by Dilpreet BhullarApr 15, 2021
Consistent demand and desire to draw the pleasures of life as the eyes are set on the object of beauty could be dubbed as an escapist attitude from the ugliness that engulfs everyday life. The human-self that survives the decadence reveals a contested part of history that holds the possibility of being shunned off. The sculptor Joachim Bandau, with his latest exhibition Die Nichtschönen: Works 1967–1974 or ‘The Non-Beauties’ at Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland, explores the advent of industrialisation and medical advances that swept the Europe of the post-war era. The sculptor Bandau, born in 1936 in Cologne, bears the traces of the Second World War only to have them visually translated as a sculptor. Bandau, who now shuttles between Germany and Switzerland, is part of the German group of artists Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys, and Imi Knoebel who read at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf in 1961. As critic Adam Jasper once mentioned, the art academy enjoyed the same status as the Frankfurt School in Germany.
Bandau’s sculptures carry a sense of ambivalence in terms of their form, neither could they be machine-like nor anthropomorphic. The “humanoid sculptures”, as these are touted, are created by combining the mannequin segments and industrial material between the year 1967–1974. To borrow from the exhibition statement, “the slathering of these fragments (of the mannequin) with fibreglass-reinforced polyester that he then sanded and coated, sanded and coated, again and again”. The exhibition avoids a chronological flow of the display to put forth its contemporariness and how they resonate with the issues of consumerism of the current times.
The first room of the exhibition space is dotted by disparate colourful sculptures. The sculpture Great White Gate, made with white fibreglass and polyester surface, at the entrance of this room with its narrow passage space remains non-operational. The Great White Gate, like many other sculptures, made out of materials that are decontextualised from their original form, is a step away from its functionality. The sculpture Transplantation Object VI was made during the time when the first heart transplantation was done in the medical history by South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard. But Bandau is cognisant of the limitation of the achievement proclaimed by human science. For instance, black and rounded Gnome, with flexible stainless-steel gooseneck hoses, came into its current form when the artists saw images of a complete amputee body of a war veteran, who was made to stay alive despite his conditions. The all-absorbent blackness of Gnome is extended to the sculptures such as Tongue Foot and O.T displayed at the second rooms, which are seemingly merged in the “pool of tar or blackened waste”. These works carry a connotation of torture device and masturbation tool.
To give a peek into the world of creative conception before the sculptures are rendered in the current form, the display of watercolour pieces and technical drawings come in handy. For instance, the works including 13 August, Chair Group, 5 Cabin Mobiles (first displayed at the Documenta 6 in 1977) and Silbernes Monstrum highlight the initial step of the sculpture-making exercise.
The Georgian Dancers, a collection of the white straight figures attached to the robotic vacuum cleaner, carry a clone-like appearance. The cleaners when in contact with its counterpart, create a waltz-like atmosphere, yet they remain distanced from each other instead of sharing togetherness. Bandau’s works while talking about the adversaries that the human body faces does not shy away from representing it to the fullest or as the artist calls “aesthetic of violence”. To epitomise the same sentiment is the work White Shower Gate. Dotted with multiple showerheads, “as if born from mannequins’ breasts”, this installation is attentive to the tools used by Nazis for mass genocide. The glossy surface of this gate, however, is a parody of the brutality carried forward by the Nazis. The Leg Prosthesis Coffin features the pair of well-worn prosthetic legs from the height of the tombstone slab. With the work Water Cannon, the upside-down mannequin’s thigh perched on a drainage pipe appears to shoot water.
The 21st century may not have witnessed the violence of the scale like the Second World War, yet the human body continues to overbear the weight of lopsided narratives. The sculptures made during the post-war period when displayed at the current exhibition after many years have passed remain true to the tangible idea they epitomised: the distortion the human anatomy under severity persists to have a similar face.
The exhibition Die Nichtschönen: Works 1967–1974 runs at Kunsthalle Basel until June 6, 2021