|Tony Cragg, Hardliner, 2013|
|Installation view of the cut metal sculptures|
|Detail of Contradiction, 2014|
Surrounded by the white walls of Thaddaeus Ropac, my attention was drawn to the materiality of the sculptures. The point of Cragg’s work is often to push the material to places that we believe it is not, to find its opposite within it. Metals are bent and made viscous, wood is stretched, marble is animated, and the bronzes become sinuous and tender. My favourites, as always, were the wooden sculptures. I wanted to touch them, their movement was so erotic and sensuous. A piece such as Contradiction (2014) has a surface that is smooth, like silk. It pulls me towards it, close to it, to the point where I want to fall inside of it. The wood itself, even before it has been carved, is sensuous and expressive and changing and sometimes unpredictable. The trains and flaws in the wood make it expand and contract, sometimes it’s as though the form is stretching out of the material. The piece as a whole moves from monumental at a distance, to intimate and warm, filled with secrets it is dying to share once we get close.
The white marble is also tempting to touch. The material is filled with veins and flaws that are like blood vessels, sometimes waiting to burst. The luminescence of the marble, the trace of its veins make it vulnerable and filled with emotion. As I stood together with the marble sculptures such as Willow III (2014), up close, it occurred to me that there is something almost pornographic about the marble it is so seductive. Like an erotic tease, we can get closer and closer, but never touch. These sculptures, all of them, are always, just out of reach. Even those visitors who reached out and touched the sculptures would have found them untouchable. In contact with their delicate surfaces, their mystery is still not revealed.
From Left: Lost in Thought (2012), Runner (2013), Contradiction 2014)
When the bronze is juxtaposed with the wooden sculpture, it’s inflexibility and intransigence is what stands out, becomes so painfully obvious. The bronze of Contradiction (2014) is so intransigent, even if up close it resembles the most intimate parts of the human body. Next to Runner (2013) it is colossal. Moving from a biomorphic form to a hard, intransigent sculpture. And then, up close, I peer inside its curvaceous forms and I see what might be the entwining of two bodies, making love. In this way, the sculptures force us to rethink our assumptions, our vision of the world. In the stainless steel of It Is, It Isn’t, 2014, I get to see distorted versions of myself, in pieces. This kind of steel, up close, also shows the world in different formations. And I am not a part of that world that it reflects.
In this exhibition I saw the sculptures made of cut and twisted metal for the first time. Some of them look like giant jars, but they are are not. The suspension of motion makes a piece like Stroke (second from left above) inside out, inverted, opposite to how it should be. We think of metal as being fixed, static, and yet it is here, placed in infinite motion. The cut pieces could be schrapnel from another planet, themselves having the appearance of finished products that are still waste material, made into nothing of value. In an Instant, on the other hand, is like a growth, or some kind of indeterminate creature from outer space. Whatever they are, there is a constant attempt to make them familiar. It’s not just that we are pulled to look inside them, to know them, to get intimate with them, but their animation, or anthropomorphism invites us to see in them what is never going to be there. Lost in Thought for example, is another piece that is is layer upon layer of twisted, turning wooden limbs, pipes, like the most intimate body parts.