Social Sculpture cannot be dissociated from Joseph Beuys who originally coined the term and went on to inscribe it in a highly political and social context, beyond materiality, with a utopian vision for social transformation. It is also the title of Anna Schwartz Gallery’s current group exhibition in Sydney, curated by Charlotte Day, who selected process-based and performative practices, which are situated in an expanded field of sculpture. These call forth action and interaction in playful sense of subversion.
Directly engaging with the viewer, Agatha Gothe-Snape’s work marks different points of and within the gallery. Her large wall-text instructions, which hover above the exhibition boldly read: DO NOT APPROACH THIS END OF THE ROOM DO NOT CROSS THE YELLOW LINE (2011). Placed not far from the wall as if to underline the statement, Lauren Brincat’s installation The Quick and the Dead (2011) is composed of an erect taxidermied cobra and a yellow triangle (caution!) attached to a wriggling rope, which issues from beneath a near by wall. It does the trick, even if only momentarily. The space-delineating yellow line is wittily placed near the entrance of the exhibition and not, as one might expect, at the far end of the room, thus supposedly setting the boundaries for the visitorin the vast gallery space of a former railway building. At the same time, the artist offers several different possibilities to move within it, as proposed in the subtle gouache drawings Choreography #2; #24; #6 (2011) conceived specially for the show.
The exhibition space is again referred to in Sanné Mestrom’s installation Compression Chamber (2011) composed of 19 sculptural elements, occupying a rectangle of densely scattered objects on the concrete floor which also draw attention to each step made. Mestrom presents here a little history of sculpture, including processes of substraction and addition, modeling, carving or casting in a variety of different materials with uses and reuses of pedestals, readymades and assemblages as well as theoretical discourse (a cardboard box contains annotated photocopied books). The installation’s close relationship to the space in which it is arranged manifests itself through each sculpture weighing 6.5 kg, precisely calculated by the artist according to the volume of air in the installation’s assigned rectangle. It also references the artist’s previous engagement with space in both historical and political terms, such as her earlier work A history of space is the history of wars (2006). The installation’s inventory, a stack of posters to be taken along by the viewer is in itself a sculpture, reminiscent of one of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s paper stacks.
Just opposite and parallel to Mestrom’s installation, Laresa Kosloff’s Race shape (2011) occupies the room in a linear display of five steel hurdles painted in different colors. Kosloff’s video Agility drill (2011) is shown next to it, in which an amateur performer is led by the artist, movement by movement and dressed in identical sports clothes, to overcome the actual steel hurdles. While the exhibition’s political theme is far from being overt (apart from its title), the pronounced guidance that is underlined in Gothe-Snape’s and Kosloff’s work calls forth a critical stance. In a playful subversion, the linearity and order that these pieces emphasize is upturned through some of the other works in the exhibition: Kate Mitchell takes a businessman on a piggy-ride in her video Lost A Bet (2011), Stuart Ringholt’s Untitled (wing-chair – pink (2009), a fragment of an old bath-tub is presented as an elegant arm-chair, and Brincat’s ping-pong table entitled Good Table (2011) has become acceptable for the dining-room. Finally, Joshua Petherick’s Simultaneous Solitudes (2011) made of several photocopy cartridges and enlargements interrogates the act of reproduction and turns them into a sculptural ensemble.
Placing the viewer literally on a platform, the exhibition unfolds as a spatial choreography. Revisiting Beuys’ definition, German artist Karin Sander’s earlier work Personen auf Steinsockeln (People on stone pedestals) (1986) comes to mind in which a group of people firmly stand on 20 small beton stones, creating a sculptural collective, a miniature version of as Beuys put it: a social organism as a work of art with the creative potential to transform itself.