( First published in Le Nouvel Âne, September 2008 - nº 9 )
The show with which the New Museum opened its doors December 1st, 2007, puts the concept for traditional sculpture severely into question.
Urs Fischer’s one-legged wax female nude is a life-size candle designed to burn throughout the show. As the wax melts and limbs start to drop off, it deteriorates. Half of it an inflated doll, the other half classical sculpture, it doesn’t have a title. It lights up the way a candle does, and it melts the way a candle does… in front of your eyes while forming a puddle on the gallery floor. If this is the reverse function of a monument, what it celebrates, is its actual imminent disappearance.
Again, as to add to the rather dramatic is the running melted wax across the woman’s face that together drags the red paint she has on the lips. The color and the shape of the lips change. You look again, and they’ve changed once more. You wonder around the room; you glimpse through the corner of your eyes, her face is never the same.
Soon you see the big mound of earth arising in front of the sculpture – another Fischer piece. The sword on top of the mound is melancholic enough. And this is how you get involved with the woman hero – Joan of Arc could be in the picture… That mound predicts the ineffable, of the monument, of woman… Indeed, if like Lacan implies—in his chapter on God and Woman’s jouissance—much as she is bound to appear in behalf of an Other, her ex-sistence melts in the fire of the very erotic. Aphrodite comes to mind. In that she was not generated from a male body, but from male genitals.
It is relevant to such moments with art to attempt to connect desire to terror. Because Rilke said that beauty is the edge of a terror and Lacan repeated the point in his seminar on Anxiety.
Again, if art is “beyond the symbolic” — also “verbal at a second power,” It makes use of the structure of language without, in most cases, making use of language itself. And this is how it allows the articulation of truth…
How different are Fischer’s monuments from the Greek statues Hegel gazed at? Here the artist, prone to materialize the human spiritual, to turn it visible, and forever lasting, calls upon beauty which is perfect form. Comments Jacques-Alain Miller in his La Fuga del Serntido “With the suspension of time you put castration in between brackets. An image of a perfect homeostasis… till discontent started to install itself in civilization…precisely because we are left with images of a body without jouissance, a body which is not worked out by jouissance…” I take it that the point Miller wants to make is how these bodies in monuments, which till today stand as a model of perfection, exclude grimace. And he mentions the grimace of the real Lacan talks about in Television”. Much as the Greek statue excludes grimace, there is a kind of penetration of the imaginary by the symbolic, as well as a dominant gest of the symbolic in behalf of imaginary harmony without a left over. Exalted it gives the impression of spiritualized material. The secret of the image is castration.” Here Miller relates the secret in the image to Lacan’s reading of Holbein’s Ambassadors.
To demonstrate this point with Fischer we will bring in the mound of earth in front of the wax woman statue, as it may well account for the uncanny shape floating in the foreground of the Ambassador’s scene. That is, when you are standing in front of the Unmonumental woman you cannot see what this earth shape is about. Still you are looking through it. Suddenly you see it. Now you look, you stare at it, and as you do so, the work captures your gaze, and you as well,
Then as you are leaving the room, you turn and take a last look; from that angle the sword is a cross, and the mound object the perfect representation of a tumb. From the empty of the image, much as it is castrated, the painting has been looking at you, has catched your look and turned it back on you, to make of you a picture. A paradigm of the visual field secrets, Miller tells of the imaginary phallus (-φ) on anamorphic faces. It is not simply that the work-of-art regards you, but that it sends back to you, your own regard for yourself.
The call could be Neo-Pop. Simultaneously Fischer is having a solo show at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, where he has destroyed the floor of the gallery. Pop culture?
Fischer—“My use of a ‘cartoon style’ comes from growing up in the ’70s and ’80s. I never read a lot of comic books as a kid but always liked to use a big black pen to outline whatever I was going to draw. One can choose any style that is accessible–I might have chosen Impressionism if it had been easy to access. Cartoons just work for me; they provide a language that is very simple and efficient. My choice does not relate specifically to the legacy of Pop art. Rather, it has to do with pop culture, because the historical Pop-sters leveled the ground for pop culture’s place in art. Today, it’s impossible to distill the source. Do influences come from popular culture? Or from Pop art? On one hand, a Campbell’s tomato-soup can becomes an artwork; on the other, the style of Andy Warhol turns into an iPod ad.
Urs Fischer’s 2019 Leo at Gagosian, Paris on Perfume.