Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Heidi Bucher at The Swiss Instititue

Viewing Heidi Bucher’s explorations of materiality, space and the body for the first time brought about the feeling that the work could not be any more comfortable within the lineage of seventies Postminialism, but I haven’t seen her work in any exhibitions or books on the subject. It turns out that until this exhibition presented by Swiss Institute her work had not been presented in a U.S. institution since her series Bodyshells exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1972.
 The Bodyshells, represented in the SI exhibit by way of issues of a 1969 German edition of Harper’s Bazaar, are large, body-swallowing wearable sculptures that seem to transform their occupants into plush, minimalist-aesthetic clams and barnacles. My comparison might seem an attempt to poke fun at the high fashion aesthetics of the past, but the documentary film piece Body Shells, Venice Beach (1972), makes the crustacean imagery reading seem definitive. Presented nearby, in the Swiss Institute’s basement, the film documents the body sculptures casually milling the beach, human heads and feet poking from orifices, and then retreating into the form of sculpture object.  The costumes, perhaps phallic or yonic in form, become oversized manufactured crustaceans planted on the seashore. The series, done in collaboration with Bucher’s then-husband Carl Bucher, highlight a lightness and spirit of play that isn’t nearly as apparent in, what is presented as, her central body of work. 

The “Raumhaut” (room skins), which Bucher began after moving back to Switzerland in the mid-seventies, fill the main space of the Swiss Institute. The works, latex and fabric layered casts of interiors and architectural elements, exude a ghostly and fleshy indexical materiality that lands somewhere between Eva Hesse's aesthetic of latex biomorphic surfaces and the content of Gordon Matta-Clark's architectural ruins. 
Untitled (Herrenzimmer), undated, latex, cotton, 102 1/4 x 71 x 7 1/2 in. 

The first of these molds, Untitled (Herrenzimer) (1977-1979), hangs in the center of the exhibition space’s lower platform in the manner that now makes viewers think of Do Ho-Suh’s fabric architectures. Molded from the master bedroom’s of Bucher’s parent’s home and installed to recreate three walls of the space, including the droopy cast of an open door, the installation grants visitors an entrance into nostalgia that seeps from the walls. Untitled (Herrenzimer)’s indexical nature seems to assume an added weight and ghostly ethereality with Bocher's personal reference as the wrinkled and sagging walls turn what was originally architecture into a body. 

The other notable mold hangs from the wall with a different sense of grandiosity than Untitled (Herrenzimer). The monumental 1987 cast Grande Albergo Brissago (Eingangsport) replicates, or rather memorializes, an ornate hotel entryway with mold-green columns and classical detailing. The cast, once a wall itself, seeps downs from its support into giant puddles, and what might have once been details of the a lavish décor are lost in the folds. The peeled layers seem to take with them a biographical surface quality from their models, a certain aspect of their liveliness that coats and obscures the surface of interiors over time like dust, but with a certain pathetic attempt at emulating their original. 

As with Body Shells, the room skins are put into a significantly new perspective with the insight of the films presented in the Swiss Institute’s basement. Raume sind hullen, sind Haute (Rooms are surroundings, are skins) (1981) is a thirty-two minute film showing the process behind the “Raumhaut.”  It reveals the playfulness with which Bucher approached her work. She slides between the freshly dried cast and walls to pull them apart and on to her self, leaving the room wearing the walls like her Bodyshells.  This disparity between object that exudes a process art ethos and actual documented process complicates the work but hopefully more recognition and exhibitions will follow and clarify Bucher’s practice and art.

1 comment:

  1. Great review! I think you have a good understanding of Heidi Bucher’s work. Like you’ve mentioned, she has not exhibited since her series Bodyshells in 1972. It was a nice add-on to reference other artists like Eva Hesse in a materialistic aspect and Gordon Matta-Clark for content. I also thought the room skins were put into a new perspective in the gallery space compared to the film of Bucher removing the skins from the walls and wrapping herself “like her Bodyshells.”