Sanné Mestrom’s sculptural practice revisits and recasts icons of art history, disrupting the viewer’s memory with surprising critiques and interventions. Previous series directly reference specific historical works, such as Black Paintings (2014) which reinterpreted the minimalist paintings of Frank Stella and Ad Reinhardt as thickly woven tapestries stretched over steel frames, or The Internal Logic (2013) which saw Mestrom bring Matisse’s painting Green Stripe (1905) into three dimensions as a semi-abstract sculpture in marble, steel and timber found objects.
In her upcoming solo exhibition at Sullivan+Strumpf, she expands her focus to a subject matter that preoccupies the history of sculpture: the female nude. “I love seeing such traditional subject matter be reinvented again and again and again – much like a cover song – often a cover can be better than the original, despite what is ‘lost’ in the process,” Mestrom states. Titled ‘Corrections’, the body of work explores the dense and storied history of the female nude by considering the changeable physicality of the female body. As she explains, “The body is an ever-present, always-changing thing that contains us, and to a large extent influences – if not controls – us, and this undeniability makes for really interesting ‘fodder’ to contemplate and work with, both physically and metaphysically.”
The interplay of the transformational and unreliable body with the materiality of sculptural practice activates this series, providing counterpoints between the provisional and the fixed. Mestrom explained that the works “embody a range of subtle (and not so subtle) ‘corrections’, interventions and contortions to the figurative sculptural forms, distorting and deforming the figurative elements – at times – to the point of no recognition.” Working with concrete, steel, bronze and ceramic, the works evoke the possibility of multiple versions and counter-narratives.
Mestrom plays with the mutability of these materials. Sculptural forms in cast concrete include abstract curves and circles alongside disembodied upturned human legs and heads with unfinished edges, revealing the element of chance in the casting process. The concrete forms are punctuated by cast bronze elements, a wry humour pervading these assemblies. A bronze head seems to rest on the edge of a concrete form wearily, while a bronze banana lounges in the bend of an upright squiggle. A bust endures the presence of a chunk of cast bronze ginger root atop its head with quiet resolve. Mestrom cast these forms from her own body, with the fruit further implying the presence of organic, living material arrested before the moment of decay.
Alongside recent solo exhibitions at galleries including RMIT Project Space, Utopian Slumps, Latrobe Regional Gallery and Gertrude Contemporary, the artist has also received several large-scale public sculpture commissions. These include Monash University Museum of Art’s Ian Potter Sculpture Court commission in 2014, a trio of stone and bronze female figures titled Weeping Women (2014), and Loose Variables (2017) a grouping of non-figurative sculptures for Melbourne’s Westbourne Grammar. These commissions offer another avenue to reframe art history, and provide corrections for its ample biases. In the accompanying catalogue to Weeping Women, curator Geraldine Kirrihi Barlow writes, “Rather than being portrayed as a “tortured” muse, as Dora Maar was in Picasso’s renowned Weeping Woman of 1937, the female in Mestrom’s work is figured as self-possessed and nurturing. Not only does she lactate, with breasts as fountains, her soft curved forms invite passers-by to gather around her – to sit and lay on her body.”
This invitation to commune also modifies public sculpture as a tool for public good, rather than rarefied contemplation. Mestrom describes these works as ‘playable sculpture’, and intends that they enhance and are enhanced by civic life. She states, “these works investigate ways that art in public places – and urban design more broadly – can become increasingly integrated, inclusive and interactive creative spaces.” It is with this intention to redress imbalance, provide critique and offer corrections that Mestrom’s practice finds new ways to destabilise the viewer’s expectation.
Eleanor Zeichner is a writer from Sydney and current Assistant Curator at UTS Gallery.
19 August to 9 September, 2017