Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints: Michael Sandle and Fabian Seiz

6 May

Last night was May’s First Thursday and openings across London were calling out to me but I had to be selective and picked two to totter to.

Flowers on Cork Street has an exhibition of new works on paper and sculpture by the esteemed Michael Sandle.  Well-known internationally for his monumental public sculptures, a sense of heroic grandeur runs through all his works, yet, they often have a surprisingly intimate and profound feeling.

Own photograph

He is renowned for not following fashionable trends, criticising what he terms ‘the heroic decadence’ of capitalism through his work.  Themes of war, death, destruction, inhumanity and media-manipulation are rife in everything he does.  Even in the smaller-scale works, his distinctive sculptures display an energy and vigour emphasised through the evident strength of his craftsmanship.   

Seeing the sculptures alongside the works on papers is a joy.  I have always admired Sandle’s work and chatting to him at the PV was enlightening.  The tonal qualities and warmth of the watercolours really set these works apart. 

Michael Sandle, Another Broken Bridge, pencil and watercolour on paper, 2011.  Image via www.flowersgalleries.com

So, onto the Josh Lilley gallery.  Unlike my previous embarrassment of geographical ineptitude, this time I was able to competently clack all the way there and found myself in Riding House Street (see, I know where it is now) without any hitches.

Own photograph

I can’t imagine ever disliking anything in this space and, once again, the gallery has hit the nail on the head with a perfect, and beautifully curated, show.  The space has been completely transformed with a troop of assembled sculptures – a family of works – by the Austrian artist, Fabian Seiz. 

Fabian Seiz, detail of On/off II, wood, plastic and rubber, 2010.  Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

The sculptures respond to humanity’s need to leave a record on the world – a footprint or a stamp.  Illustrating this, the upstairs gallery contains an immersive sculpture.  The floor is covered with sheets of bitumen on which Seiz has marked the words ‘I was here’.  Viewers are implicated and implicit in the interactivity of the work, leaving their footprints on the floor and, therefore, their marks on the exhibition, and in turn, the world.  I wasn’t alone in thinking this was highly successful.  My stilettos left wonderful point marks on the floor – small, striking and precise.  The best imprints were caused by dirt from outside entering the gallery space, a mark of where people had been that day.  I wish some of the footprints could have been more emphatic and a tray of dirt by the door may have helped those who wanted to indulge their egos and really dominate the floor.  Like the hand and footprints outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in LA, where stars have been immortalised, we too are given our ‘15 minutes of fame’. 

Own photograph

The title, The French Park, stems from the popular use of perspective in 17th century pictorial landscape where the vanishing lines converge in infinity within one’s natural surroundings – an emblem of man’s attempt to control and manipulate nature.  Seiz’s interest lies in our constant search for orientation as a means of defining ourselves.  The works in this exhibition convey the measured and well-planned ideals of the ‘park’, while exploring different systems and motifs.

Own photograph

Atlas consists of corrugated cardboard which flops around a central structure; in opposition to the rigidity of the wooden base, the tactile and scrappy cardboard fails to support itself.  Coloured splashes on the board reference our system of colouring countries on the atlas, in accordance with our colonial histories, in an attempt to create neat order.  Seiz mocks humanity’s attempts to measure and define everything we do.  In this humorous comment on today’s obsession with order and regiment, the use of materials such as the weak cardboard reveals our inadequacies.

Fabian Seiz, Atlas, wood and cardboard, 2009.  Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Ein kleines Monument uses wood and fabric to create a monument that attempts to evoke grandeur through the use of red velvet (also seen in Prinz) that has been rolled out ‘red carpet’ style.  Exploring the notion of how ideas such as these are conceived, the work questions the constructs of celebrity that underlie today’s society.  This monument, made from only wood and fabric, gently mocks our often over-the-top constructions, suggesting impermanence.  The works have an endearing simplicity.  The difficult and skilled sculptures appear intentionally naïve; like the paintings of Busuttil, in Lilley’s last exhibition, where the simplicity was only powerful due to the artist’s highly skilled execution, these works show off Seiz’s intricate methodologies. 

Fabian Seiz, Ein kleines Monument, wood and fabric, 2009.  Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

The range of materials used by Seiz – bitumen, wood, rope, fabric, plastic, rubber, styrofoam, cardboard, card, balloon, metal, mirror – reminded me of Kurt Schwitter’s collages made from the waste materials he collected from the streets and parks of Hanover.  In them, he saw the creation of a fragile new beauty rising like a phoenix from the ruins of German culture.  Like Schwitter, Seiz gives all these unusual materials equal rights.  As you move around the exhibition, you are able to explore the sculptures, becoming involved with the pieces and their relationship to each other.  Sculpture is intended to be seen from all angles and that is particularly apt with these which have been positioned brilliantly so that you can circumnavigate the works.

Kurt Schwitters.  Image via http://www.superfundungeonrun.com

Magritte’s seminal Ceci n’est pas une pipe is recalled in Seiz’s Ceci n’est pas une problem.  Magritte’s painting seems to present a contradiction but, on closer inspection, is actually a truth.  The painting is not a pipe but an image of a pipe that cannot satisfy our emotional needs or fulfil the purpose of the object it depicts.  Seiz’s sculpture lacks a purpose so, while resembling a machine from afar, it is actually an object without purpose.  But this is not a problem and mocks our need for everything to fulfil a role – an idea echoed in other sculptures as wellThis link is made more overt by Seiz’s choice of the same typography used by Magritte.

René Magritte, La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe), oil on canvas, 1929.  Image via art-related.tumblr.com

All the sculptures leave their mark.  By not serving a functional purpose, their role is to leave an imprint.  I Was Here ­– he certainly was, I was (as my stiletto marks prove) and you should be there too.

Michael Sandle is at Flowers, 21 Cork Street until 28 May – www.flowersgalleries.com.

Fabian Seiz, French Park/I Was Here is at the Josh Lilley Gallery, 44-46 Riding House Street until 24th June 2011 – www.joshlilleygallery.com.

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