The history of sculpture is a constant and overlapping series of gestures, reactions, attempts to rediscover the old or forgotten, and make something new out of it. The Myth of Singularity is a series of bronze sculptures that emerged through a process-driven investigation of the work of Auguste Rodin, and seeking a new path forward
The history of sculpture is a constant and overlapping series of gestures, reactions, attempts to rediscover the old or forgotten, and make something new out of it. The Myth of Singularity is a series of bronze sculptures that emerged through a process-driven investigation of the work of Auguste Rodin, and seeking a new path forward through action and fragmentation.
When I began this body of work, I had no relationship to figurative sculpture. Much of Rodin’s work which exists in American museum’s was cast long after the artist was dead, and lacked the nuance in the surface present in the works produced during his lifetime. Initially I approached the work of Rodin as an afterthought, a part of doing due diligence in researching a project responding to monumental, and primarily Minimalist, works in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. My interest was in re-inscribing a notion of temporality and process on objects that are presented as static, permanent, and unmoving.
As I combed through essays and catalogs, I discovered a Rodin far more dynamic than the cold surface of the posthumous bronzes. Rodin himself worked primarily in plaster and clay, modeling smaller works with imperfect, gestural details. These works were later enlarged by an assistant using a 3-D pantograph, the analog antecedent of today’s 3-D printer. Sleep, a clay and plaster bust, still bears the fingerprints of its maker, and the pencil marks of the analog enlargement process. While Rosalind Krauss dismisses the plasters as “impermanent” in her seminal essay “The Originality of the Avant Garde and Other Myths”, for me, the plasters were the root of the work. Their messy gestural quality, and sometimes ungainly proportions separated them from the mannered style of the period, and link Rodin’s sense of temporality to the process-driven sculpture of today. With a studio floor littered with plaster hands and feet, Rodin frequently worked from fragments, “cannibalizing his own oeuvre,” in a practice anticipating later strategies of appropriation and recombination. In The Myth of Singularity (After Auguste Rodin), a two-day performance in LACMA’s Cantor Sculpture Garden, I sought to recreate Rodin’s atelier process by working from fragmentary molds cast from LACMA’s collection of posthumously cast Rodin bronzes, and collaging them together to produce new forms.
The resulting figures bear the marks of their making. Untitled (After Thinker) has chunks of debris embedded in his face after being smashed into his/her amorphous clay mask during the performance. Each body is composed of fragments, often deployed in unorthodox positions – a face and abdominal muscles flank the legs of Untitled (Torso Fragment). The displaced parts suggest the malleability of the body, where flesh and bone can be moved around at will. The fragmentary, bandaged qualities of the sculptures harken back to the era of Dada emerging out of the carnage of WWI. While such wounds remain largely hidden from public view today, some latent trauma remains. The figures from The Myth of Singularity have a quality of androgyny, which comes in part from the departure from traditionally ‘pleasing’ figurative proportions. During the performance, parts shifted on provisional armatures, and rather than correct for proper alignment, I encouraged these distortions to occur. The fragments add up to completed bodies, but they never feel complete and closed, suggesting the possibility of another potential move.
The Rodin I came to love was not the heroic father of modern sculpture, but rather, the Rodin of failure and fragmentation. For seven years, Rodin struggled to create a worthy representation of venerated novelist Honoré de Balzac. The resulting monolithic plaster was panned at the Paris Salon upon its debut, and later installed in the artists’ garden, where it remained until his death. The work was never cast in bronze during his lifetime; today its abstract form is regarded as a seminal moment in modernism. Rosalind Krauss’ argument flattened the swings of Rodin’s career, and describes a bustling production environment in which the artist’s output was far too great for him to view each object, though this situation only existed during the last seven to ten years of his lifetime. For me, the circulation of the posthumously cast bronze works leave out much of what remains interesting and relevant. Today, what was radical about Rodin remains invisible.
The plaster and clay models that resulted from the two-day performance at LACMA took significantly longer to recreate in bronze. While the foundry system is designed to outsource most of the process, I found myself spending several months working on the wax positives, to retain the messy fragility of the original plasters. Dangling strings from burlap reinforcement or the texture of cracked plaster that were produced through quick, instinctual gestures during the performance took weeks to recreate, as the detail does not survive the mold-making process. It was critical that the bronzes retain a sense of temporality and fragmentary construction, and that they never felt dead, solid, or timeless.
After the sculptures had been poured and chased, I worked with the foundry to recreate the three-layer black-green-black patina pioneered by Rodin in collaboration with the Lumiere brothers. The process had come full circle, as I was initially granted permission to take molds from the posthumous casts at LACMA after presenting the scholarly evidence that suggests that the late 1960s posthumously cast Rodin works produced by Alexis Rudier (son of George Rudier, who worked with Rodin while he was alive) were not finished with this revolutionary three-layer patina, and perhaps should not be considered “real” Rodins. (While making the molds, I found that LACMA’s conservation staff actually added green pigmented wax to their bronzes to make them look more ‘authentic.’)
While any conversation about the artist’s hand seems wildly anachronistic today, I would suggest that the hand does in fact matter, and now more than ever. Readings of post-studio art have tended to lump all work that is ‘fabricated’ into one category, yet nothing could be further from the truth. While Jeff Koons’s work is often referenced as heavily reliant upon fabrication, his Aqualung (1985) was cast with thirty different molds, and I would argue, the resulting object differs radically from much of the sculpture being “fabricated” today. This difference rests not in the aura imparted by the artist’s touch, but rather, the investment of care, energy, and refinement. It’s a process of materializing desire, a process that in many cases cannot be reproduced through mere verbal instructions. Demands upon contemporary artists to produce consistent, quality work under ever-accelerating deadlines may suggest a push toward the streamlining of process. The act of producing this body of work has allowed me to discover the potentiality of that which cannot happen quickly, an idea which I have long understood in performance, but never so deeply through sculpture.
– Liz Glynn