly, Richard Deacon suggested this metaphor years ago, describing his play with a vocabulary of forms: “ten different shapes, together they can make a sentence, even a song.”
Variations on the same theme in modestly sized pieces fill the space with gentle songs, and with peaks of sculptural actions in two registers: the first one pausing in neatly cut geometrical surfaces, some shiny, some completely rough—the stainless steal’s whistle joins the voice of the wood cracking and protesting— and this is Deacon’s work; the second register comes from a folding and unfolding of sculpted bodies, like buds who discover the emergence of leaves, or figures of body parts covered with skin language: Sui Jianguo transferring into his pieces the surface of his own hands, a universal language which is uniquely his, not necessarily Chinese, just his own.
I’m told the two artists are friends, no reason to doubt it. I’m wondering whether they connect via visual vocabulary, rather than spoken language. And asking myself what Jianguo’s titles mean, all Planting Trace, with a few qualifications added: matter, constellation. ganoderma. Opposed to Deacon’s titles: Flat, Cuttings in various numbers, New Alphabet, Fold in the Fabric. Deacon tells me that “cutting” is what makes his pieces. He cuts and fabricates and asks the matter to cooperate. Jianguo, this time, squeezes the clay, lets his fingers find the forms. Maybe some of these pieces are from his blind work: the artist refusing to see what his hands are doing. Had he realized how implacable sculpture is.
A glimpse of history pierces my mind making me think that both artists, (and myself for the matter) belong to the after war generation. Deacon’s father was in the RAF, Jianguo lived through communism and cultural revolution in China. The outcome is these artists are workers, builders of their lives, perhaps rediscovering their lives through the art they produced.
Their art isn’t about aesthetics, it’s about life. Sui plants fragments of his body into our mind: traces, as he says, marks. Which seems to me a real revolutionary move out of the pain or mixed feelings he had about Mao and Maoism and the artificial equality that ideology had forced into people. His little and big sculptures bring up his personal self, the one unmistakably marked by his fingerprints. Although he will never be a Western artist, he has to wear, here and there, fashions that other artist of the past almost codified in the public imagination. Art history is an open book, as landscapes are, even in the small space of a garden. I like to call them gardeners, these two artists, gardeners planting their art.
Alternating in the same big space, their sculptures take me into a familiar sense of enjoyment that fills me every time art pieces I see for the first time greet me, waking up remote impressions, not at all déjà-vues, rather déjà-felt, in front of other sculptures. The problem is, life and manners and perception of real things wrap around the person of the artist, and sink beyond the skin, invisibly, exactly as it happens to the viewers of an art piece. I can’t explain why the twisted and almost screaming gestures of Jiankuo’s big pieces, as if form was unfolding herself free from her material essence, make me think of Camille Claudel’s reckless women, trying to get out from their feminine body, and from a history of humiliation.
Showing me the three vertical layers of his Alphabet, light gray and white painted like a wedding dress, Richard Deacon displays his pleasure in finding, trying, combining, working with helpers, solving problems during the fabrication…until the middle layer almost disappears but is there, “like the ham in a sandwich.” He is telling, very simply, that the invisible part is the clue of the piece. Yes, what you see is what you get, but you have to look through the surface, beyond the drawing, to pose your eyes on the sleeping beauty.
The visual world fills his perception, and stay inert in his memory, until the secret humming bird moves his sharp beak, the tiny scissor, from a recess of his heart. Then Deacon is at work to bring his way of splitting away from the continuous ligaments that keep our bones, our cities, our days and years together, anchored in natural necessity. Cuttings, separation, disclose a different image of the world: by avoiding the natural look of any of his creatures, Deacon fills the art pot with mysterious treasures: a spot of red in the middle of a square piece of wood thick enough to stand, for example. A square hollow centers the back of the same wood. Red color reappears. Beware of the words! What I see is a sensation of something existing, not a sentence. Title is: Size is Everything.
Physical entities whose content “is the significance of its material.” They represent “nothing other than themselves.” They “suggest and reflect our existence,” They are “thoughts produced by action.” All the quotes from Giuseppe Penone. Deacon’s creatures are cut out from reality to direct our attention toward repetition and reinvention of forms, time doesn’t matter, to renew our attachment to infinite variety.
Giuseppe Penone, Ramificazioni del pensiero-Branches of Thougth, Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles, 2014
Mario Merz, Lo spazio e curvo o diritto, Hopeful Monster editore, Firenze, 1990
And this is the link to Douglas Messerli’s beautiful text: http://artla-bas.blogspot.com/2018/09/a-sculpture-of-small-writ-large-richard.html