Bomb Suit (2007)
An industrial bomb suit lies on the gallery floor. The torso is disemboweled, an eruption of canvas and vinyl and plastic. Violent rips in the seemingly impermeable fabric cut across the belly of the suit. But its placid repose – helmet still in place, visor opaque, limbs symmetrically extended – disavows the violence that is at the suit’s core.
The apocalyptic narrative exerts a tremendous pressure on the collective imagination; everywhere stories of catastrophe, whether they are ecological, political or economic, abound. Bomb Suit is a work that precisely stages the disaster’s aftermath. It is a work of transparent stillness – of a total relief that is indistinguishable from paralysis.
Bomb Suit depicts a world in which the catastrophe has already taken place. It is implicitly futuristic – not because of the technology employed in the fabrication of the suit, and not because of the distinctly contemporary anxieties to which the work is a silent response, but simply because it catapults forward into a quietly post-apocalyptic state, into a world that has already been vacated.
It is a world in which the human is already a relic. That the bomb suit is empty – a literal embodiment of vacation – is one of the most significant things about it. The quiet of the work comes with an underlying unease; its peace is purchased through obliteration. Above all, the suit represents a negation of human subjectivity, a mind that has self-destructed, a psychological implosion into zero level subjectivity.
That is the primary maneuver that Anders Krisar performs in his work – the initially minimal shift from the sociologically inscribed into the purely psychological. This is at work across his sculpture; You’re Going Nowhere (2007) is a school knapsack, weighted down to the point of immobility by hidden blocks of lead. What appears to be a comment on social education equally functions as a depiction of psychological immobility and paralysis.
In the same way, Bomb Suit initially reads as an elegant work about the apocalyptic and the post-apocalyptic, about relics of a lost world and how we might construct or imagine ahistorical narratives. But it is as much a work about psychological erasure as it is about the fantasized narratives that organize our collective imagination. It is the point at which those two elements meet that Krisar locates his work.
Indeed, the distinction between sociological and psychological pressure is one that Krisar would likely refuse. His work repeatedly enacts the way in which psychological pressure is exerted by social institutions, ranging from the family through to the medical industry. Within the universe of Krisar’s work, the psychological is always socially inscribed – and it is precisely the logic of this inscription that makes his depiction of psychological interiority so staggeringly deft.
Bomb Suit is about a twinned catastrophe: the external catastrophe that is located on our imaginary horizon, and the internal disaster of which we are only dimly aware. The link between the two is formally rendered in the sculpture; the bomb suit has been exploded from the inside. What we perceive as catastrophic threats from the outside are of course the constructs of our inner imagination; more deadly are the unknown internal bombs, those whose narrative and threat we cannot yet perceive.
But the suit is also about something more abstract, which is a kind of negated absence that is in some ways more concrete than death. Bomb Suit is nothing if it is not a work about absence. Here, Krisar explores the gestation of a void that is more absolute than death, and more incomprehensible. In the end it is precisely this kind of absolute absence that haunts us more than death itself.
Bomb Suit, unexpectedly, ties back to Krisar’s earliest work, a series of photographs titled Chords #1-17. In the series, photographs of isolated landscapes in the Seychelles were paired with single chords of music. The landscapes were entirely devoid of human substance. These landscapes were, in the artist’s words, the depiction of “a world without humans and without thought.” This idea of absence is the same as in Bomb Suit.
Sonja is partner piece to Bomb Suit. This second sculpture is the perfect inversion to Bomb Suit, featuring the female rather than the male, the act of accumulation rather than destruction. Like Bomb Suit, Sonja is another vacated pile of clothing. But in contrast to Bomb Suit, which is located on the precipice of a post-apocalyptic and ahistorical world, Sonja is grounded in history and the painstaking construction of the past.
Sonja is a life-size doll, of sorts. She is made up only of her clothing, and she is built in layers. She is the vivid rearrangement of a single wardrobe. The wardrobe belonged to a woman who saved her clothes over the course of her entire life, from her birth through to her death. Beginning with the anonymous woman’s baby clothes and leading up to the coats and dresses of her old age, Sonja is stuffed and stiff and a direct counter to the deflated absence of Bomb Suit.
Here, it is the material excess of our life – the accumulation of things, the irreducible clutter of our life – that is evoked. The sentimental core of the sculpture resides in the chasm between the insubstantial object – a cherry red sweater, or a flower printed dress – and the life that it evokes. That the object should endure beyond the life that inhabited it is at first an obvious, and then an unexpectedly melancholy, idea communicated by the sculpture.
But beyond this elegant melancholy, there is an acute system of social observation that is at work. Like Bomb Suit, Sonja explores the point at which the sociological and the psychology of the individual intersect. In this case, what is acutely palpable in the work is a sense of the way in which the social – at large – shapes the formation of our individual being.
That social pressure is materialized (quite fittingly, considering the social position of women historically speaking) in the clothes of the anonymous woman; gradually, over time, in the transition from infant to child to adolescent to adult and then to old woman, in the layering of experience, the figure grows in substance, until it is at last recognizable as a character is all its totality.
The question posed by Sonja is the question of how- and at what point – we become who it is we are. It is only at this point, of course – at the completion of the sculpture, at the donning of the final coat and the fully achieved and recognizable shaping of the human figure – that the anonymous woman is transformed and finally is, so to speak, ‘named.’ The anonymous undergoes the transformation into Sonja.
But Sonja is not to be read as an affirmation in contrast to the negation of Bomb Suit. It is simply a different expression of absence, and a different manifestation of violence. What is depicted in Sonja is the violence at the core of the process by which the individual is inscribed into society. Rather than a violence of explosion, it is a violence more akin to a slow suffocation (that these two forms of violence seem specific to the spheres of their respective gender, between the (feminine) domestic and the (masculine) public, is perhaps another tension operating between the two works).
And at its heart, Sonja addresses the same core absence as Bomb Suit. That is to say, it arrives at the same final point of destination. Once the layers are stripped back, after the years are reversed, at the core of Sonja – and at the core of every individual – is a fundamental absence. Past the layers, there is nothing inside Sonja, beyond an empty baby dress, and another relic.
In this way, Sonja reverts back to the beginning, to the quandary of our origins, whereas Bomb Suit races forward to the end. But the two are in a sense only versions of each other. Bomb Suit posits some imaginary point in the hypothetical future, from which we are asked to reconstruct a lost past. Sonja makes us see that this imaginary point is already grounded in our present. They both refer to a fundamental state of unbeing, of a state in which the socialized self slips out of focus – and this is the final searching ground for Krisar’s work.
Family Matter (ongoing)
In formal terms, both Sonja and Bomb Suit can be formulated as works about pressure. Bomb Suit internally detonates a bomb against a surface that is meant to hold against that pressure, while Sonja is a work about the material weight of a certain process of socialization. Krisar is preoccupied by the effect of certain pressures on the psyche, and in his work locates material ways of expressing that pressure.
This is most directly expressed in an ongoing series of work involving the family. In Untitled (2006), a bronze cast of Krisar’s mother’s face is placed alongside a beeswax cast of Krisar’s own face. The bronze cast heats, and slowly the surface of Krisar’s face deteriorates into an unrecognizable, inhuman mass. Meanwhile, in The Birth of Us (2007), flawless fiberglass casts of a child’s torso are marred by adult handprints, pressed into and literally marking the body of the child.
Krisar casts the dynamics of the family not in the Gothic terms of blame or accusation, although the history of mental illness in Krisar’s family finds something of a proto-Gothic expression here. Instead, he explores what is simply a matter of fact truth: that we are undeniably shaped by those around us, and the malleability of children – and the fact that we are always children, in relation to someone – is one of the points about which we are most uneasy in our culture.
What is striking both in Untitled and The Birth of Us is the way the representation of the human figure is disfigured, and rendered distinctly inhuman. One of the reasons why Krisar’s work requires such a flawless reproduction of the human figure, from the casts of the face to those of the body, is because Krisar undermines that flawlessness and exploits it as a point of juxtaposition that eventually renders the representation inhuman.
The uncanny horror of The Birth of Us is not wrapped up in the seeming fragility of the children’s torsos, but rather in the way the disfigurement acquires the quality of a totality. Similarly, in M (2010), a child’s figure is spliced in half, the two halves reaching out to join hands. The eeriness in the work is not in the fact of the cutting, but rather in the uncanny sense that it is as such, irrevocably split and then doubled, that the figure is truly made whole.
In this way, Untitled marks itself as a work of self-definition. In contrast to the sunken torsos in The Birth of Us, the figure is active, grasping outward, generative. That gesture of self-definition is double-edged, tempering violence with an almost giddy and defiant exuberance. That violence, rooted as much as life as in destruction, is increasingly at the core of some of Krisar’s new work.
What these works also convey, in all their direct ambiguity, is the various stages of life, from the final moment of naming and assessment, to the early stages of self-definition. Krisar’s interest in family is therefore not to be separated from his interest in generation, and everything the word implies – from generations within the family to nature’s cyclical patterns of life, to the act of creation and production itself.
Indeed, this is present in Krisar’s first properly sculptural work, Family Matter (2003). In it, Krisar produced a pewter cast of his aunt’s face, melted it down and then created a cast of his mother’s face, and so on through the whole of his family, including himself. The final sculptural object was a pewter cube, an appropriately mysterious object that communicates some of the alchemy that is being explored here, whether it is the familial ties that bind, or the hidden secrets of genetic inheritance and likeness.
That pewter cube is, in a sense, still circulating through Krisar’s work (it figures again in You’re Going Nowhere). It represents all the points of disappearance that are to be located in works ranging from Bomb Suit to Sonja, the mysterious place at which personal histories are erased and replaced with the oblique and the unknown. The thing beyond – in the most concrete of ways – is what haunts Krisar’s work. Everything that he makes is in a sense pointed toward that unknown thing and destination.
This, in a sense, is the final tension that animates Krisar’s work. Although it has always sought a point of erasure – and in erasure, some kind of peace – it remains haunted by the very thing it seeks. For this reason, a live line of desire pulses through Krisar’s work, creating a texture that is ambiguous, and directly opposed to the overriding tone of quiet, distinct negation. It is the polarity between the two that renders Krisar’s works so complex, and also so human. Even our desire for nothing is compromised by our longing; we organize our desire in relation to the impossible and that, ultimately, is an integral part of what it means to be human.