Galerie Rob Koudijs has been invaded by animals. These animals are not scratching at the door or gnawing on the furniture. They sit quietly, poised and ready, steadfastly staring forward; remembering, dreaming, planning, longing. These creatures want you to do the same, so Alexander Blank would like you to believe. Blank has created a fantasy world where anthropomorphized animals understand their station and desire more, where the ink skins of cartoon characters can rot away exposing their plastic bones beneath, a place where we as viewers can feel both melancholy and hopeful.
Where did the night go? encompasses three bodies of work all which exhibit a stunning level of craft and are related to fantastic realities. The work began as a conscious departure from Blank’s conceptual methodology. As a student at the Munich academy Blank reached a moment in his artistic practice where he needed to make with more immediacy, to make something a bit less straight and serious. “My first intention was to make something really clumsy but in a quite technically perfect way.” He set about carving what would become his graduation work and the first of his animal brooches. It was the head of a frog, who stared back at him demanding a name. “It turned out that the guy in front of me was Evil Ed and he needed companions to follow him on his quest.” A quest for what? For something dark, fantastic, and never-ending. And so Evil Ed & Friends, a series of thirteen black brooches were born, with diabolical names and a sinister mission. The first group of works in Where did the night go?, Friends – Longing for Darkness, is a sequel or perhaps a prequel to Evil Ed & Friends in ring form. Painted a luminous white, they depict animals with smooth exaggerated features, and vacant eyes. They are monumental in scale, peering forward from the hand that dares to wear them. Blank transforms the rigid foam to conjure alabaster or Carrara marble classical sculpture, yet they are warmer like plaster, more skin-like, and the urge to touch them is irresistible.
Hanging above the surface where Friends rest, is a golden bell. The bell’s clapper? A small black frog. He stares down at the motley crew of white creatures below. Is this Evil Ed? Is the sound of the bell a call to action, a call to join the quest?
“In the new series Friends – Longing for Darkness again 13 animal heads arose, this time as rings… Maybe to hook up on the quest, not to refuse. Gathered like a secret society. Focused, but without knowing the way. Arriving when they want, but always right on time… I like the romantic idea of going out on a fantastic journey, stepping into the unknown, ready for discovery.”
More than simply producing jewelry, Blank creates a world, or more specifically the feeling of a world, of which, these creatures are artifacts or specimens.
“I am happy to be a grown up, but I am feeding the kid in me.”
Blank creates an aura around his creatures in much the same way a child makes up stories about his toys. But the inner workings of this world is left to our imaginations. Blank only reveals that there is a reason, a story behind these beautiful objects, that they are in fact not objects, but alive, with wills and ambitions. The fact is, the details of the narrative aren’t really important. What is important is that the story never ends, the quest is never solved, and that the protagonists are frozen in a state of never giving up. Although they are physically still, their pointed faces seem to have impetus, as they stare with envy to the other-side. To the dark.
So Blanks creatures live in alternate realities, or at least they did at one point, as is the case with the series Momento Juniori . Resting on specially designed black tables which vaguely resemble giant neo-futurisitc claws gripping the earth, these ivory colored skulls, glow with a melancholic luster. But these skulls are not human – only human-like in their roles as anthropomorphized animals. Composed of the craniums of some of the most famous cartoon characters in the world, the series draws on the world of Looney Tunes. Perhaps because the beasts they represent are familiar, loved or when ‘alive’ they exhibited human qualities, we feel a sense of loss at the fate we are witnessing. As light plays over the surfaces, you are taken with the sumptuousness of the surfaces, giving them a hauntingly realistic quality, realistic that is, if cartoons had skeletons. Of course they cannot be real because the creatures Blank references only exist on celluloid.
Blank has transformed the heads of the most famous of the Warner Brothers characters into what initially appear to be modern momento mori or vanitas. But these rapper-bling sized neckpieces are not meant to remind us of the emptiness of earthly life and the certainty of death. Cleverly titled, Momento Juniori, which translates to ‘remember youth’ is not a nostalgic look to a youth now spent. Rather, to Blank ‘momento juniori’ translates as something more like ‘remember to BE young’. Wile E. Coyote in particular embodies the spirit of Blank’s series. The doomed coyote fails over and over, trying the latest in sketchy roadrunner catching technology provided by the Acme Company, which tragically for Wile, turns out to be a subsidiary of the Roadrunner Corporation. Catastrophic failure after catastrophic failure, through horrible, repeated physical injury the coyote never gives up, his desire never waivers. Momento Juniori is meant to remind us of that feeling of youthful invincibility and to inspire our own desire to persist. It is a reminder that we don’t have to give up every aspect of our childhood just because we grow up. Blank is certainly not alone in this justification for holding onto that which our inner child holds dear. Now, more than ever it’s cool to be an adult who watches cartoons. Animations have been a presence on prime time for more than two decades starting with The Simpsons. The existence of the Adult Swim cable network, high-end designer toys like Munny and the comic book convention Comic-Con International further prove the entree of cartoon culture as an acceptable part of adulthood and the main stream acceptance of geek-chic. Momento Juniori has a Hip-Hop sensability, geek-chic weirdo styling, with indie rock cool – it is icon jewelry for millennials and generation Y. Blank is not interested so much in the history of the momento mori as a jewelry object, but more so in using his own history to make this form relevant now. They are still advocates of a fuller life, but for our contemporary lives. They convey the message that although we are not indestructible like bugs bunny maybe we should live a little like we are.
The third group unofficially under the umbrella Where did the night go? consists of three very new pieces. Materially the planar ‘Jackals’ are very different from the rest of the work presented at Galerie Rob Koudijs. Unlike their sculptural friends they are formally abstract and oversimplified, as if they are robotic. The large Anubis-like brooches are constructed from mirrored plexiglass, silver and cardboard making them deceivingly light and very wearable despite their large size. Poised at eye level, your own reflection, at least subtly, becomes part of the work. In that way, these works are the true vanitas. In the Egyptian god of the afterlife – we see our own reflection, or our own animal nature. Their open mouths are laughing, panting, or speaking, calling on us to make the most of what we have. Until we exclaim “That’s all folks!” Or more appropriately, as Blank himself puts it, “Vamos! Allez ! Avanti! Hop! Ab Geht`er!”
Meanwhile, in the Front Room of Galerie Rob Koudijs, Melanie Isverding’s first solo show Hide and Seek presents two very different looking bodies of work. However Cavea and Manipulation have something important in common. Isverding not only considers the outer skin of her works, but the interior spaces made by her formal constructions. These works are not just readable, they are explorable. Effort is rewarded with the calculated complex forms giving way to paradoxical surfaces that are rich with texture.
Isverding’s series of necklaces and brooches Cavea consist of intricately perforated three-dimentional forms. In each piece identical steel structures are repeated, creating larger geometric compositions covered with patterns that often reflect the original shapes specific geometry. A range of geometries are explored. As if conical prism shapes were not involved enough, Isverding perfectly constructs icosahedrons, a form with twenty faces, made up of equilateral triangles. The icosahedron is one of the most complex of the five Platonic solids, which together are considered by mathematicians and philosophers to be the foundation for aesthetic beauty and symmetry. ‘Cavea’ in Latin means coop or cage, meaning that the interior spaces of these forms are just as important as the exteriors. These structures are meant to hold something, they are containers or perhaps they are traps. And they do hold something. Isverding has developed surface treatments made from a combination gemstones, minerals or pearls and lacquer. These are not simply gems glued in place; Isverding pulverizes them into a fine powder, building up layers until a tough skin is developed. The result is a sandy surface which can range anywhere from chalky to shimmery. Through the latticed exterior you catch glimpses of this surface. It draws you in with its color and light refraction. The exterior is hyper-control and tight, while on the inside, something grows.
When you look at the work you wonder at the perfection of the repeated geometric constructions, you marvel at the fantastic lattice and lace patterns that completely perforate the forms, you are in awe of the beautiful folds and proportions, you peek at the strange surfaces that dominate the interior of the spaces Isverding creates. Not until you are finished admiring these small enigmas do you think (SPOILER ALERT! Skip to the next paragraph if you want to remain in wonderment) laser cutter. Isverding works hard to make it this way.
“It is very important for me that the technique of laser cutting is not the first impression. The expression of every piece should have its own characteristic and originality in their aesthetic.”
In the brooch series Manipulation Isverding creates simple circular and rectilinear floating islands on which chalky forests grow. Despite the naturalistic appearance of the branch like forms Isverding’s nature is mediated.
“The arrangement of them seems naturally grown. But far from it. The clonic branches are set strictly into aesthetical patterns on their prepared fields.”
It seems to be a marriage of organic and geometric, but Isverding only mimics nature, abstracting it. Similar to the interior spaces of Cavea, these works are covered with Isverding’s powdered gems. Isverding does all the pulverizing herself, and to imagine her doing this is quite uncomfortable. With mortar and pestle in hand, grinding and pounding at crystals and pearls; it is nothing short of what you expect from an ancient alchemic treatise. From nature she creates something mysteriously unnatural, which is deceivingly organic.
Kerianne Quick is an American materialsmith and craft writer currently living in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Note from the editor: This is my last week as editor of the AJF blog. It has been a great pleasure working together and I want to thank all the writers, artists and colleagues who have made the blog such a success. Thanks. Mike Holmes