by Zohra KhanOct 05, 2022
The repository of myths from the times of antiquity has offered artists a variety of possibilities to explore their meaning. From Greco-Roman beliefs to Judeo-Christian heritage, the disciplines of arts and literature have frequently borrowed symbols and metaphors, and recontextualised them in a contemporary setting. Only to emphasise that the past has the potential to offer meaning in the present. Of the many themes that are central to these myths, is the act of creation. The genesis of life on the earth has received the attention of both mystic and scientific minds. The US-based Rebecca Frantz’s sculptural practice is a commitment to fusing the mythos of imagined clay beings and the modern body. As its corollary, the figurative creation in the hands of the ceramic artist traces the lineage of creation through the Jewish tale of Golem. The name Golem could be loosely translated from Hebrew to English, as “the shapeless mass in making” is a folklore hero of the Jewish traditional history that was created to protect the Jews from annihilation. To add, it is also seen as a source of spiritual awakening. The Golem is believed to be made out of clay but remains a step away from having an all-encompassing meaning if led astray by destructive emotions.
Frantz’s sculptures indeed carry a hint of human anatomy that opens a common ground of inviting the audience to draw a human connection with the works. Talking about the conspicuous presence of the body in her art practice, Frantz says, “I am fascinated with how our bodies reflect our mental health as well as physically hold our histories and memories. More importantly, the figure is a subject that we can all relate too which then allows the viewer to connect with the work itself.” However, the suggestion of human bodies is far from the celebration of an idealized or a perfect body. The lack of harmony, as claimed by the Italian polymath, Leonardo da Vinci, through the figure of The Vitruvian Man, in the human sculptures by Frantz render them closer to reality: the experiential realism is punctuated by a flaw. Similarly, the conjoined human legs and hands of the work The Confusion That Comes After or the sculpture Loosen Your Grip with a rope connecting the two arms though positioned as legs, dawn a sense of accidentalism. The presence of rawness is not subtle but unapologetically apparent. Furthering upon this, Frantz states, “I would definitely agree with this. Even though meticulous planning goes into each of the pieces, and I thoroughly consider the body before translating it into physical art, I feel that a key part of the power of artistic expression is allowing for natural evolution and revealing in the spontaneous discovery during the creative process. A huge part of what I find so compelling and alive is the rawness of emotion and palpability of spontaneous movement that can translate in each piece.”
The clay as a material of her sculpture, with a history of its own, turns into a tool to tangibly reveal a discourse on identity and past morality when seen through the lens of memory. The sculptures, for Frantz, are not just a visual translation of her conceptual thought, but these serve as the embodiment of memory, in other words, immortalising her memories. The life-size sculptures, with the raw surface either glazed or bared, usually start with a quick sketch. Frantz expounds on the journey of making these sculptures, from the stage of ideation to final completion, “With each drawing, I investigate how a feeling that is attached to memory might manifest itself, or where I feel certain memories are held within my body. I see these sketches as rough blueprints of my memories and viewpoints with a lot of room to experiment. Once I find a form that interests me and fits the concept, I start sculpting. As I’m working, I listen to where the clay is going and sometimes it guides me to a more organic form.”
At the intersection of realism and abstraction, whole and incomplete, outer body and inner mind, Frantz’s sculptures distort the conventional meaning of the human body only to “reveal a physical narrative from the psyche.” The surrealism of the work is aimed to, as the artist says, “create figures that don’t represent a specific body so that the viewers may be able to insert themselves into the work. These generalised forms with specific or highlighted body parts are meant to shift the viewer into a space that activates their bodily memory. By creating bodies for the viewer to identify with, I invite them to investigate and interact with the sculptures freely, creating space for projected personal memories and associations.”
Along with the surrealism, what remains consistent in her figurative works is the presence of pairs, be it in the form of conjoined limbs or arms arranged in togetherness that underlines the indispensability of togetherness. The human body if divorced from the human soul, in isolation, carries a limited meaning. Harbouring on a similar order of things, the works enunciate the significance of creation and preservation, as Frantz says, like Golem, “I create in order to protect myself and the histories.”