Lauren Kalman: Flourish, with excerpts from Devices for Filling a Void, at the Sculpture Center
As the name implies, Lauren Kalman’s solo exhibition Flourish with excerpts from Devices for Filling a Void, which is on display in the center’s Euclid Gallery, is divided into two distinct parts.
In 2016, Kalman travelled to Germany for a residency at the Jakob Bengel Foundation, a jewelry factory established in 1873. There she found a multitude of the historic stamping dies used to make the company’s signature costume jewelry, but they largely depicted cherubs, bows, babies, crosses, art deco shapes, etc.
“I don’t work with any of those things,” said Kalman during an Oct. 6 presentation at the Cleveland Institute of Art. “I culled through these hundreds and hundreds of dies to look for all the little decorative swoops I could find, which is where the title Flourish comes from—a decorative sort of element.”
Kalman produced approximately 700 flourishes while in Germany, and an additional 400 when she returned home using dies she made herself. The exhibition features eight of the resulting ornate works, showy gold-plated objects constructed from all those individually stamped and gold-plated little swoops.
Six objects populate the Devices for Filling a Void portion of the show, four of which are stoneware or earthenware sculptures embellished with electroformed copper. Two cryptic metal devices are displayed under glass atop high tables, which Kalman described as “hybrid pedestal/medical carts.”
Aside: Prime yourself for Kalman’s work by spending a scant three minutes with her video offering Certainly Red (2007/2009).
All of the objects can be divided into two groups in another way. In total, six of them are accompanied by images or gifs. They reveal that Flourish (8) is an elaborate mask, one that enters the mouth and encroaches on the model’s eyes such that they flutter, but do not blink in the associated looped gif; Flourish (2) looks like two asymmetric baubles upon the display table, but the tandem gif reveals they’re designed to wedge into the model’s nostrils and emerge like two golden blobs (yes, boogers) causing her to fidget against them; and Device for Filling a Void (8) is not simply a minimalist floor sculpture that comes to a golden point, it’s a painfully invasive two-foot high seat as demonstrated by the nude model in the companion photo.
“It’s my body,” noted Kalman. “I’m the performer in all of my work.”
There are, however, no guide images displayed with the other objects. What is the intent behind the mechanical-looking Device for Filling a Void (1)? And if Flourish (1) is actually a restrictive mail-style hood enveloping the model’s entire head, how does Flourish (7) fit on the body? Perhaps the bulb at the top gets forced into the mouth, or somewhere else. One photo also stands alone; hence the viewer is left wondering what sort of device is forcing the model’s mouth into a silent scream in the Device for Filling a Void (12) image. The omissions are brilliant, and perhaps the most distressing part of the show.
Regarding the works in Flourish, Kalman said, “It’s really important that these elements come from this production jewelry history. This idea that this is a consumer object intended to be disseminated, intended to beautify, intended to make somebody happy—I really want to pull from that vernacular of jewelry.”
She continued, “What I’ve done is turn [the flourishes] into these objects and short, twitchy, videos [representing] things the body does under stress.”
Devices for Filling a Void, she said, “literally fill spaces in body: the mouth, the palate, the space in between fingers, under the armpit. The work also implies a psychological filling of emotional or erotic voids. It also points to ideas of women being incomplete or lacking and requiring augmentation by men, children, objects, dress, makeup, adornment.”
Of her work in general, she said, “I am interested in the way that jewelry and objects worn on the body can talk about things like power, beauty, sexuality and politics of the body,” she said. “If we think about jewelry and fashion, they project desires and identities in our lives every day.”
LAUREN KALMAN: FLOURISH WITH EXCERPTS FROM DEVICES FOR FILLING A VOID | THROUGH DECEMBER 17, 2021
Also on view:
STEPHEN YUSKO: THE WAY THINGS GO | THROUGH DECEMBER 17, 2021
The Sculpture Center
1934 East 123rd Street
Cleveland, OH 44106