Tschabalala Self's public sculpture 'Seated' reclaims and owns a public space
by Dilpreet BhullarDec 13, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Jan 27, 2023
The functional objects, be they a part of furniture or daily essentials, have an inherited quality to serve as an embodiment of structural gender bias. The exhibition Bitch on Wheels at O-Overgaden in Copenhagen, Denmark, by the Danish visual artist Tora Schultz proposes to defy the pattern of structural bias. The sculptural practice borders on playful and diligent material detail made visible from the polished surfaces of the automotive industry to bentwood design. The materials such as a crash test dummy, an apple, strappings, domestic interiors, and public barriers are an attempt to reorient public perception of the objects and design. Several of the sculptures are placed in or on top of auto-lacquered and linoleum-covered podiums in black, red, grey or dark purple. The press note states that the leitmotif of the art exhibition display is the idea to embrace the frozen or motionless moments, which are captured through the numb body of the dummy; wood forced into static, curved shapes, the tied-up torso and metaphorically, the stale rigidity of typification.
As Schultz remoulds the objects to reconfigure the structural bias, the action is an extension of breaking the social prejudice, in other words – unravelling the tyranny of normative narratives. In an interview with STIR, Schultz mentions, “The aim is that through sculpture, as a tool and language, to question how we perceive material and objects to rework objects that are direct products of the conformist structures and narratives that make up our current reality." This is further emphasised by the title of the solo exhibition, Bitch on Wheels. “The title captures both the oppressive stigma, but also more importantly the fight against it. The term bitch is used condescendingly about the connection between woman and power, referring to women who talk too much or take up too much space. It refers to the term 'hell on wheels,' used about people or situations that cause great difficulties or problems,” informs Schultz.
Two of the exhibition's main sculptures - Hell on Wheels and Motionless - are designed as 220cm tall podiums, standing vertically like slender bodies, and covered in red vinyl or black car lacquer. One of the sides is kept open in both works to reveal an interior painted grey and dark purple. At the bottom of Hell on Wheels, a pair of blood-red Prada stilettos stands whose heels have been altered to look like "little devil's tridents." In Motionless, an antique, shell-covered ceramic jar stands at the bottom. The jar is called takotsubo, which in Japanese directly translates, to "octopus pot." The name takotsubo jar is borrowed from takotsubo cardiomyopathy, known as broken heart syndrome. In such a state of shock, the shape of the heart looks like a takotsubo jar.
A recurrent trope across Schultz's new art installation work is the figure of Eva, the Danish spelling of Eve. One sculptural art series employs the popular EVA-chair, crafted in bentwood by the Swedish modernist designer Bruno Mathsson. Schultz strips its woven seat to highlight its lacquered beech wood skeleton naked and crosses the armrests, so the chair appears to be tied up or covering itself. Alongside the EVA-chairs, another Eva is the EvaRID, an unused prototype, yet the first average female crash test dummy.
"The sculpture Eva somehow contains the same duality: oppression and the fight against it. The sculpture Eva consists of a 1:1 print of the first female car crash dummy developed by the Swedish researcher Astrid Linder. Unfortunately, it is still not in use, so for now cars are still only tested on BioRid (a 180cm male body). Somehow her unused body is the image of the inherent inequality, but at the same time she is also the body of a possible future change," explains the artist. In Schultz's hands, half the 3D-printed EvaRID torso is painted dark purple, on the side of the heart. This allows Schultz to connect her version of the EvaRID with the takotsubo jar, since the interior of the jar's upright and protective sculptural body is also painted dark purple.
Another art sculpture, The Devil’s Contract Work, encapsulates the binary distinction between domesticity and public life. "On a very practical level the process of making the work is cutting steel pieces then welding the elevator together and the shoes are a modified pair of Prada shoes, where I sculpted a new heel. It is sculptured and constructed, not ready-made. The thoughts behind the work also revolve around how the goods elevator is organising objects through hierarchical logic. The mechanical goods elevator was popularised in the 1840s as a Dumbwaiter and was described as a perfect servant: 'She cannot see, she cannot hear, she cannot talk.' The stilettos refer to the romantic comedy The Devil Wears Prada where a stereotypical portraiture of a female boss appears: an emotionally cold witch. The title of the work refers to Silva Federici's analysis of the witch trials as a methodical alienation of the female body and the idea of the devil's contract," succinctly expounds Schultz.
The sculptor's playful indictment of everyday products of utility, against the didactic approach to gender norms, allows the audience to see the many possibilities to overhaul the obvious of what is given.
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