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The notion of dual opposition informs the latest exhibition 'below above' by Liz Larner

Sculptor Liz Larner with below above at Kunsthalle Zürich raises attention to the ecological imbalance while maintaining the idea of contradiction pertinent to her oeuvre.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Sep 11, 2022

To watch a solo exhibition by California-based sculptor Liz Larner is to encounter the world punctuated by contradictions: presence-absence; order-chaos, space-time, to name a few. The sculptures created with the researched knowledge of form and material lend a novel perspective to the surroundings. It is the sensorial experience of the body - bordering on cosmic energy, desire and wit – evoked around her work that makes her art practice carry a distinguished voice. With the current art exhibition below above at Kunsthalle Zürich, the American artist offers a “spatial framing” to the exhibition. Yet, the exhibition is a continuation of the binaries ubiquitous to her practice – very first acquainted with the title of the exhibition. The second floor of the art exhibition centre forms the below where the new sculptural installation is displayed and the third floor – a physical manifestation of the above – has a selection of sculptures created between 1988 and 2020.

Installation view of Liz Larner, below above,at Kunsthalle Zürich|Liz Larner, below above| STIRworld
Installation view of Liz Larner's below above at Kunsthalle Zürich Image: Annik Wetter

In a conversation with STIR, the installation artist offers an explicit account of the title of the exhibition, which rightly raises the curiosity of the audience, “In May of 2019, I opened an exhibition at Regen Projects titled As Below So Above. This title was taken from the Emerald Tablet by Hermes Trismegistus, which may have been a translation from a much older Arabic text. The saying as above so below is taken from this text; however, that was only part of the translation. The full quote from this text reads: “As above so below, as below so above. I see this as indicative of a circular process, not the hierarchal form indicated by the use of only the first half of the sentence”. I shortened this important missing piece to below above for the title of my exhibition at Kunsthalle Zürich to draw attention to what is not being accounted for in our attitudes to resources and materials, and to plastics in particular. below above also describes the exhibition space of the Kunsthalle, as it has two floors. A survey of 33 years of my work is on the third floor, while the new work is on the second.”

Installation view, Sculptures, below above |Liz Larner, below above| STIRworld
Installation view, sculptures, below above Image: Annik Wetter

The below section of the exhibition highlights the largest work produced by Larner until now. Specially designed for the hall on the second floor, it is composed of two groups of works, Meerschaum Drift and Asteroids. The material for the former, i.e., the plastic waste was collected by the artist, her family and team over a period of more than a year. The seascape made out of the accumulative waste is at once attractive and repulsive. The viewers grasp the view of the shimmery blue sea at a distance from the beach. Talking about the ills of single-use plastic on the environment, Larner expounds, “All of the plastic in the work on the second floor is refuse plastic. Much of it comprises what we think of as disposable items. The issue is that this material is not disposable in any real way. Plastic does not break down as organic matter does. It only degrades, becomes smaller, and as it does this, it is picked up in our soils, water and in the bodies of animals, including humans. There is a myth around the concept of recycling plastic that I hope this work allows us to contemplate. Is it really worth the false convenience that the concept of disposability allows to produce goods from an innately toxic material?”

Meerschaum Drift and Asteroids installation, Liz Larner|Liz Larner, below above| STIRworld
Meerschaum Drift and Asteroids installation Image: Annik Wetter

Towards the left, lies sea foam agitated by waves. In the catalogue published in conjunction with the exhibition, Daniel Baumann, the director of Kunsthalle Zurich, mentions, “Larner conjures a romantic painting from discarded plastic, a seascape in the tradition of idealised depictions of nature as established by painters like William Turner or Gustave Courbet,” with regards to this image. The plastic seascape has strewn with asteroids, and celestial bodies suggesting the world at the verge of collapsing. The asteroids made out of earthly material clay draw a sense of familiarity but do not fail to carry an awareness of unfamiliarity. Larner mentions, “I use clay to make the sculptures that represent asteroids connect the earth to space, and to give a sensory and physical difference to the plastic that makes up the meerschaum drifts; the oceanic aspect of the work.” The celestial and terrestrial invite the viewers to take a walk through the "completely different temporality”. If the earth has been exploited and ruined in the hands of man, the universe still holds a touch of purity. The man occupying the centre stage of the earth has repeatedly deteriorated the health of the earth – of which plastic consumption is one of many ill-thought practices. 

Installation view of Liz Larner, below above |Liz Larner, below above| STIRworld
Installation view of Liz Larner, below above Image: Annik Wetter

With the above part of the exhibition, displayed on the third floor - the 18 works from 1988 to 2020 are on view. The works make the audience experience the inestimable scale of Larner’s sculpture art practice. It is Cultures, eleven petri dishes mounted on a wall which the viewers see first as they first enter this hall. It is one of the earliest works produced by the artist in 1988. To translate the idea of binaries to materials and materiality, Larner created the sculpture Corridor Orange/Blue. The materials soft and hard, metal, wood, fabric, and leather all come into play with this sculpture. Since bodily experience is a kernel of the works of Larner, the presence of the sculpture Hands is conspicuous to the exhibition. The 19 cast hands hang on the tall window of the hall. The works displayed on the third floor are framed by “a selection of thirteen ceramic wall sculptures”. It underlines the experimental tendencies of the artist when it comes to the treatment of the material. In other words, how the conceptual ideas are metamorphosed into the tangible form - that of a sculpture.

The human-scale sculptures by Larner are gauged from a comfortable eye level and involve all five human senses. The sensitivity with which Larner’s sculptures are embraced anchors what she calls, “experience is not only visual, and we are more than visual creatures”.

Liz Larner: below above, Kunsthalle Zürich, Liz Larner in conversation with Daniel Baumann Video: Annik Wetter
Artist Liz Larner|Liz Larner, below above | STIRworld
Artist Liz Larner Image: Tim Power

The exhibition below above is on view at Kunsthalle Zürich until October 18, 2022.

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