Art Chronicles: Heidi Bucher

The final painting is invariably, to borrow Picasso’s phrase … ‘the sum of its destructions’, with numerous earlier paintings – or perhaps better to say images, forms, shapes, fragments – buried or lost beneath the surface. And whilst these moments are variously submerged, obscured or obliterated, traces remain. There is is still a presence, a memory of each of these events and objects hidden behind the image, beneath the ground. Like a sediment, a past, an unconscious perhaps – still active, still agent.

Camden Arts Centre File Note, edited by Gina Buenfeld & Martin Clark

That paragraph is about the paintings of Amy Sillman, whom I wrote about in my previous blog post, but reading it again made me think of Heidi Bucher, whose work is currently on show at the Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art until December 9th.

These are not paintings, though their effects are not dissimilar, nor are they exactly sculptures (though there are also sculptures on display), they are ‘skinnings’. Latex works made by covering the surface of a chosen object – doors, windows, walls – with gauze, pressing liquid latex against and peeling it off again just before it finally dries. Peeling it off not completely clean, but bringing with it traces of the object being skinned. Streaks and patches of paint; fragments of wood or cloth; memories.

For me, there are two outstanding pieces in this fascinating exhibition, one on the ground floor, one the floor above.

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Libellenkleid (Dragonfly costume object), 1976. Textile, latex & mother-of-pearl pigments. 246  x 295 x 15cm

Bucher’s dragonfly costume is fixed to the centre of the upstairs wall of the gallery, with large plate glass windows to the sides looking out onto the trees of the garden at the rear. An extravagant, almost impossible costume for some wild and wonderful gala evening; a giant insect that has pullulated to fleshy, iridescent abundance.

 

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Libellenkleid (Dragonfly costume object), 1976 [Detail]

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Libellenkleid (Dragonfly costume object), 1976 {Detail]

In a dominant position to the left as you enter the main room of the gallery, hangs what is perhaps the quintessential Bucher art work – and the one that harks back most obviously to the quotation in opening paragraph, with its references to the lingering presence of memory, to a unconscious, mainly hidden past.

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Kleines Glasportal, Bellevue Kreuzlingen (Small glass portal, Bellevue Kreuzlingen), 1988.

The Bellevue Kreuzlingen was a psychiatric sanitarium in Switzerland, the one to which Freud sent one of the patients, Anna O, the subject of one of his first case histories, to be treated. A short film showing at the gallery shows Heidi Bucher in the act of making this work, this skinning; tearing away the vast sheet of latex from where it has been clinging to the surfaces of wall, wood, window and glass and, as it is freed, covering herself with it as she crouches beneath it, smothering herself in it as if to inhale the air, the vestiges of breath that still cling to it, as if to hear the kaleidoscope of whispered conversations, troubled minds. In a later moment from the same film, she runs along the corridors of the building, pulling the latex skinning behind her like a shroud; like a wedding dress with its heavy, flowing veil – some half-mad Miss Havisham caught up in the fevered consciousness of others.

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Kleines Glasportal, Bellevue Kreuzlingen (Small glass portal, Bellevue Kreuzlingen), 1988.

Heidi Bucher : Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, 14 Wharf Road, London, N1 7RW, till December 9th, 2018.

Amy Sillman : Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Road, London, NW36DG, till January 6th, 2019.

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