Plastic. Contemporary gold
Exhibition / 18 Apr 2007 - 30 Apr 2007
- Graziella Folchini Grassetto
The exhibition, shown past year at Studio GR·20, moves now to Entratalibera with Folchini Grassetto as curator.
The most complete creative freedom – the greatest achievement in contemporary jewellery - was the discovery of plastic, a generic term which includes various synthetic substances which, from industrial applications, have gradually been applied to design, the visual arts and jewellery. The potential of plastic for imitation was realised ever since the first manufacturing processes began in the late 19th century when, under the name of galalite, plastic was used to reproduce ivory, coral, tortoiseshell, horn and wood in ornaments in the Victorian, Biedermeier and Art Nouveau eras.
Although limited to fantasy jewellery or as a fashion complement, plastic achieved its own expressive autonomy in the first decades of the 20th century. The modernist culture of Art Déco influenced the creation of necklaces and brooches in bakelite, a thick, polished substance, which could perfectly render geometric spaces in clearly defined counter positions of colour.
After the Second World War, with the spread of research by artists attracted by experimenting with synthetic products, plastic triumphed. Among the major creators who used it were David Watkins in England and Fritz Maierhofer in Austria. Both expert in working metals, they exploited the possibilities of the new medium – in particular, acrylic – to explore its transparencies and rich polychrome effects which innovated their specific artistic languages.
The minimalism of Watkins expanded still further with the interactive enrichment of complex linearity’s, located on differing spatial planes. Maierhofer demonstrated his full immersion in the pop culture of London with original works, and, although always on a rigorously abstract basis, created mechanical models half-way between play and science fiction, between esoteric signs and others from the world of advertising. In recent years, he has been using a new substance, corian, opaque and magmatic, to formulate expressionistic modes which, in chaotic disorder, cracked and torn, have abandoned any reference to measure.
Peter Chang, an English artist of Chinese origin, combines the two disciplines of painting and sculpture in jewellery, producing the volumetric mass of form and coloured thickness in a type of painting which feels the need to immerse itself in the physicity of plastic. Now plastic becomes irreplaceable in rendering the iconographic correlations expressed by ancient cultures and by the contemporary visual experiences which characterise this artist’s language. Using acrylics, polyvinylchlorides (PVC), resins and polyesters in harmonious equilibrium, Chang coordinates and distributes the bidimensional lines of tropical or aquatic vegetation, the tridimensional protuberances of wings or the fins of sea monsters, the abstract marks of mosaic tiles, archaic mythological configurations, esoteric graphics, contemporary comic strips. Heterogeneous images weave and mingle in a continuity which justifies all mnemonic relations, all conceptual suggestions, in the fullness of lucid, rounded shapes, which do not reveal the arduous techniques of layering, inclusions and infiltrations which underlie this great compositional order.
The German artist Bussi Buhs exclusively uses synthetic materials, and understands the infinite possibilities of transforming them suitably into her symbolist language. She chooses polyesters, glass fibre and film to produce a material which is at the same time liquescent yet sedimented, aerial and volatile, capable of rendering the most subtle anatomic organigrams of the body, evoking the uncertain boundaries between physicity and spirituality.
The Czech Pavel Opočenský, with his essential language rich in far-off references to Art Concret, experiments with polyurethane, colorcore, glass fibre and polyvinyl, whose soft, ductile characteristics act on geometric images, insinuating themselves in precise compositions, apparent dissolving, visual doublings, structural collapses.
The Austrian artist Petra Zimmermann prevalently uses polymethylmetacrylates: creating multiple flows on digital photographs or newspaper cuttings, placed on metal surfaces of gold and silver, scattered with pearls, precious stones and gold marks. Transparencies create deformations or emphasise images of women, rock or punk icons, with the glamour of a glossy magazine cover. A brilliant re-evocation of pop, rich in citations, in which aggressivity is no longer explosive transgression but intentionally kitsch.
The exhibition also displays work by four Dutch artists, confirming Holland as a country where academies and schools maintain a high level of experimental research. Plastic, since the 1960s, has given rise to a real revolution in production and is normally used today combined with other materials, including gemstones.
Ted Noten sacralises precious jewels by collecting them in transparent Perspex boxes, sometimes shaped like ladies’ handbags, or urns that preserve them for eternity: masses of rings of differing styles are often real trousseaux for life, deprived of their ornamental function and transformed into homage to the styles of the past.
An accentuated taste for the preciosity of gemstones also appears in the work of Truike Verdegaal, rich in references to styles and fashions of the past, in which plastic is totally integrated, with extremely fine techniques, with other materials. The artist has recently devoted much study to the representation of birds: using tissues, feathers, lace, gemstones, acrylics, polyurethanes and methacrylates, she depicts birds as soft, languid in their postures, without betraying the fact that they have become extinct, due to disease.
In the technological iconography of Katja Prins, we see the representation of a domestic reality dominated by machines which have become useless, freed from their functionality, in a purely objectual recovery of beauty. The memory of the devotion, constancy and precision of women’s work remains in the metal and polystyrene mechanisms.
Iris Eichenberg, a Dutch artist of German origin, flanks methylmethacrylates, rubber and foam rubber with silver, by means of a constant operation of masking, repression and exhumation of images: medical plastic is mixed with porcelain to model a flower which looks like the root of a tooth; silvery flowered bells emerge from the black rubber of an electric plug, an objet trouvé. The play of camouflage, misunderstandings, is linked to a happening, a conceptual figuration, rather than to surrealist culture and dada.
By tradition associated with the noble metals, Italy was late to recognise the creative value of plastic. It was within the complex experimental work of the School of Padova that the first synthetic applications were made. One example is that of the minimalist works of Giampaolo Babetto, displayed at the Tokyo international exhibition in 1983, in which the surfaces of golden volumes appear to be coated with coloured resins. In the early years of the new century, Babetto created neoconstructivist works in methacrylate, with multiple overlaps of flat geometries, always surrounded by gold frames, in which transparencies combine with articulations, in deepening space.
Annamaria Zanella, another artist of the Padova School, has always used a variety of materials - glass, metal, wood - and, lastly, gold, of which she violently removes all the obvious characteristics, in order to extort its negative aggressive force with pigments, oxides, and fired and acrylic enamels. Her experiments with plastic as a material developed later, with shiny acrylics and polyvinyl, either reflective or rendered opaque, following irregular, interrupted geometries. Her works in acrylic have a sponge-like effect, allowing her to produce naturalistic unveilings, true coloured blossoming, wrapped in metal as a support.
Graziella Folchini Grassetto
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