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Heidi Bucher was an artist born in 1926 in Winterthur, Switzerland. Bucher was known as a landmark in the art world as a pioneer of the space between sculpture, body movement and expression. Her experiments with latex in this context have been of significant relevance in the history of installation and body work. At Haus Der Kunst in Munich, Germany, the late artist’s oeuvre is celebrated at an exhibition titled Metamorphoses. The display is curated by Jana Baumann with assistance from Luisa Seipp, and will be on view until February 5, 2022. Luisa Seipp spoke with us at STIR about Bucher’s historical work, and their attempt at keeping alive her legacy through its remembrance at this exhibition.
Seipp begins where the story of all great artists begins - their formative years. The assistant curator says, “Heidi Bucher grew up in Switzerland in the 1930s and 40s. She has always been connected to the applied and fine arts. After her apprenticeship as a dressmaker, she studied textile design at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich under Johannes Itten, the famous Bauhaus teacher. Her roots were not only in fashion and textile design, but also her early encounters with the ideas of the avant-garde such as Bauhaus, shaped her whole artistic practice later on. Especially in the early wearable foam sculptures such as the Bodyshells, Bodywrappings or Landings to Wear (1969–72), her skills in dressmaking came clearly visible”. Bucher’s work was beyond her time and embodied values which the commercial world was not ready for, especially from a woman. During her early years, her education was guided towards fashion and textile design, rather than fine art and sculpture, as a result of the inherent gender bias in society at the time.
“Besides her cultural education which led to her later artistic vocabulary,” Seipp continues, “it was also her familial and social environment which formed the central ideas in her work. Having grown up in a higher middle-class, conservative and patriarchally structured Swiss family, the themes of emancipation and liberation from repressing structures were always crucial to her work”.
Bucher’s work took her to Canada and California in the early 1970s where she was first exposed to American feminist artists like Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro. Her interactions during this time sharpened her perspectives as much as her conceptual tools.
In 1972, Bucher shared Bodyshells, a series of movable, wearable sculptures which are remembered as her first significant body of work, and her first exploration into wearable sculpture. Seipp tells us more saying, “The so-called Bodyshells – wearable and oversized foam sculptures with an iridescent mother-of-pearl-surface – were performed and filmed at Venice Beach, California, by Heidi Bucher and her family in 1972. In their shell-like shape, they resemble both peculiar marine animals and textile elements such as frills. The Bodyshells are an interplay of costume, architecture, sculpture and dance. Therefore, they clearly embody the artistic ideas of the avant-garde such as the triadic ballet by Oskar Schlemmer for example. In her way of transforming the early ideas of the avant-garde into new context, Heidi Bucher is considered as a main representative of the neo avant-garde”.
In 1973, she separated from her husband Carl Bucher and began to work steadfastly in the direction of spatial sculpture which led her towards using latex as a medium, making latex skinning a much-favoured technique in the artist’s toolbox.
Seipp tells us about Bucher’s introduction to the medium, and its conceptual significance, “During her years in California in the early 1970s, Heidi Bucher came in touch with latex for the first time – a then rather new material in the fine arts and mainly used by progressive artists. In a process-oriented practice, Bucher started to apply liquid latex onto the surfaces of architecture, objects or the human body. After the drying process she peeled off the layers of latex with great physical effort, receiving an impression of the original surfaces. Therefore, the peeled-off latex skins serve – just as the human skin – as a carrier of remembrance. A surface on which experiences, emotions, relationships and histories inscribe themselves. Both, the human skin and latex are subject to a natural ageing process”.
Bucher’s works are haunting, surreal and visually set themselves apart from any other. Her repertoire is repeatedly recalled, as a consequence of more than just its authenticity but its timeless relevance in our patriarchal world. Seipp tells us about the significance Bucher’s work holds for today’s women. She says, “Heidi Bucher exposed social as well as private power structures with her latex skinning and simultaneously opened the space for change. The aspect of metamorphosis is crucial to her work. In her manifesto "Parkettlibelle" she describes her work as a "process of metamorphosis," in which the detachment from social conditioning goes hand in hand with the softening of objects through latex, and indeed of static relationships. Bucher's oeuvre bears witness to an artistic discovery and emancipation of the sensual, feeling body in the twentieth century, preparing the ground for genderless utopias and positioning herself resolutely against rejection, oppression, and discrimination”.
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