Sara Masüger’s recent exhibition was tightly conceived and relatively traditional in comparison with her earlier installations in which sculptural mediums were employed to give shape to text. In one work, Kley (2003), which has had several iterations, conversations overheard at an exhibition are transcribed and applied in unfired clay letters to a gallery wall. Here, by contrast, three freestanding sculptures and one wall relief by the Swiss artist (b. 1978) renewed age-old artistic conventions. For these figure-based works, all 2013, Masüger cast parts of her own body using plaster, manipulated and augmented the results, and then recast each sculpture using a different, durable synthetic plaster. Afterward, there were further manipulations, resulting in pale, complex, messy-looking pieces that show signs not only of casting but of modeling, daubing and dripping.
Masüger’s sculptures have back and front surfaces and many vantages, as is particularly evident in the freestanding works. Viewed in the round, the sculptures gain from the disparities in what can be seen from different perspectives, ranging from the soft, even skinlike sides to the unexpectedly rough accretions on counter-sides, and vice versa.
On the wall by the entrance to the exhibition was Kreis (Ring), the first sight of which—from the side—revealed a sinuous curve of what might have been a shoulder or torso. From the front, by contrast, the piece could be seen as a loop or belt hanging nearly 50 inches long and 40 wide, and just over a foot deep. The edges of the cast poking out toward the room and its uneven shape made it look something like a pelvis, with an indistinct leglike form adding a serif at the bottom. Inside the bumpy interior of the ring, an obscured face was to be found within a curve, the eyes covered by bindings, the cheeks smashed.
In the middle of the gallery was Stehende (Standing Figure); approaching from behind, one could see the imprints of calves. Though it is identifiable as a figure, this work is quite loose. Life-size, and slightly bent or cowed, the figure raises its left forearm to shield the brow of an ovoid head. A hand is the most distinctly reproduced part of the body. From the other side, little can be unmistakably identified, for a torrent of stalactite-like drippings obscure the form, as if it has been enveloped in a deluge of precipitation or subjected to a flaying. Either way, the figure’s affect is one of abjection.
Masüger sees the body as a malleable entity that she distorts through casting. Working from plaster allows her to compromise the body’s solidity, to remove its skeleton and crush it, but equally to arrest this destructive process by elevating the outcome. She moves figuration toward an indistinct state, and in this visible transformation the work becomes poignant. The fact that her process mercilessly records her own body, albeit in a wrought and damaged state, injects an abrasive quality that saves the figures from bathos. And one might understand these four works not as a deviation from the artist’s language-based practice, but as another alignment of sculpture with a textual register. In printing from the body, Masüger raises the possibilities of “reading” her sculptures through surface and volume.