Alabaster Gestures / by Christopher Wierling
There’s time to talk once the plaster has been poured. Decisions have been made, all is in place. Within minutes the mineral powder will react with the added water and crystallize, heat up, harden. This text is a drying process, an exothermic gift to a friend – sit down on the emptied plastic bucket and read it as it dries.
Some time in the history of this earth, gypsum resulted from the vaporization of seawater. It is an eternally cyclic material, subject to temperature changes and tidelike temporalities, a fundamental component throughout different cultures and cultural practices. Mixed with water, the excavated gypsum becomes a shapeshifter, a storage medium, a carrier of meaning, an ornament, a den, a pregnant belly, a face or a leg. And by burning it, gypsum can be dehydrated and recycled over and over again.
Lotta Bartoschewski is no stranger to the sea. Her works seem to remember their former liquid state. The traces left by quickly scooping hands on the flipside of her sculptures, indications of their making, form surfaces that resemble salt deserts or arctic landscapes. It comes from landscape.
I am reading George Didi-Huberman’s text Resemblance and Contact. Or is it Likeness and Touch? Ignorant of an official English version, I translate and paraphrase: “To make a cast means to engender a web of material relations, from which a tangible object emerges, that is also tied to abstract relations, myths, phantasms, knowledges..” The German prefix Ab-, positioned at the beginning of two of the possible translations of the English noun cast, Abdruck and Abguss, functions similarly to the prepositions from and off, as in to depart, to derive or descend from, and to detach, peel or wash off. Drawings and domestic utensils have been placed at the bottom of the provisional mold, about to be embedded or leave imprints and cavities.They depict moments of sisterhood and kinship: characters descending from the same inkpot, curiously looking at the makings of love, art and family. A dishcloth and condoms are enclosed in a triptych panel lying flat on the floor, means of reproduction juxtaposed with means of reproductive freedom. A kitchen knife, as tool of the caretaker, embodies gendered notions of the pleasures and obligations of cooking, the violence in the heteronormative division of labour and the potential revenge or liberation of mother, the unpaid kitchen worker, as Martha Rosler has shown with stabbing gestures in her 1 975 Semiotics of the Kitchen. A knife is what André Leroi-Gourhan considers a “technological stereotype”, something that has had it’s full potency from the beginning, a “basic mode of doing”, as Didi-Huberman conceptualizes the technique of casting – a gesture.
He is thinking the intimate physical contact between cast and casted, the thing that bears and the thing that leaves an imprint, as a parental relation, in analogy to acts of sexual reproduction, giving birth to a child, a copy, a surprise. Anthropomorphizing metaphors aside – this element of surprise recurs in Lotta Bartoschewski’s practice, even when plans and samples precede the actual production. Casted on site, her works usually dry over the course of an exhibition. But after a few hours the plaster is already sturdy enough to be flipped over. What had been buried will turn out to be the front side of the sculpture. The pieces, stemming from different approaches and techniques – painterly gestures and barely decipherable pencilled writing layered on the mentioned drawings and objects – will for the first time display their newly founded togetherness. The plaster has interfused these narratives in material reality, creating a bond, an inseparable thickness that can be discovered even in places of minimum volume, where the work thins to a cutting edge, hinting at its own potential damage. Just like in the series of glass works, large- scale shards with painted edges, fragility here is neither the romantic nor the macho gesture of risk taking. It is the awareness of temporalities and limitations – the artist factoring in conditions of production and market, acknowledging brokenness.
1 )Didi-Huberman, Georges
Ähnlichkeit und Berührung : Archäologie, Anachronismus und Modernität des Abdrucks Köln : Dumont, 1 999
Semiotics of the Kitchen
Single-channel video, b/w, sound, 06:09 min
© Martha Rosler, 1 975
Hand und Wort : Die Evolution von Technik, Sprache und Kunst
Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1 980 (1 964/1 965)