Sarah Oppenheimer’s interventionist art reveals unseen part of the built environment
by Dilpreet BhullarSep 23, 2021
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Nov 28, 2020
The artist's interest around the human form is never out of vogue. From the Paleolithic age to the Greek civilisations, the iconography and dimension of the humans rendered in the sculptures have attracted the attention of artists and critics alike. These sculptures epitomise the perfection of the human body that bespeak the harmony of the earthly life. Giving a twist to these ideas of perfections are the works of the contemporary artist Ledelle Moe. Based in Cape Town, Moe explores the themes of monumentality and susceptibility of the human forms to decay in her latest exhibition, When, at MASS MoCA, Massachusetts.
For Moe, human figures are not limited to the perfection of the human anatomy. In the hands of the artist, it turns to be an epitome of conflicting understanding of life: states of being caught in permanence and impermanence, sense of belonging and peripatetic nature of living, the collective voice against the individual action. Capturing these dualities is the centrepiece of the exhibition Remain, the 18-foot-tall kneeling female figure surrounded by the scaffold-like grid structure. For Moe, the kneeling posture is “the moment before or after the action". The act of anticipation occupies the liminal space, which is a step away from the finality - Moe’s artistic practice defines this in-betweenness.
In an interview with STIR, Moe says, “The title of my recent show, When, alludes to the notion of time as simultaneously past and present. In this installation of work at Mass MoCA, I return to core concepts on my work of place and placelessness, power and powerlessness, reflecting on the transient nature of time and the paradoxes of permanence. Here the singular body is conceived of as a dynamic porous site, a kind of assemblage of forces, in flux and constant change. It speaks to the notion that a permanent monument can be understood as a ‘series of events’ - both in terms of its material, which is subject to the ravages of time - erosion, touch, accretions, chips and gashes, marks and patina - as well as shifts in political meaning and context. This to me speaks to the notion of the active nature of the material; that the body is both physically and metaphorically an active site, porous and dynamic. The phrase that comes to mind is ‘vibrant matter’, a term that political theorist Jane Bennett uses in talking about material as something vital and living. This resonates with my thoughts on the dance between what we think of as permanence, the inevitability of change and the notion that boundaries between ‘things’ are always in relation, in negotiation and in an active relationship.”
The mammoth size sculpture Relief, made after the demise of her mother and grandmother, lies horizontally is several feet above the floor. Unlike the equestrian statues installed to exude the power of the past in the present, the Relief is antithetical to the conventional meaning of the giant sculptures. In the recent times, we have seen the removal of the British slave trader Edward Colston statue by the Black Lives Matter protesters. For Moe, the act of dethronement of the statues goes back to the removal of a monument to Cecil Rhodes in her hometown of Cape Town in 2015. On the one hand, the sculpture refers to the inevitability of death; on the other hand, it attempts to debunk the notions of patriarchal hegemony aligned with tall sculptures.
The variety of themes defines Moe’s art practice that demands a skilful transition from the stage of ideation to execution. Moe elaborates on this, “I am interested in the space of ambiguous gestures, paradoxical readings such as rest and restlessness, one and many, place and placelessness. The observation of these gestures, found in the body, is my main source of reference and inspiration. Beginning with drawing and a series of small models, I work through a series of 'studies' before scaling up. The large-scale pieces are created as cavities - The external appearance of these forms read as solid but on further investigation reveal themselves to be fragile place holders. I see the interior spaces and a place where ideas of loss and memorial can be explored. Memorial (Collapse), is a response to the weight and gravity of specific violent events in my immediate and larger environment and serve as reflections on individual and collective loss.”
The gigantic size of her recent work Transitions/Displacements gives an appearance of immovability, yet they do not remain distant from the transient nature of things. The intricate carving of the bird’s hints at the displacement and impermanency that are the key themes of her works. Her choice of embellishments and materials are informed by her travel to the places including Neuchatel, Dhrangadhra, Gaborone and Karoo. Moe says, “In each location, I gathered sand and dirt and embedded this sampling of earth into cement carvings of small birds and figures. Experiencing the particular terrain of each site and creating work on that site was a way for me to engage intimately and physically with the very stuff of a place. In digging into the soil and quite literally using it as a raw material in making my cement forms I was able to reflect on the landscape as ground and to literally draw from it. Perhaps this was rooted in some longing to better understand how political and personal histories are inherent in the ever-present awareness of place.”
Giving an example of the work Lament (foghorn) installed midway through the gallery space, whose voices can be heard at regular intervals, Moe says, “this piece, for me, brings to mind the notions of time, distance and location. I would hope that viewers would leave the exhibition with a sense of how place and space are fluid and the realisation of the impermanence of any moment".
Like Moe who debunks the notion that the act of immovability is inherent to the mammoth size, the artists could achieve unconventionality not just with themes, but with shapes and materials too.
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