Friday, June 15, 2007


Roman Signer's Suitcase found via Tim Etchells
See also: Action with Sheets of Paper

If you wanted to make a list of major contemporary artists who, for whatever reason, are comparatively little known in the U.S., Roman Signer should be right near the top. During the past few years there has been a surge of interest in his work in Europe, but he has exhibited rarely in the U.S., and his work has been written about even less. This neglect is unfortunate, because since the early 1970s, Signer, now 62 years old, has been developing an extraordinary body of work, consisting of brief, transitory pieces and durable sculptures that are evidence of a process as well as an event, along with drawings and endless documentation. Many of his projects mix an air of quasi-scientific research (although of a decidedly homemade variety) with an impish, pranksterish humor. Sometimes this "research," this desire to see what happens if a brief chain of events is set into motion, can be wildly funny, with slapstick mishaps, moments when things break down or veer off unexpectedly into mini-disasters. For Sink (1986), a table, each of its legs in a metal pail, sailed forth on a precarious voyage into a river, only to tilt and sink two minutes later in a kind of tragicomic denouement--certainly among the most short-lived, fragile and awkward outdoor sculptures that you are ever likely to see. At other times, Signer's events-as-sculptures yield images so beguiling that it's easy to forget that they were more or less instantaneous and not painstakingly made over weeks or months. For Falling Barrel (1996), a metal barrel filled with water was dropped from the ceiling to the floor. As the barrel plummeted, silvery water flew up in a ragged column, and at the point of impact more water jetted from the barrel's punctured side. The whole ensemble, including a rising and falling spray of droplets and the thudding impact that contorted the barrel, is heartbreakingly beautiful--and it also took about one second to execute, tops. That's Signer at his best: a sculptor whose works embody pure transformation. Using a variety of means, he constantly seeks out the exact volatile moment when one body or form abruptly changes into another, in the process fusing creation and destruction. (the rest)

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