Nancy Nesvet

eresa Sola: Abboud,
Photo Jo Underhill

When Forms Come Alive, currently at the Hayward Gallery in Southbank Centre, London, features artists of the last sixty years revolutionizing the definition of sculpture by introducing non-rigid geometries, liquidity, and buoyancy of materials, ambiguous, often uncanny, sometimes repulsive, forms that beg touch, and repulse, incorporate movement, both real and implied, including the formless, foam and bubbles, erasing and confusing boundaries and borders, incorporating materials to produce new artwork. The exhibited work questions the meaning of form, especially challenging and obliterating straight, non-mobile, defined form that respects boundaries, and architecture deriving from rectilinear form. Experimenting with new materials leads to discovery and enhanced practice, often ceding control to materials and natural forces acting upon and with them.
Recalling organic, biomorphic forms like those of Henry Moore, Hans Arp and Barbara Hepworth, Matthew Ronay’s biological, botanical, and anatomic shapes shows patterns recurring, connecting minute elements with larger systems. His Globules (2023) and Crawl, (2023) shows what I see as a plant on the floor underlying conversing heads and a separate figure’s unsupported arms outstretched. Uniting botanical with singular figure, here emitting balls from the side, perhaps the hip, and a conversation of two heads, illustrates attempts to connect.
As Leonardo DaVinci’s Sfumato obfuscated the perimeters of the painted outline, and Michelangelo questioned the outline of the stone sculpture, leaving parts rough and unfinished, Lynda Benglis’ sculptures are unstable, with blurred parameters, like Quartered Meteor (1969, cast 1975) showing process reflected in her malleable form. Her former practice incorporated poured latex, limited by walls encountered by the flow. Recalling earlier experimentation mimicking knots-like form, Quartered Meteor adapts her polyethylene corner piece, King of Flot (1969). Now cast in lead, still literally cornered, melted lead layers stopped by the walls they are placed against, Quartered Meteor appears defeated, relegated to a corner. Benglis’ reflective, bronze Paper Tower (2019) looks triumphant and blazing, forging ahead – its upmost form reaching. Walking around it, we see positive and negative images of our bodies joined within the sculpture. From digitally enlarged ceramics, Paloma Basque’s Two Stones (2017) of wool with ball and wool runner stretching upward and Snake, (2020) curving up from its black base, continuing with mixed stone, cotton and lead sheet seems to approach, seeking a relationship as in her One Other Night. (2020) appearing a woven knotted blanket, or ball of wool overflowing onto a rug on the floor, but then reaching up.
Jean Luc Moulene’s gorgeous blown glass Blown Knot 6 3 2 -Variation 06 (2012) transforms the topological Borromean knot into physical form, as colors and physical planes flow into each other. Moulene writes, “My objects are surfaces, with no inside or outside, only holes. Through the holes are other surfaces”. Air going through Jean Luc Moulene’s glass and metal spheres is defined by surrounding shapes, that surrounding air, stops air- flow. Moulene’s surrounding sphere is transparent; air has no visible substance; outside surrounds the indefinable inside. His glass and bronze Plongement I shows a possibly marine “creature” slightly tilted, floating in blue “water”. Plonger means to dive in Moulene’s native French. Plongement is the mathematical term for structures embedded within each other, revealing inside and outside, both visible at the same time. Similarly, Ruth Asawa’s metal wire sculptures, make inside and outside, at the same time, visible, allowing us to see process and adaptation of her drawings in sculpture. With her two-dimensional drawings sculpted in wire; completed globular forms become three-dimensional, uniting drawing and sculpture.
We wonder what is real when we cannot see it, or feel it, or define it. The artist’s allowing the material to control, partnering with the artist, continues the 1950’s and 60’s exploration of material and process here illustrating the nature of Asawa’s air encapsulated in her globes, or the nature of the foam in Michel Blazy’s installation, where foam overflows its holding pans, and aerator pumps create scented bubbles below, encapsulating air that overflows its holding pans, bubbling over the water and floor underneath. Like Benglis, Blazy allows material to control process and outcome as his overflowing, twisting foam, looking like ice, melting into a pool of clouds, condensing into water on the floor shows the stages of forms of water. Martin Puryear, a master woodworker uses solid yellow cedar to make sinuous, curving shapes, manipulating materials to create sensuous, flexible form, gently coaxing as not to break his material. His Question (2016), heavy wooden sphere on the ground causes the supporting wooden limb, now curved, to bend.

Installation view of Marguerite Humeau
Photo_ Jo Underhill. Courtesy the Hayward Gallery

Barlow’s girl ii,2019 both architectural and anthropomorphic, a poured megalithic-like monument with a truncated torso, placed on and connected to truncated haunches, recalls Easter Island statues. Uniting sculpture and architecture, its rectilinear bases supporting figurative sculptures, each tapering to a point at the bottom, Barlow’s Untitled: Modern Sculpture (2022) is a close-knit group of figures, with “heads” of steel half-circles, looking conversant. Senga Nengudi’s nylon elongated, stretched stockings of various skin tones, pinned to the wall, tied into knots, change the shape of manufactured nylon, creating linear sculptural “drawings”. Negrudi justifies her use of nylon tights, “If you felt them, it was really quite sensual, and it had this sense of body, because it was pliable – a material of considerable elasticity which can be filled, stretched and splayed…bearing the strain of hard work and labor, operating as used skin.”
Dutch Art Collective, headed by Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta, Drift’s Skylight installation (2006-14), a performative dance-like sculpture, relies on ceiling-hung silken steel forms mimicking opening and closing flowers. DRIFT’s Fragile Future, inspired by dandelions, shows 3D bronze electrical circuits, connected to light -emitting dandelions, freely floating.
Continuing a show about transformation of forms. Eve Fabrega’s Pumping, a series of tangled mesh tubes stuffed with massage balls, resemble entangled snakes, who might have swallowed a small creature, creating a parasitic, combined being of two life forms. The electronic, vibrating soundtrack, like a strange heartbeat, lends credence to the swallowed, trapped, struggling, echoing being I imagine inhabiting the “snake’s” body. Fabrega is quoted in the catalogue to the exhibition (pg. 6)” I see my work as creatures that can help us imagine other possible bodies.” Holly Hendry connects the industrial with the architectural, commenting on environmental nemesis with her Deep Soil Thrombosis. (2019) Stuffing and clogging pipes with plaster, jesmonite, foam, marble, and concrete, stopping the flow of air or liquid, she alludes to our world clogged with chemicals, CO2, sand, smog, stopping air and water flow. Hendry’s Slackwater, (2023) a geometric network of steel ducts mimics interconnecting, crossed tidal lines and flowing river water, creating a woven pattern. Environmentally aware, Choi Jeong Hwa transforms cheap objects into botanical forms, creating beauty from cheap throwaways. He describes his pagoda like tall columns called “stupas” as holobiont; systems of organisms living together. They present as flower or plant-like repeated forms of varying colors and variegated sizes on vertical columns, creating, for me, trees.
In Marguerite Humeau’s The Guardian of Ancient Yeast, (2023), shapes inspired by mound-building termites, architecture housing some of the smallest inhabitants of the natural world (with the titular yeast even smaller) are made of natural material; wax, and wood partly consumed by worms and fungi. Humeau’s installation proves that beauty resides in that left by minute, organic beings, and materials. Enhanced by saxophone sound, “voice” enlivens it. Two of Humeau’s glass handblown shapes derive from fungal structures: The Brewer, with solidified formerly syrupy liquid sliding vertically down transparent grooves seems like honey or brewer’s yeast.
Holly Hendry’s industrial ductwork installations are big enough to hold a human, resembling children’s play structures, but here, as one person fits at a time, I could see a human chain resulting, with one pushing the other in front, and waiting for one to emerge before the one behind can move. With a humorous wink, this is another sculpture that resembles play, but here, it could also allude to the bearing of a child through the birth canal, as the little human is pushed into the world. Although the sculptures are metal, they are round, not rough. The birth canal is surrounded by the bony structure that contains it, much like the ribbed metal used here. Similarly, Nairy Baghramian’s “Chin Up (First Fitting)” aluminum sculpture looks to me like Jonah’s whale. Jonah is aware that he is in the whale, co-dependent on a creature of the natural world and merged with it, like Eve Fabrega’s Snake. Baghramian’s Stay Downers (Slowpoke) 2017, seems a humorous, prehistoric creature, maybe an ancestral walrus, whose tusk reaches down to the floor supporting it. In Franz West’s “Kain naht Abel (Kain approaching Abel)”, vastly oversized, pastel colored, drippily painted figures seem intent on a dance rather than a battle. West’s Epiphanie Au Stuhlen (Epiphany on Chairs) asks the viewer to sit on a chair, positioned to contemplate the pink, bulbous form, oddly looking like a covid 19 virus, or Sputnik, hanging from the ceiling above. What thoughts or sensations result? This combined sculpture/performance art is no different than the seat-bound theatre or film watcher trying to make sense of what he or she confronts.

Installation view of Eva Fàbregas,
Photo Jo Underhill. Courtesy the Hayward Gallery

The exhibition gets even more interesting when it connects natural to engineered form, as in Teresa Solar Abboud’s Tunnel Boring Machines, its parts resembling bones and breasts with nipples extended. It’s as if technology is imitating a human, but has parts mixed up, as the machine is used for boring. The joints, of mineral and rock act as bases supporting blue and yellow “limbs” of resin on metal skeletons. Like the surrealist paintings of Yves Tanguy, with bones sticking up through the sand, these conjure prehistoric but also possibly future human appendages. Still, breasts do not bore. What is this machine’s purpose or is there is none. What is the purpose of the human parts the machine resembles?
Does form dictate purpose? Does a multiplicity of forms dictate associations? Does material control flow and presence until stopped by nonhuman force? Does shared location or associative form dictate mandatory associations of nature and human? These sculptures indicate a positive response.
In his A Subsequent Offering (2017) E.J. Hill’s infatuation with roller coasters looms large. A full-size rollercoaster, lacking riders, induces viewers to experience static form and the science behind it. Olaf Brzeski’s Smoke shows his curvilinear, fluid forms slinkering down from hard edged chairs, like those in a waiting room who have exhausted their patience waiting. Brzeski’s Dream-Spontaneous Combustion shows char on the gallery floor, the wall behind it scorched black, with smoke creating a cloud of soot reaching toward the ceiling and into the gallery space. This black cloud, resulting from conflagration of burning is even more threatening as it hangs there, with unknown origin or demise. In Brzeski’s “Little Orphans”, snakelike, slothlike, worn-out cast steel bars of iron alloy with coal, flow and drape languidly over industrial looking steel framed, wooden seated and backed chairs, their cracked backs indicating much use, referencing bodies finally relaxed, while fusing humanity with industrial material.
Ernesto Neto crochets hanging bundles. His ceiling-hung Sun, Ocean, Life invites visitors to walk under the labyrinth of crocheted textiles holding small plastic balls, like a colorful planetary system. In Jaia Kui Dau Ara Naia (2021) Neto crochets a huge, spiral structure; bundles of polyamide fabric stuffed with natural and manmade substances, sand, shells, spices, Styrofoam balls, weighted with stones and spices, cloves, cumin, pepper, and ginger with turmeric’s golden aura make cotton string holding the forms glow. A giant, beautiful, sweet-smelling galaxy is above us.
The sculptures in this show refuse to respect boundaries, spilling out, making inside as visible as outside, trapping us, confusing us, erasing borders, tying into inescapable and non-releasable knots, smoothing form, begging us to touch, repelling us, surprising us with texture, alluding to content but refusing to define it.
Choi Chang Wa’s reverence of everyday materials to create art is like Tara Donovan’s use of Styrofoam cups in Untitled (Styrofoam Cups) (2004/2008) Matthew Roney’s botanical forms invade the space of the viewer. As material and sculpture invades the gallery viewer’s space, incorporating the viewer into the sculptural installation, the art becomes a polylogue. As this work overflows, uncontainable, growing, invading, challenging, pushing, pulling, running into boundaries, holding, suspending, reaching, supporting, impossibly attaching, curving, dancing, playing, detaching, moving, shaping, and defying shape, forming, and defying form, smoking, imploding, expanding, forming ephemeral blurs of light and smoke and shadow, it involves us all.
In this age when the art public invests time and money in experiences rather than stationery physical objects hung on walls in permanent homes, this work creates experiences that are as Natalie Rudd writes in the catalogue “animated, energized and engaging…forms full of life.” In the catalogue essay, Lucy Lippard is quoted from her essay, Eccentric Abstraction that the process art of the 1960’s was a “heady fusion of the allusiveness of surrealism, the vulgar humor of pop art…all topped off with a visceral sensuality” later writing of the women in this new movement, “In their hands, abstraction turned suggestive, messy, witty, slippery and dangerous.” The work at the Hayward is body-centered and abstract, suggestive of life and experiences. It is unpredictable, and often uncontrollable. We cannot predict what will happen when lead pours, what it will look like and be like. Natalie Rudd’s again quotes Phyllida Barlow in her catalogue essay, “No More the need for permanency, weightiness, handicraft…Instead, in with impermanence, temporariness, dematerialization, the fugitive, the ephemeral, the here and now.” Reflecting our current situation, the work in this show draws us in with fleshly colors, then shows us what these forms reference. The work is not always ephemeral, nor pretty. Smoke created by Olaf Brzeski is black, sooty, and dirty, a cloud of polluting air like those from the coal plants in nineteenth century Birmingham or Manchester. The flowers are dying, the foam is melting and falling, speaking to earth’s warming, environmental challenge, descriptions of processes that we make. Pastel colors recall the insides of the body, intestines pulsating as they absorb food and send it on its way, skin sagging under pressure of age. This is about materiality, experimenting with what an artist can do with materials, and they have done; plastics overflowing into our oceans, invading our bodies, industrial smoke of creosote and soot darkening our skies and lungs, huge machines with limb-like appendages taking over tasks formerly assigned to people.

Installation view of Olaf Brzeski
Photo Jo Underhill. Courtesy the Hayward Gallery

This is about the challenge of technology to take over our world, and the craft processes making sculptures of nylon stockings, wire, poured lead, and crocheted string, of wire and stone and steel. Form and especially material is challenged, as are artists who bravely experimented with new materials, and created revolutionary practices to change the very definition of sculpture. The show shows connections; artists to each other, to their forerunners, to their audience who formed a community of explored perspectives.
Claire Goodman, who visited the show for New Art Examiner, captured the humor in the show, the diversity of audience expressions and communal glances and interactions with the work and other viewers, young and old, of all genders and attitudes come together to view these new art forms come alive.

When Forms Come Alive
7 Feb 2024 –⁠ 6 May 2024
Hayward Gallery, London
£18 – £19, Free for Members & under-12s